Scenes That Some Viewers May Find Disturbing

When Worthing Youth Media received funding from First Light, we made three very different short films. The zombie film Outbreak, which I have discussed in previous posts, the animated comedy Happy Cloud, which I will explore in my next post, and the moving drama Teenager. Teenager is the story of Sidney, a 15 year old boy trying to make decisions about his future whilst struggling with a difficult home life. The film was much darker in tone than the other two projects, dealing with issues of alcoholism, drug use and domestic violence.

As with Outbreak, I worked with the Art Department sourcing props and costumes, and dressing the set. In contrast to Outbreak, this film required a level of realism. The key was to make the family’s flat look lived in – food in the cupboards, clothes in the wardrobes, family photos (see opening credits) and also convey the general disarray of their  lives. The cinematography of the film followed the action very tightly inside the flat. It’s a very claustrophobic place. As such, the set details had to be subtle, to provide a lifelike backdrop without detracting attention from the story.

You can learn a lot about characters from the environment they inhabit and so it is important to dress spaces to reflect the personalities of the characters, as you can see from the screenshots below of Sidney and Cassie’s bedrooms.

I was also the makeup artist for the film, and my main job on set was to create injuries for Sidney’s mother, Ann, played by Alison Vermeeren.


The film begins in the wake of a big fight between Ann and Sidney’s stepfather Daniel (played by Andrew Elias) in which she has been badly beaten. The script specifies that Ann has a black eye after the fight, and severe bruises.

To create the effects for the film I used a bruise wheel and fresh scab, which are the most versatile items in my makeup kit. The initial look was intended to be the most shocking. I used red tones to create a swollen look around the eye, forehead and mouth. Applying fresh scab with a paintbrush and stipple sponge I created the illusion of grazing on the nose, brow and cheekbones. When someone is punched hard in the face, the skin tends to break around the areas where bone protrudes, such as the bridge of the nose, the cheekbones and the brow. I also used the scab to give Ann a nosebleed and a broken lip.

In the above shots from the makeup room the colours look very bright, but they looked more subtle onscreen as the film was shot with a low exposure and was given a muted colour grading in post production.

It is evident in the script that this is not the first time that Sidney’s parents have fought like this, so I also worked to create a range of older looking bruises on Alison’s arms. The bruise wheel is very effective for blending colours to create different stages of bruise, and can also be used very faintly to create old bruises that appear to be healing. I painted bruises onto Alison’s neck, collarbone and arms, including bruising patterns such as marks from being grabbed or held firmly.

The challenge with the makeup for Teenager was that the main action of the film takes place across a period of about two weeks, meaning that the injuries sustained in the first scene needed to be shown to be healing in each new scene.

The first makeup change was very slight, as it was for a scene the next morning. I reduced the redness of the bruising around the eye and the mouth to reduce the visible sting of the injury. I toned down the highlights within the bruise around the eye, then deepened the purple to show the bruise developing as well as blending it out more around the edges and mixing in dull mustard colours. I used red eyeliner to make the eye look sore and the eyelids puffy. I also decreased the bloodiness of the grazes around the mouth, eyebrow and nose, as Sidney’s mother would have had time to clean herself up by this point.

The next scene involving Sidney’s mother takes place a few days later. For this I reduced the severity of the bruise a great deal by reducing the size of it and the intensity of the colours. I used a lighter layer of the purple, darkening it in the corner of the eye and blending out from that point, before adding yellow and a touch of green. I developed the grazes into scabs that frame the injury along the main points of impact  and reduced the swelling around the lips.

A scene from later that day features another fight between Daniel and Ann, which leaves Ann bleeding. The crew filmed the majority of Teenager‘s scenes in long takes, so Alison had to keep the blood in her mouth until the end of the scene for when her lip begins to bleed. I had to stand behind the camera with the blood so that she could take a swig between takes.

The final appearance of Sidney’s mother is in a montage at the close of the film. The scene takes place some time later, perhaps a matter of weeks. The bruises seen earlier in the film have healed but she has clearly obtained more. I created a bruise on the forehead as if she had hit her head falling over, a bruise to look like a blow to the chin, subtle bruising around the eyes and another bloody lip.

