You Won't Believe That These Hands And Feet Are Not Real

In a recent article for BBC Future, Frank Swain called Sophie de Oliveira Barata “the undisputed queen of personalised prosthetics.”

With a background in art and special-effects makeup, she worked for a prosthetics manufacturer before deciding to strike out on her own. “It meant I could use my creative skills and do something massively rewarding,” she told The New York Times.

In her UK studio, she creates remarkably realistic and wildly imaginative prosthetic limbs, custom-made based on each person’s requests and dreams. She calls it The Alternative Limb Project.

Some of her bespoke prosthetics integrate surreal designs like snakes or stereos, but some are so real it’s uncanny. She gave us permission to share images that show some of her realistic prosthetic creations as well as how they are made.

Here is Sophie de Oliveira Barata at work in her studio crafting a leg. She told us in an email that from start to finish, a realistic arm or leg takes her about a month to make.

While she's making a limb, the client who ordered it is invited into the studio while she works, so that she can match their skin tone, freckles, and limb shape exactly. Here is one of the prosthetic arms she's created. Check out how it's covered in freckles, just like her client's natural arm.

'Creases, blemishes, freckles and veins can be reproduced,' de Oliveira Barata writes on her website. You can see the realistic creases in the palm of the hand below.

The limb-creation process starts with a foam shape that mimics the client's natural body shape. After shaping the body part in foam, she uses a cast to mould the silicone. Here you can see she's removing a leg cover from the cast used to shape it.

She makes the skin that covers the limb from a silicone substance, tinted with pigments to exactly match a person's skin colour.

You can see how well they are matched here with this thumb prosthetic. The rest of the hand is real -- just the thumb was created in the studio. (It's connected at the silver ring.)

Here's another example, where two prosthetic toes are connected to the foot on the right. You can just barely see the line where the prosthetic skin meets the real skin. It almost looks like a natural crease.

You can see how perfectly matched these two feet are as well. The prosthetic is on the left. Can you spot any differences?

To get the realistic look, she stretches the silicone 'skin' to make it translucent, just like real skin.

Once the skin is applied, the details are added. Here, she is shaping the toes on a prosthetic foot.

For this one, she's added synthetic hair.

She matches the shape and colour of a person's existing nails, too. People can even use nail polish on their prosthetic nails. Here, she is inserting nails into a prosthetic foot.

The person who the prosthetic is for is very involved and often in the studio while de Oliveira Barata is working. Here she is checking details against a live model.

The prosthetic (right), is made to match the real foot exactly. A documentary is currently underway that will follow three amputees receiving limbs from de Oliveira Barata 'whose journey does not end with their loss, but begins with the creation of something new.'

For more about Sophie de Oliveira Barata, visit The Alternative Limb Project. For more about the documentary, see SC Films.

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