Neytiri Avatar Cake – Sculpting Hair Hell!

Neytiri Avatar Cake with Heidi Dahlenburg

I really mean what I said in the title here peeps.

The hair was HELL.


I admit I hadn’t paid much attention to how I was going to make Avatars hair… There were so many other complexities and setbacks with the cake that I just assumed that this was going to be a piece of cake….I was wrong.

So I had originally thought that I was going to use modelling chocolate for the hair. I haven’t ever mixed up a dark modelling chocolate so checked out a few websites for the recipe and they were all fairly consistent at 2:1 chocolate to corn syrup.

So I went ahead and made up a kilogram of modelling chocolate using the nestle melts buttons. All seemed fine with the chocolate and I wrapped it up to set

Avatar Cake - Neytiri - Before Hair
Modelling Chocolate Ingredients for Avatar's Hair - Cake Art by Heidi Dahlenburg

Fast forward through a pretty decent sleep and the morning rush, I have finally sat down, ready to don this little lady with a full head of locks. I took a knife and tried to cut a piece of modelling chocolate from the block, but not even my well-trained guns could put enough pressure on to slice through this brick-like object. ‘Shit’’! I thought out loud that I took the other block and had a crack at slicing a piece off, while this one was softer. When I picked it up and tried to knead it, it all crumbled in my hands and fell sadly onto the bench. By this point, I admit I was getting a little flustered by this. Not too much was going smoothly with this piece. So, with a little bit of problem-solving and a late plan B, I decided to colour fondant and use that instead.

If you guys read my blogs and watch my videos, you will know that I hate colouring icing. It’s probably my least favourite task. I don’t keep a lot of liquid colours as I never use them. This was a day I didn’t feel like driving all the way to the local cake decorating joint to pick up some colour, so I dug out my Amerimist food colours and mixed in warm brown with a touch of black to bring up a light brown/pink colour. I didn’t keep mixing darker as I wanted the option to highlight her hair at the end. I planned to paint the hair after I had it all assembled.

Avatar Cake Inspiration
Avatar Cake Inspiration

I used these two images along with some others to create the piece. I will have a separate blog on the images I chose for this, why I chose them and the mistakes I made.

"To roll the hair into braids I just rolled it on the benchtop with my hands and then I took a laminated picture, laid it on top and used that to press down to make the roll more even."

Avatar Cake - Neytiri - Side View During Sculpting

OK, now we were cooking with gas and ready to start….again. I wasn’t totally sure how I wanted her braids to sit. On the original character, the hair is parted in the middle and the braids fall to the side, but on some of the sculptures I had for reference, I noticed that their braids went straight back like cornrows? Is that what they called in the US? Anyway, I decided to do it this way and taper the braids at the from of the forehead, the plan was to go back with some paint and blend in the seam between the hair and the forehead.


To roll the hair into braids I just rolled it on the bench top with my hands and then I took a laminated picture, laid it on top and used that to press down to make the roll more even. I applied my strong sugar glue to where I wanted the hair/icing to sit and laid it down, I made sure the icing was long enough to come down and past her shoulders, theses were the longest parts of her hair. The icing held up really well as I had rolled it thick enough to keep some strength. I had originally planned to make actual braids and this was not fun at all. I figured it would probably take me an extra week to do this so I made the executive decision to just used the rolls with a bit of texture to them instead.

Avatar Cake - Neytiri - Braids made of edible icing

"My ‘go to’ tools for hair are my two favourite and most used tool …..My homemade knitting needle tool and my lovely little spoon tool. I swear I could sculpt an entire piece just using these two tools."

I continued along this path all the way over to the other side of the head, I marked out on the scalp where I wanted the braids to start but ended up going back a little bit further and come back later and do some more detail on the front parts. Once they were all on, I kept rolling the icing and went around the back of the head to fill out the hair. They ‘seez me rollin’ shitloads of hair. Let’s fast forward because that process was nothing to write home about. I touched up her sideburns with a little bit of icing and also filled in some gaps.

Neytiri Avatar Cake Sculpture - Hair Braids - Cake Art by Heidi Dahlenburg

My ‘go to’ tools for hair are my two favourite and most used tool …..My homemade knitting needle tool and my lovely little spoon tool. I swear I could sculpt an entire piece just using these two tools. I used the knitting needle tool to make the texture marks on the strands of hair, I did a criss-cross pattern, hardly resembling a plait but again, I didn’t want to spend loads of time on this.

Once the bulk of the hair was done I then came back around to the front of the hair and lengthened the braids at the front to where I wanted them to sit on the scalp. I added some more volume to the braids at the back of her hair and it looked a little flat anatomically.

So, mistakes equal learning. That’s my motto. Being a self taught artist has made me learn the hard way each and every time. Below are a few tips to help you along if you decide to take on a piece that has long hair. There are probably many other ways to tackle this but here I will outline my reflection on the experience.

Finalising the Hair on Neytiri Avatar Cake
Neytiri - Avatar Cake Sculpture - All Edible

Icing Hair Hacks

The biggest trick to getting all the strands on in one piece was to roll them evenly. Using a board of something flat to roll our sausages really works as you do not get the indents that you would form fingers.

Use good quality icing! I used Bakels (my one and only), this icing really stands up to the test of anything, I have tried many other icings but I always have issues with them either being too soft or not blending very well at seams. Like I always say though, choosing icing is a really individual thing and the choice can depend greatly on the climate, style of cake and also what flavour you prefer.

Save time by deciding whether this detail is really crucial to the overall piece. If the cake is for a client, it is probably better to spend the time on the sculpt and painting rather than the hair. Shading for a 3D effect can go a long way over minute detail of the braids.

Take notice of the way the hair sits on the shoulders, in which direction it grows on the head and the length. Having a ‘likeness’ to the piece through these subtle effects can go a long way.

SO that was my hair experience, I probably made it sound a lot worse than it was.


Questions? Leave them in the comments section below.

Neytiri - Avatar Cake Sculpture - Horror Cakes by Heidi Dahlenburg

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