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Video: Criminals turning to Hollywood for disguises?

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    >>> one of california's most famous bank robbers may be using a highly specialized mask. it's like something out of "mission impossible."

    >> reporter: he's weathered, wrinkle and unshaven. the fbi says he's responsible for at least a dozen bank robberies across california and the geezer bandit as he's come to be known gets away every time. but in this back alley warehouse in los angeles , a dead ringer for the bandit himself.

    >> i had a lot of hard years in my life.

    >> reporter: his name is rusty slusher.

    >> back in my day, we didn't have television, we had radio.

    >> reporter: rusty isn't even 40.

    >> you go from old to young.

    >> reporter: rusty makes highly detailed high end masks, the kind often used in the movies. he uses medical grade silicone that molds to anyone's features. how it works though is a tightly held secret.

    >> it becomes your face, it moves with your face. it's like a five-hour makeup in five seconds.

    >> reporter: he even makes life like hands to match.

    >> the shape of things to come.

    >> reporter: the fbi isn't sure whether this is the geezer bandit's disguise, but it's not so farfetched. in october, an asian man used that very mask to sneak on to a jet in hong kong in hopes of getting refugee status in canada. it worked.

    >> my gosh, our masks are that realistic? they can actually get through airport security ? i was shocked.

    >> reporter: and a man confessed to a string of robberies. the suspect was white, but the mask was so realistic, police initially arrested a black man whose own mother said the man in the mask looked just like her son. no small investment, the masks cost as much as $1,600 apiece. but they're pretty idiot proof . the transformation takes virtually no expertise at all.

    >> no more mr. nice guy.

    >> reporter: and the result is eerily convincing.

    >> there's no way that's me. that is completely freaking me out.

    >> reporter: if the gonzalezer bandit is one of his clients, he's now getting notoriety, and that's the one thing even an old aged bandit can never escape.

    >> this could be a real problem. you got someone on the wanted list trying to go from state to state or country to country, they get one of these masks, they put that on. if i'm an airport security , i'm not going to recognize that person.

    >> and already somebody falsely accused and arrested is something else entirely.

    >> we have yosef who's one of our production assistances. we're going to show you what he looks like before hand. come on in now that you're wearing the geezer mask.

    >> it looks like you didn't get enough sleep last night.

    >> it's extraordinary, how does it feel?

    >> it's tight, but the lips move with you.

    >> you're able to breathe obviously.

    >> i can't hear very well, because the whole mask covers your ears.

    >> talking about looking at a surveillance video, it would throw people off the track.

    >> take yours off, go.

    >> al roker is here.

    >> meredith is not on vacation.

    >> we're just waiting for the cindy crawford model. i'll take

Olivia Santini
Portrait of the producer as an old man: Stephanie Becker models Rusty Slusser’s “geezer” mask.
By
NBC News producer
updated 12/22/2010 8:56:55 AM ET 2010-12-22T13:56:55
Producer’s Notebook

I admit it: I was pretty two-faced on Thursday.

I started my day as a middle-aged white woman with a really bad back. But hours later, I'd morphed into a bald, stubble-faced, wrinkled old white guy.

My new visage reflected how my body felt — old and achy. My new look made one co-worker scream and two women burst out laughing, but barely registered a glance from the editor of the TODAY segment I was producing. Is this how he really sees me?

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My quick-change came compliments of the $1,600 "Geezer Guy" mask. In fact, wearing the "Geezer" made me feel even more stooped over, old and achy than I did already.

I got the “Geezer” from Los Angeles mask maker Rusty Slusser. As correspondent Lee Cowan reported on TODAY Wednesday, Rusty made news when a couple of his masks were used by some bad guys — including, perhaps, one of California's most prolific bank robbers.

Rusty says he was dumbfounded when a Cincinnati cop phoned his studio at 4 a.m. one morning to find out if the mask man knew about the masked men. Rusty had fallen asleep there after working all night. The call was no dream — but for a white guy who was caught red-handed pulling a robbery disguised in one of Rusty's masks as an African-American, it became a real nightmare.

Rusty, a Texas boy (hardly unexpected with a name like that), started out as an apprentice in the mask trade when he was just 13. He cut his teeth on beastly birds, wicked werewolves and a mummy with nuclear-grown incisors. A life of making pretend has clearly kept him looking young, but he’s been at it for 26 years and carefully covets his molding secrets.

Rusty’s a perfectionist. I know, because I picked up the “Geezer” mask we used on the set this morning from the woman who painstakingly implants the mask’s hair, a single strand at a time.

His masks are so transformative that I can only say, it's freakazoid — especially when our reporter went from being one of the whitest guys I know, with an excellent head of hair, to a chrome-domed black man — all in the time it took you to read this sentence.

Carlos Rigau
Producer Stephanie Becker with a white reporter disguised as an African-American in one of the amazingly lifelike masks crafted by Rusty Slusser (in background).

Rusty says he sold a half a million dollars’ worth of masks last year, so you know there must be lots of less nefarious uses for them than robbing banks. Halloween, for instance. Or sometimes celebrities want to hide behind something more than their Foster Grants. One guy wanted a fake face to propose to his wife. Now there's a marriage destined to turn into a horror show.

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And Rusty's art isn't limited just to faces: For a medical school, he’s working on a mold for a leg. Going out on a limb, so to speak. (Frankly, I'd rather have the students amputate a faux toe than a real one.)

I couldn't help but notice that Rusty's studio had only one female offering — a combo “old lady” with a head and torso that included very, very saggy boobies. As I was the only (real) woman in the room, all the guys noticed me staring in horror at Droopy Granny. Then they stumbled all over themselves to assure me that I looked NOTHING like her.

Alas, I fear gravity will, in time, prove them wrong. I wonder if Rusty can make something in an Angelina Jolie? I bet wearing an Angelina would make my back hurt a lot less. Or at least make me look better when I’m stooping and drooping.

© 2012 MSNBC Interactive. Reprints

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