Adding production value to your film can be a daunting task. Many think it requires throwing a ton of money into it and that’s not always the case. I have worked on some small budget (no budget) student films and its amazing how far you can go with just a little bit of makeup effects. Love Vigilantes directed and produced by Libby Blood was one of the first projects I have worked on. Set during the war in Iraq, it required some shots of a shrapnel wound that seemed quite impossible to accomplish. If you are not familiar with special effects makeup you can’t just throw some fake blood on and it pass as a gaping wound, that’s not to say that can’t work for something else though. Most prosthetic pieces can be time consuming with casting molds and the physical application. Smaller wounds can be as easy as applying gelatin or wax to the specified area and blending the edges with makeup.
In this case I found a happy medium, if you are applying a prosthetic piece to a smooth surface of the body there is no need to cast a mold of your actor. Simply find a flat surface and go to work. All you need is soft or medium clay, Ultracal-30 and some gelatin. Make your model of the prosthetic with the clay using a flat surface like cardboard, let it dry and then add the ultracal-30 to make the negative. Once that is dry you can use the negative mold to poor gelatin in and let sit in the fridge over night. Depending on your needs you can use a clear gelatin or a skin colored gelatin, either one is fine. Once I had my wound molded I used an actual metal piece to break open the gelatin for a more natural “shrapnel wound” look. For me the fun part is always coloring the prosthetic piece. One tip I can give is no matter what you are using, prosthetics or just wax, the deeper the cut the darker the inside of the wound should be. For Love Vigilantes the director asked for the wound to be bleeding during the shot as well. This was a fun easy add to my piece, I just used a long tube with a giant syringe full of fake blood to pump up through the wound during filming. Normally it takes at least 20 minutes to apply and blend the wound in on your actor, in this particular case I only had 5 minutes. Nothing is ever perfect, but it worked out in the long run.
If you don’t need something so extravagant you can still add to your production with other small makeup effects. Another film I worked on called Outside Paradise required some basic cuts, bruises and scarring. In this case I used Ben Nye’s bruise wheel some liquid latex and fake blood to create a real beat up look. When creating cuts and bruises you cant really over do it, the more color the better it will read on camera, just make sure you are using the right colors. Do a little bit of research and find photos of bruises that are fresh, a day old and a week old, and study the colors. Remember it doesn’t have to be perfect, actually the more imperfect the better, as it will look more natural. Now before I mentioned not using just fake blood to create a gaping wound unless you can make it work in a bind. For Outside Paradise the director asked for one of his character’s throats to be cut open. Since we were on location in Joshua tree and my supplies were limited with no time to build a custom prosthetic piece I had to get creative. With the directors help we used camera angles that didn’t show the action, but we cut to the actor after the fact. I had the actor hold his neck, covering where the wound should be and drenched his hands with fake blood. This ended up creating an effective look with very little prep and time. For more blood gushing I also used the long tube and syringe for this special effect. Long story short don’t be afraid to throw some blood on it for a little extra something.
A free online resource for any questions and more information on special effects makeup check out: www.make-up-fx-forum.com. Also a great way to find a local makeup artist for your film is to look up a local school or university with a theater program or makeup studio. It can be a great resource to reach out to the students looking for projects to build their resumes.
Lauren DeSantis fascination with film started as soon as she learned to work a VCR when she watched and re-watched, The Lion King at the age of 8. She holds a Bachelors degree in Theater Arts from Cal State Fullerton. It was here Lauren focused her interests in special effects makeup under the study of Abel Zeballos. She has since worked closely with Bloodline Films and Libby Blood Films as lead special effect makeup artist/designer, assistant art director and lead costume designer.
Lauren currently is working on her first novel as well as in pre-production for an upcoming feature film that will be produced through Bloodline Films. Watch for more articles from her in future issues of SVN.