This article originally appeared on VICE Spain
They might look like real babies, but of course they are not. BabyClons are hyper-realistic dolls made of platinum cured silicone – the same material used in certain cosmetic surgery operations. They are the same height and weight as babies that are only a few months old and look every bit the part, too.
The only factory to make those dolls in the world is located in Spain's Basque Country – in the town of Leioa, some 15 minutes away from Bilbao. "As a company you could say we are practically the only one of it's kind in the world. There are artists who make this type of doll at home, but I think we are the only place to produce them en masse," explains Cristina Iglesias, the Catalonian director of Clon Factory. The company was founded seven years ago as a special effects workshop but it wasn't until 2013 that they launched the BabyClon brand.
Artist, and now distributor of the brand in Spain, Silvia Ortiz, was the one who came up with the idea to make these hyper-realistic dolls. "When Silvia first told me about silicone babies, I thought they were really weird. I couldn't understand why anyone would make these dolls. But then I realised that they could sell so I decided to start making them. Still, I wanted to stand out and improve on what was already in the market," recalls the director of Clon Factory. Cristina's true passion and original field of study is special effects: "We use the same techniques that we would with bodies in cinema work, only reduced to the size of a baby," she explains.
Cristina maintains that despite the similarities, Babyclons are not reborns – the vinyl realistic dolls that are often used as replacements for real children. "Silicone babies are not reborn babies, because they are not being born again. Ours is simply a doll that is made to be collected. We are not a uterus, we are a factory," she specifies.
The small workshop counts 10 employees, including Silvia and Cristina. Each worker has their own table and all of the material necessary to work on any of the phases of production. "The first step is the most complicated and time-consuming. We begin by making the sculpture from very hard plasticine which allows us to then sculpt in great detail. That takes about two months."
Once the sculpture is ready, the mould is made with a combination of fibreglass and aluminium which lasts for about 100 copies. "After a while though, the material begins to suffer. It also becomes quite tedious for us to be working on the same model. We are people, not machines," Cristina says. The time invested in the process of making a BabyClon doll is three months.
Although made in series, BabyClon dolls are not identical. The last phase of making one is the painting of it – that's were each takes on special features that make them distinguishable from their sisters and brothers. The colour of the hair, their eyes and also their sex often depend on the client's needs. "We will often get more specific requests too – that a baby has some sort of birth mark or freckle in a certain place, for instance. In some cases, they even provide photos of their children when they were babies so that we can make a replica. It's like a 3D photograph. That I do find lovely," smiles Cristina. The one thing the dolls have in common is their hair, which is made of mohair, because it's smooth and apparently similar to human hair.
Prices also vary and depend on the model. A standard model from a pre-made mould costs about €1190 [£921]. There is also the option to have a BabyClon that drinks and pees for an additional €300 [£232]. Real baby replicas or the fantasy babies – like Avatar or Malefica – cost €2500 [£1935] and €1800 [£1393] respectively. The most expensive models are the robotic ones which sell for €3500 [£2700]. "All of the internal parts are made to measure by an engineer. The baby moves its mouth, sucks a dummy and breathes. The only problem is that this model cannot get wet as it runs on batteries, unlike other models which can be bathed," says Cristina.
"There are two types of buyer: The collectors who purchase at factory price and the other is the reborn artist. The latter is dedicated to buying the babyclon straight from the mould. Then they'll paint and prepare them for sale to the collectors," explains Cristina. Many collectors want pieces painted by certain artists given that some of the detail they can give them would be impossible to achieve in the factory," she adds.
Silicone babies do not require special attention – and even less so when they are displayed in glass cabinets, which is common practice among collectors. In these cases, "cleaning them once a year is enough. But if you take them out on walks and you put them in clothes then it's wise to clean them every two months." If cared for well, BabyClons can last up to 30 years.
At the moment, Cristina's employees spend the majority of their time on the BabyClon brand_._ Silvia seems resigned to the fact that budgets in the cinema industry are not what they used to be: "Subventions to cinema have slowed down significantly and projects keep getting cancelled. These days we dedicate a lot of time to the dolls, as well as to making prosthetics, which are made with the same material."
Dolls from Leioa reach the four corners of the Eart. The biggest importer of BabyClons is the United States but the babies have also reached Australia, Japan, Colombia, Brazil, Iran and of course many European countries. "In Spain, collecting these dolls is regarded as a rather strange hobby. However, in other countries there are people who recognise their value as works of art," says Cristina as she walks me out, holding a doll in her arms.