- There are many ways Hollywood makeup artists make realistic fake injuries.
- Bloody wounds in “Westworld” and “The Grifters” balance how much blood should realistically spurt out versus what looks best on camera.
- Broken body parts are made with flexible materials to allow for convincing bending and snapping.
Following is a transcript of the video:
During this brutal moment in “The Fanatic,” John Travolta’s fingers get shot off. This is what it looked like in a test shoot as the FX team was figuring out how to make it work on camera. To create fake injuries for movies and TV shows, makeup artists need an intimate understanding of the human anatomy in order to, say, create an exact replica of Travolta’s hand, and they need to know what looks best on camera, like using pressurized air to blow the fingers off that replica. Here’s how seven gory makeup effects are created.
For this scene in “The Irishman,” where Robert De Niro stomps on and breaks a shopkeeper’s hand, SPFX had to go beyond looks and make something that would also move realistically, bending and breaking in just the right way. It started with molding the arm in skin-like silicone mixed with plaster, so the final piece was somewhat translucent and rigid. But instead of filling it in, the FX artists added a metal armature, a frame similar to what you’d see inside a stop-motion puppet. While the outer layer of the arm provided rigidness, this armature created more bends in the hand and fingers. When filming, they placed the fake arm in actor Marco Greco’s sleeve and carefully positioned the camera so that his body blocked his real arm. The result was almost too effective. According to SPFX’s Brett Schmidt, during one of the takes, one of the fingers broke and spun around. Exactly the kind of disturbing movie magic they were hoping for.
In the 2019 film “The Fanatic,” John Travolta’s character gets shot in the hand and loses his fingers. It’s a gruesome moment that primarily relied on practical effects. Special makeup effects artist Mike Marino and his team had to construct a realistic-looking prosthetic hand with detachable fingers. They create the base like any other prosthetic piece. First, they cast it in silicone for skin-like translucency, with hairs punched in for realism. They created the hand and forearm together, but they needed to attach the fingers separately. They rigged the fake hand to a series of tubes and pressurized air, allowing the fingers to blow off on cue and blood to spurt out of the wounds at the same time. To hide the apparatus from viewers, they used a clever camera angle that you can see here. Watching the finished scene, you’d never know the hand wasn’t attached to anything.
In the HBO series “I Know This Much Is True,” Mark Ruffalo’s character cuts off his own hand. His resulting injury is frequently visible on camera, but creating the illusion of a missing limb requires not only digital effects, but also careful attention to practical details. According to ProRen’s Mike Marino, a green glove would make his hand look too long and unnatural. So instead, Marino painted Ruffalo’s hand a specific shade of green. This allowed FuseFX to digitally erase his real hand from the shots. With his hand gone, Ruffalo also wore a prosthetic piece to further emphasize the injury. Marino made two designs depending on which one the scene dictated: a fresh, bloodier wound and a cleaner, sewn-up wound.
In season two of “Westworld,” actress Rinko Kikuchi splits the Shogun’s head in half. But since the Shogun’s body continues to squirm around, the team couldn’t just make a prosthetic head. They had to consider the entire body. Justin Raleigh and his team at Fractured FX also had to create this injury with several different camera angles in mind. They first took a silicone life cast of the actor’s head to capture every physical bit of his face. They then made a replica out of clay, which allowed them to sculpt details before casting it in more silicone and then punching in all the character’s head and facial hair. Unlike other decapitated heads on the show, this one was split through the cheek, meaning Raleigh had to construct a tongue, esophagus, and the surrounding muscle and tissue inside the head. But the trickiest part was this moment, when the Shogun takes a few steps before collapsing. So the fake head was actually created so it could be worn by a stunt performer, and that blue hood he’s wearing allowed the VFX team to erase him, so his real head wouldn’t pop up on camera.
Burn wounds are a common injury in TV shows and movies, but making them look realistic involves a close attention to texture and color. So special makeup effects artist Ben Bornstein turns to a surprising reference: burned chicken. This is particularly helpful in picking out the color palette for fresh burns. Heavy black in the deepest part of the wounds, shades of red, and lots of yellow. Besides heavy prosthetics, Bornstein can also create convincing burns with much less time-consuming methods, like 3D-printed wounds for background characters or bald-cap vinyl pieces that have actually been set on fire. Some of these pieces are filled with KY Jelly to create depth and are then blended onto a painted spot on a performer’s arm. In the end, the most convincing form of this injury is when all of these methods are blended together and you can’t tell which is which.
In 1990’s “The Grifters,” John Cusack gets slashed in the throat with glass. This wound required a fake neck piece, but back then, prosthetic pieces were mostly made with foam latex, which would have soaked up all the fake blood used in the scene. To make this piece last through multiple takes, StudioADI’s Tom Woodruff Jr. and Alec Gillis constructed a fake neck out of much sturdier gelatin. Woodruff and Gillis then made an incision in the appliance right here. That would be the jugular vein, which, according to Woodruff, would make the character realistically bleed the most. They loaded blood into a large syringe that was connected to a flexible tube under Cusack’s outfit, which connected to a flat tube under the neck. When he got hit with the briefcase and the glass shattered, they pushed down on the syringe and released the fake blood. So it looks like the glass he’s holding is what really cuts him.
The operation scenes Justin Raleigh worked on in “Westworld” and “The Knick” went far beyond squirts of blood. Crafting realistic surgery wounds involves thinking backwards, down through the different layers of skin, fat, and muscle. When creating an original negative mold, Raleigh works in reverse to control the thickness of each layer. From reading anatomy textbooks, Raleigh realized that Thandiwe Newton’s inner skin layer wouldn’t be bare, but instead covered in a layer of fat. Blending the pieces perfectly into Newton’s real skin made it look like the wound was actually part of her body. But he did have to dial some details back. By holding back on fake blood, all of those muscles and vessels specific to a human neck looked much clearer on camera.
All of the deep research, endless experimentation, and knowledge of what looks good on camera is what takes gore makeup from good to great. So the next time you see blood squirting out of an actor’s body, remember that there was a whole crew making sure they hit the right vein.