The makeup room is usually a fun place to be on set. Transforming people’s looks can be a real novelty, especially working on something extreme like a zombie film. This was quite a different experience, though. Once I finished Alison’s makeup on the first morning it had quite a sobering effect on everyone. This wasn’t extreme gore or slapstick, it was a serious film about things that really happen to people. It was quite unpleasant to depict suffering in that way. We were only playing at it, but there are a lot of people in the world who are living with abuse, and carrying bruises that they can’t wash off at the end of the day.

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They Won’t Run Out Of Food As Long As We’re Still Alive

In my last post I talked about making props for the short film Outbreak with Worthing Youth Media. Now I am going to discuss in more detail how we designed and created specific character looks for our zombies. I’m a HUGE fan of George A. Romero, so working on this short was a dream come true for me.

The first consideration was to populate the film with zombies who represented a cross section of society, the Zombie Apocalypse is coming for all of us, after all. During preproduction for the film I was like Simon Pegg in the opening scenes of Shaun of the Dead, imagining the slow zombification of the world unfolding around me. I started working on a sketchbook of zombie characters, and encouraged my art department team to do the same. In order to create characters, I encouraged the team to consider who this person was before they were bitten, how and where they had died, how long ago they had turned and what their zombie self might have encountered since as all of these things can be conveyed by the zombie’s appearance.

As we moved closer to the shoot, we began shortlisting our zombie cast, using the action an locations of the script to help in our decisions. With our zombie cast locked down, we started sourcing the costumes that would bring our undead characters to life. Clothes and accessories were then sliced, ripped, sand-papered, dirtied up and covered in blood as we matched the outfits up to our actors.

On the first morning of the shoot, I was the go-to guy for blood. I carried three our four different types of fake blood on set at all times, including two spray bottles that I used to cover actors on set before the director called action. In between takes, my team and I were on hand to reapply blood and keep wounds looking fresh. By the end of the week my hands and arms were stained red up to the elbows.

All of the zombies had a basic look that was consistent. Each zombie was painted white, with a blend of purple and mustard bruise colours around the eyes to create a decaying look. Following that, zombies were given their own individual wounds and grotesqueries. The exception to this rule, were the identical zombie twins, who were given matching mirror image misfortunes. We discussed the use of contact lenses to give the zombies that dead eyed look, however, there were a number of reasons that this wasn’t affordable, practical or safe for use with young children. Instead we used a red eyeliner to give the eyes an evil look. Although the cause of the zombie outbreak is not explained in the film, in my designs for the characters I envisioned it like a disease with the red eyeliner providing a swollen, puffy, infected look.

To add further detail I used latex to create the look of broken skin, burns and lesions. Tested here on a zombie extra. The effect is achieved by building up layers of liquid latex onto the skin and then piercing and tearing it to make holes. These holes can then be worked into with makeup to add colour and definition. I like to use black as a base to create the illusion of depth, and then add a purplish red followed by fresh scab for texture.

Zombie Chef, the script’s most intimidating zombie, required a more complicated look as he is the main antagonist of the film. We wanted to make him look scary and burned, as he met his death in a kitchen.

We started with a typical chef’s costume, which was then distressed by being torn and burnt. We wanted to exaggerate his look to make him quite extreme so we covered the outfit in food stains and blood.

Zombie Chef had one of the most complicated makeup looks in the film, made all the more difficult because his scenes were shot over two days, meaning that the makeup had to last a full day’s shooting before being recreated as exactly as possible the following morning.

I started by giving him a foundation of white skin, with purple around the eyes. I find that the eyes usually need retouching again at the end, but it helps to have a foundation to work with. I then covered the actor’s face and neck with several layers of liquid latex. The operation was time consuming as each layer of latex needed time to dry before another could be applied.

Having achieved a good layer of latex, I then ripped holes of varying sizes, using a pencil to break the latex. We took photographs of every stage so that the look could be recreated the next day. When creating the look for the second time, I referred to the previous day’s photos and used the pencil to draw onto the latex so that I knew exactly where the holes needed to be.

The next job was to add definition and shading to the holes using a variety of colours. We wanted to create a charred skin effect and so we used a lot of reds and purples to make the skin look scorched and sore, then yellow and green hues as highlights around the edges. Finally, we added texture to the wounds using fake scab again. I love using fake scab, it has a consistency like raspberry jam and it sticks to the skin and slowly dries to look like a nasty scab or graze.

