Sophie de Oliveira Barata, who has been called “the undisputed queen of personalised prosthetics,” has “always been interested in merging the imagination with reality,” she said, during a TEDMED talk in San Francisco. “I like tricking the eye with what’s real and what’s not.”
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, stereos, and secret compartments, and some are so lifelike it’s uncanny. She gave us permission to share images that show off some of her most realistic prosthetic creations — and the intricate process she uses to make them.
Sophie de Oliveira Barata, here in her studio, needs about a month of careful work to craft a realistic arm or leg, she told us via email.
The limb-creation process starts with a foam shape that mimics the client's natural body shape. After sculpting the body part in foam, she uses a cast to mould the silicone. Here 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.
To get such a 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, de Oliveira Barata is shaping the toes on a prosthetic foot and adding nails.
She is careful to match the shape and colour of a person's existing nails, too. People can even use polish on their prosthetic nails.
Clients come into the studio while de Oliveira Barata works, so that she can match their skin tone, freckles, and limb shape exactly.
The client is very involved in the process and often in the studio while de Oliveira Barata is working. Here she checks details against someone's actual foot. 'It's really rewarding seeing my work being worn, and also hearing their feedback,' she says.
'Creases, blemishes, freckles and veins can be reproduced,' de Oliveira Barata writes. Even the palm of a hand includes realistic lines.
While in school for special effects in London, de Oliveira Barata received an assignment to 'make something hairy.' Her first guinea pig was her four-year-old cousin. Here, her technique -- using synthetic hair on the back of a prosthetic hand -- is much more advanced.
'Seeing your body complete again ... gives a sense of self-confidence,' de Oliveira Barata says. The thumb prosthetic below is connected at the silver ring.
With these perfectly matched feet, it's hard to tell the difference between the prosthetic foot (on the left) and the flesh and blood foot (on the right).
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.'
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