Making a sex doll

Story highlights

Robert Benson photographed a sex-doll factory in Southern California

The nine-person team at Abyss Creations produces 300-400 dolls a year

CNN  — 

Inside a nondescript building in a Southern California business park, a small team assembles some of the most expensive and sought-after sex dolls in the world.

Abyss Creations makes RealDoll, a life-sized silicone figure with a fully poseable skeleton, interchangeable faces and penetrable orifices starting at $6,500. The company says it rarely pays for advertising, relying on word of mouth and a steady stream of press coverage since its first celebrity endorsement: shock jock Howard Stern in 1996.

Photographer Robert Benson discovered the factory last year. He had been searching for a sex-doll manufacturer to photograph during a visit to Japan. Much to his surprise, one of the most famous manufacturers was just a few miles from his San Diego home.

During a shoot in April, Benson captured the process of making a single doll from mold to makeup, and he met the team of nine that produces 300-400 dolls a year.

Photographer Robert Benson

“Everyone was super passionate about what they’re doing, and they take the work seriously,” Benson said. “I guess the fascination wears off after a week and it becomes like any other job.”

A single doll takes about 80 hours to make, starting with a silicone mold. After fingernails and nipples are shaped and painted, hair is added and makeup artists complete faces to a customer’s specifications. Then the dolls are dressed and packaged in crates for shipping.

The standard RealDoll comes in 18 female body styles and two male styles with five skin tones and 39 available faces. The standard line also includes transgender bodies with male or female anatomy.

Custom orders start at $12,000 and depend on a client’s imagination and budget: blue skin, green fish-like scales, fangs, elf ears, you name it. A popular request is for dolls resembling movie stars, the company says. While it cannot replicate a celebrity without express consent from the star or appropriate trust, it can approximate the look with the right face, body, hair and makeup. Another popular custom request is for male genitalia on a female body.

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    Founder Matthew McMullen, a professional artist and sculptor, made his first life-sized mannequin in 1996 while working for a Halloween mask manufacturer. After posting a picture of it on the internet, he started receiving inquiries, he said, and it became evident there was a market for realistic and usable mannequins.

    The manufacturing process has changed over time as technology has improved. RealDoll is now available in versions weighing 60 to 80 pounds, down from 75 to 115. Otherwise, the variety and range has always been as expansive as human tastes and desires, McMullen said.

    “You can make a hundred thousand different varieties of the human form, and there’s always going to be one more,” he said.

    Robert Benson is a photographer based in San Diego.