Story of a… Wax Figure Artist
Ashley Priselac keeps the celebrities at Madame Tussauds Orlando looking their best.
Talent runs in her family. “I think just about everybody in my family had some sort of talent, whether it was artistic or technical,” says Priselac, who considers herself a painter. “My father was in aviation. He could build an airplane and make it look beautiful, so I feel as if that’s a skill he’s passed on to me.”
Her compass points South. Priselac returned home to Pennsylvania after working as an entertainment costumer at Disney’s Hollywood Studios and soon looked for a way to return. “I love Orlando. I love the weather. I love the energy down here. The snow is not for me.”
A help-wanted ad won her over. “I just happened to stumble upon it when I searched for artist jobs. It said, ‘Would you like to work with A-list celebrities?’ It talked about how you needed to have hair skills, costuming skills, painting skills and technical skills. I thought, ‘That sounds like so much fun.’ ” Priselac has been with Madame Tussauds since its opening in May 2015 and took over as studio manager in March.
Keith Urban and Lady Gaga were backstage, just their heads. “Lady Gaga’s hairstyle is complicated. It’s easier to bring her into the studio because you have all your tools right here. Keith needed touchups on his face. Because our guests interact with our figures, their faces sometimes have a little bit of damage such as scratches.”
Her painting skills come in handy. The figures are sent complete from the London studio but require touchup. Extensive reference photos help Priselac and her two-person team replicate each celebrity’s look. “All of our figures are painted with oil paints. About 20 layers of oil paint go into it. We do a technique called splattering. It’s sort of like an airbrush technique, but it’s all by hand.”
She sometimes lends the figures a hand or an ear. The museum keeps an extra pair of hands… well, handy. “So if you see David Beckham’s tattoos are looking a little faded, we can fix things like that.” Sometimes Priselac and her team must refer to extensive source references to re-create a part using spare wax. “We use wooden and metal tools—we use what Madame Tussaud herself used to make everything.”
A new day, a new favorite. Though Priselac is partial to figures that “look like they’re having a good time” like Jimmy Fallon or Jim Parsons, she tends to love the one she’s with. “We do maintenance in the morning before we open, and we’ll bring the figures into the studio. We’ll touch them up and make sure they’re 100 percent ready for the day. So the figure I bring in that day, I feel like, ‘Oh, you’re my favorite for the day.’ ”
Go ahead and get that selfie. “We’re an attraction all about fun. We want you to interact with the figures.”