The longest makeup job on set had to be the Old Lady Zombie as we needed to create a combination of zombie and ageing makeup. We decided that not only was Old Lady Zombie old, but she’d been a long time dead so we wanted her to look really decayed and grotesque.

I started out in the same way that I approached Zombie Chef’s makeup, starting with a white foundation. This time instead of applying the liquid latex directly onto the skin, I used it to apply small pieces of tissue paper all over the actress’s face and neck. As it dried, this created a leathery, wrinkled skin effect. To give a sense that her skin was rotting I then blended white, yellow and green makeup for an all over tone, before using blues and purples for depth and shading. Finally, to add to the aged and rotting effect, I used a fine paintbrush to paint veins all over her face and neck. Red eyeliner was used again to give the eyes an evil look.

As well as making up her face I also applied makeup to the actress’s hands and arms, as I knew that there would be a shot in which this character reaches through the letterbox. I covered the actress’s arms in latex, before using a sponge to apply greens, yellows and browns for a mottled, rotten look.

Old Lady Zombie was a comedy character in the original script, and although her scene was rewritten, we still wanted to keep the same sense of fun in her overall look. `The original script described her as a WI member. We chose a matching outfit for her with an ostentatious hat. The costume was then ripped and covered in the customary amount of blood, before the addition of dirt and flowers to give her that ‘Just Dug Up’ look.

It was a shame not to see more of the character in the finished film, but that’s life in the art department!

The final makeup challenge for this film was a zombie movie staple – the zombie bite: a protagonist is bitten by a zombie and we watch their slow transformation into the undead. This was my homage to Dawn Of The Dead‘s Roger. What was fun about this effect was that there were stages to the makeup that we enhanced from scene to scene.

We don’t see Derek get bitten by the zombie. First, we see that Derek is feeling unwell. This shows up better on video than as a screenshot, so check out the movie below to see the full effect. We wanted to introduce elements of the zombie design slowly and subtly, hinting at what’s yet to come. I gave the actor a light covering of the white zombie foundation, enough to make him look unnaturally pale. I also wanted to show that the change was already beginning, and so I used a mustard colour around his eyes. I thought that yellow would give the actor a sickly hue, and it is also a colour that, once blended with different shades of purple, contributed to the look of the other zombies in the film. I then created the appearance of sweat by applying glycerine with a stipple sponge. This had to be reapplied between takes to give him an unhealthy sheen and a feverish look to show signs of the infection.

At this point Derek’s zombie bite is revealed to the audience. This is the only human injury we see in the film and we wanted it to be shocking. We wanted it to look serious, definitely an injury that could kill if not seen to immediately. I went about this in the same way as the other wounds, but on a larger scale. First I used black and various purples and reds to create a bloody looking area. I created two small bones using bone wax, which were attached to the skin and covered with a layer of liquid latex to keep them looking clean and white, so that they wouldn’t soak up any of the blood. I then used tissue paper, building up a layer of latex skin over the injury which was then ripped open to expose the wound and bones beneath. I used wound filler to add texture and extra gore to the wound, and of course, plenty of fake blood. The ‘skin’ was blended into the rest of the arm using a natural foundation. As this wound was the source of the infection we wanted to make it look as if it was already rotting, so we blended yellows and greens into the skin. To further represent the zombie virus spreading into the body I painted a vein effect spreading out from around the wound.

The final stage of Derek’s transformation was to reveal him as a zombie in the climactic scene. This involved a slightly different design from our regular zombies because Derek was a protagonist so we wanted to show him as a tragic, rather than as a scary zombie. Also because Derek had only just turned, he would not look as rotten or weathered as the other zombies, and we couldn’t cover him in injuries, because he hadn’t sustained any beyond the bite to his arm. I gave him the same white face as the other zombies, then exaggerated the lines and features of the actor’s face and neck with blue shading, which I blended into the white to make the colour less bright. I then increased the yellow shading around his eyes and layered purple over it. Building on the idea of showing the virus’s spread, I designed Derek’s eye makeup to mirror the veiny style of his wound, spreading out through all of the creases around his eyes.

I love zombies, and I especially love doing zombie makeup, so watch this space for more zombie experiments and to see zombie up myself.