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Six Secrets to How Madame Tussauds Wax Museum Makes Celebrity Sculptures Look So Real (and Kissable)

BY: EDITORIAL TEAM | 6.30.2017 |

Petra van der Meer spends her days making sure celebrities look their best—from removing lipstick from Justin Bieber's face, to touching up Michael Jackson's famous glove. The catch? The celebs are made of wax.

As a figure maintenance manager for world-famous menagerie Madame Tussauds wax museum, Petra—along dozens of others—helps with the creation and maintenance of hundreds of lifelike wax sculptures around the world. This quirky work environment leads to some interesting experiences. Petra couldn't spill all the secrets of her famous workplace, but she did pull back the curtain to share six revelations in the artistic process responsible for the wax figures.

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1. A lot more people are involved than you might think.

"There's a research team, a sculpting team, a molding team. There is a coloring team and marketing teams who will present the figure to the outside world. There's a large team involved—over 50 people, if not more."

2. The process spans multiple months—and countries.

"[The entire process takes] About four months, starting with the research on what figure to make. All that information goes back to the studios in the UK, where they start creating a wax figure. And the whole process—from sculpting to clay hands to the hair inserts—takes about two weeks. Then we have the coloring aspect of it, and of course getting a wax figure to the location. That's about four months in total before we have it on the floor."

3. Wax is not the only material used.

"We use oil paint on wax, and the pictures that are made during the sitting [with the celebrity]. There's a photographer taking over 250 pictures every sitting, and we do daylight shots, so we really have an understanding of how the color variation has been built up.

"There's different techniques in the buildup, and it's about three to four layers with oil paint, but we'll keep the translucency of the wax so it really looks like skin."

4. Lifelike eyes are glossy eyes.

"The eyes always have to be glossy, and they always have to have a particular shine in them. During the sitting, we take a photograph of the eyes and all that information goes back to the studios where they hand paint the eyes to really give them that lifelike feeling and that gleam."

5. They want you to get up close.

"We have the policy that people can have fun and touch the wax figures ... over time, the figures get shiny or the paint rubs off or there's lipstick on the figure because we promote them to get up close and personal and kiss."

6. Statues get freshened up every day.

"We do a touchup every single morning, starting about three hours before opening ... Depending on the popularity; some figures are very popular, and we'll have to take lipstick off every single day."

This was originally posted by staff writer Stephanie McDaniel and has since been updated by our editors.