Creating A Drowned Corpse for Short Film

I’m actually ashamed with myself for not keeping the blog up to date lately. I have no excuses other than Christmas happened. I have a busy year ahead of me with lots of projects lined up to get my course completed so there will be a lot of regular posts keeping you all up to date with those.

Anyhow, I was contacted back in September by a lovely chap, Jason Berge who is a freelance cinematographer and amongst other things, runs a course for amateur filmmakers locally. He was assisting the group in making a short film about a fisherman who faces his own mortality and needed someone to create the effects. Very luckily for me Jason’s brother-in-law is a good twitter/facebook friend of mine, the wonderful Mr Jim Moon who had put my name forward when Jason had mentioned what he needed to him in conversation. Jim, (@Hypnogoria on Twitter), hosts one of my favourite podcasts Hypnobobs which celebrates a large range of subjects but a large part of the cast are readings of wonderful ghostly/strange stories from his Library of Dreams from masters such as Poe, M R James and many many more, as well as film reviews of classics and new movies, favourite monsters, toys, comics and games. If you’ve never listened you’d be very wise to give it a try.

The Short Film

So I got in touch with Jason via email and we discussed the sort of thing the group wanted and found out that the story of the film revolves around a fisherman who discovers a body on his line. When he turns it over he discovers to his horror that it is the drowned corpse of himself staring back at him.

We decided that we would buy a mannequin and I would take a cast of the actor’s face and sculpt onto this to achieve the drowned look before making a latex mask. This would then be attached onto the mannequin and painted before dressing it in the same clothes as the actor.

The catch was due to time restraints I only had 2 weeks from start to finish to complete the project before it was needed on the set on the 28th Oct. Because of my limited experience I was unsure about the whole thing but figured a challenge is always a good thing and working to a deadline is something I’ll have to get used to so I acepted and got to work researching the look that they were after.

The following pics are those that I sent to the group … They are all sourced from Google images so obviously I would be only using them as inspiration to avoid copyright issues.

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Originally Jason and I really wanted to go for quite a severe zombified version similar to Ted Danson’s character in Creepshow …

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However after a discussion with the group Jason thought that a combination of the following images for a more recently dead, subtle look was going to work better …

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Face Cast of the actor – George Collings

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Sculpt

Once I had the cast, I sculpted areas over the brows and around the eyes and cheeks to imply a sunken, drawn appearance as the corpse was to be recently dead, rather than bloated. I used the oil based clay, Chavant’s Le Beau Touche which I used on the sculpt for the Cthulhu mask. It’s a terracotta coloured clay, is sulphur free (compatible with silicone), very smooth and highly adhesive.

I started by just roughly bulking out the areas I mentioned above, conscious to keep the pieces as thin as possible so the effect remained subtle.

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The following day I refined the sculpt to the stage where I was happy and ready to mold.

This is the first stage of refining …

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Final Stage of refining.

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Mold Making

I made the mold for the latex mask out of WED wet clay, starting with a base or backing piece made out of 1/2 inch thick pieces of flat rolled clay, attached and smoothed together to avoid leakage. I was careful to make sure it was snugly attached to the cast all the way round and I also reinforced the strength of this full piece by supporting it all the way round beneath this join with a roll of clay on the underside and then towards the outer edges with towels and further clay pieces.

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The next stage was to add the vertical wall around the face cast to create a well for the Ultra-cal plaster. I again used flat, rolled out pieces of clay which I was careful to attach together really tightly again to avoid leakage. Once the vertical wall was attached, I reinforced the join with a roll of clay either side which I blended carefully into the exixting walls. I’m very careful with this stage now as I learnt the hard way having a mold collapsing completely on me once the weight of the plaster was added.

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Cast

Before I added the Ulra-Cal 30 plaster to the mold, I was careful to apply a coat of Vaseline all over the face cast as a seperating agent because otherwise the two types of plaster would just attach to each other and the cast would be ruined. I mixed the batch of plaster in the usual way using 2 full cups of water and then adding the plaster until I got the ‘dry cracked paving’ effect and then mixed it thoroughly until it was smooth. I poured it carefully over the face cast and kept drawing it from the edges up to the centre while it started to set to utilise the plaster as much as possible and then made a further smaller batch to ensure a decent thickness for strength. I think I may have used strips of burlap roll to reinforce the cast but I haven’t any photos of that stage.

This is the finished cast, ready for the latex stage.

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Latex Mask

The next stage was to make a latex mask from the cast. I did this by building up layer after layer of liquid latex. This took quite some time but I sped up the process by standing it in front of a heater to help dry each layer out after i’d swilled the latex around the mold and drained it. Eventually after about 7 or 8 layers the latex was thick enough to remove from the mold. I powdered the back of the latex with talcum powder as I removed it to prevent the latex from sticking to each other. The following photos show the liquid latex, still wet and the following day when it’s fully dry.

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These pics show the mask when it had been removed from the mold.

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Unfortunately when I tried to fit the mask onto the face of the mannequin the contours were so different there was no way I could attach the mask without building up either the inside of the mask or the face of the mannequin. There were big spaces under the cheeks and nose and the neck in particular.

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I started to build up those areas inside the mask by soaking strips of kitchen roll in liquid latex and drying each layer out with a hairdryer to try and save a bit of time. I realised after a while that I’d have to build up the mannequin too …

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Eventually after a LOT of adjusting and readjusting I managed to get the mask applied in a way that I was sort of happy with. At least it was the best I could do with the shape of the mannequin and in the time I had. Unfortunately it resulted in the face being out of proportion and jutting forward too far as you will probably be able to tell from the following pics but I was pleased with the likeness and figured I could disguise the problem with a hat.

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Once all the latex was dry, I was ready to paint.

Painting the Mannequin

I used a mixture of straight acrylic paint and washes to create the shades I wanted, based on the reference photos. I needed him to look very dead but not in a gory way. I used light shades of greys and purples with hints of blues and yellows to start and then built up with darker washes with a sponge over the top to give shadows and textures. Smaller brushes were used with darker more purple/grey colours for the detailed areas around the eyes and mouth. When I was happy, or when I’d run out of time, I sprayed the whole mannequin head and shoulders with acrylic Plasticote spray to set the colour and attempt to protect the paint a little as I knew it would be under the water and bashed around a fair bit. Ideally I would have added several more coats but just I didn’t have the time.

The following photos show the finished mannequin with and without the hat.

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On Set

These shots were taken of the mannequin on set, fully dressed in the same clothes as the actor, Mr George Collings …

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Many thanks to Jason Berge for giving me the opportunity to practise the skills I need to master for my course and gain the valuable experience of being on the working set of a short film and to everybody in the group for allowing me to tag along.

Also thanks to Shelley Newnham for the photos provided from the shoot.

Zombiefied

On a final note as it was Halloween, Jason asked if there was any chance I could ‘zombify’ up the dummy for him to put in his garden. I would never turn down the chance to mess about with blood and latex so I used small strips of tissue soaked in the liquid latex again to form various wounds and scars, specifically a big open wound with the skull showing through, and 3 big gashes on his neck. I added more texture in general and exagerrated the makeup tones, adding lots of  Mehron false blood with a little blue food colouring to darken it as they were meant to be old wounds.

Again I had limited time to achieve these effects but was happy with what I could come up with … (Sorry the photos are pretty rubbish).

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