Exclusive: Behind the Zombies of I Sell the Dead!

Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead!This Halloween season we had a great idea for a series of articles detailing the practical makeup effects done by some our favorite guys in the industry. They love talking about their craft, we love hearing about it, and Fango doesn’t do ‘em any more, so here we are! We’re kicking things off today with an article written by Brian Spears of G&S FX, who did the makeup for the upcoming period zombie movie “>I Sell the Dead! Hope you guys enjoy it and look forward to more!

I received a call from Glass Eye Pix producer Peter Phok towards the end of 2006 concerning a small zombie flick he was putting together for writer director Glenn McQuaid. Phok asked if my partner, Pete Gerner, and I would be interested in helping realize the zombies needed. Being a major zombie freak I was more than interested, probably even cocky, after all I wasn’t asked to create Abe Lincoln, but the living dead. As Gerner & Spears Effects, Pete and I had done our fair share of zombies but we were always looking to improve on what we had previously done. I Sell the Dead was just that gig. Not only did the movie get bigger, but we were allowed the opportunity to add something original to the zombie genre and a great movie to boot!

Part I

In order to realize our 19th century flesh-eating zombie prosthetic, we first needed a life cast of our actor’s face, which would give us an exact copy of the face to work with. The subject’s hair is covered with a bald cap; brows, lashes and any facial hair are coated with Vaseline, so that all the hair remains intact during the process. A generous batch of Alginate is mixed and evenly applied to the face, leaving the nostrils open for air. Alginate, a material similar to what a dentist uses to make a tooth cast, will give us a spot on replica of the actor’s face, down to the last pore. When the Alginate begins to set, plaster bandages are applied creating a “mother mold” to support the flexible Alginate. After the cast is fully cured it is carefully removed and we now have a negative version of a face! The negative is then filled with Ulta Cal 30, gypsum cement, giving us a positive of the face. Now we can begin the next phase getting us closer to our dead guy.

Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead! Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead! Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead!

Part II

We were contracted to create a few zombies, among other gags. As with any film, time is always an issue; the refreshing part was much of the look of the zombie was done for us by director Glenn McQuaid. Glenn, a horror fan himself, had very specific thoughts on the design. He wanted the zombies to be iconic, to have character and personality and sighted several examples as well as providing sketches. The goal was to construct a waterlogged, dripping wrinkly dead dude with originality.

Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead! Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead!

We began quickly slapping Roma Plastina clay onto our life cast, roughing out the desired look. Once the shape began to take form we began to detail, adding deep-set wrinkles and flesh drips as well as skin textures. After the sculpt was approved we know could begin to mold the piece. The sculpture was blocked out and checked for undercuts, and the mold was underway. Ultra Cal 30 was used again, starting with a thin brush up layer directly on the sculpture. Several layers were applied, each one getting thicker until the mold was the desired thickness. Now we had the positive of the actors face and a negative of the zombie face. The next step was to create the foam prosthetic.

Prosthetic grade foam, a 3-part mixture, was whipped up and injected into the mold. Like Betty Crocker we set our oven and let everything bake and several hours later, we had our prosthetic appliance!

Part III

Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead!The undead in I Sell the Dea have spent their fair share of time on the beach, not in the sun, but rather boxed up in a crate. In order to fashion the zombies with a pale, almost devoid of color, complexion several make-up techniques were used.

First we pre painted the appliances with PAX paint, a mix of pros-aid and acrylic paint. Thin layers of dark blue and gray PAX were applied getting lighter until we had achieved a deathly grayish hue to work with. Next we applied the prosthetic with pros-aid, an adhesive, paying attention to the edges to make sure they blended to the skin smoothly.

Behind the zombies of I Sell the Dead!Once the appliance was in place, any exposed skin was covered with our base colors, which included the body, hands and feet. We now could begin applying make-up to further detail our flesh eater, Rubber Mask Greasepaint and alcohol-based Skin Illustrators were used. We speckled colors, such as pale grays, flesh tones and sallow yellows, like a mosaic to give some depth and life to the look. Darker purples, maroons and blues were used to emphasize the wrinkles and crevasses. Then we used several dirt and ash powders to give our creature a less pristine look. Finally we added kick ass contacts and a set of severely rotted dentures to complete our dead, but charismatic, zombies.

Pete and I cannot take all the credit for the FX, the entire cast and crew were instrumental, as well. Not only are they a talented bunch but they were a fun group to make a movie with. Ingrid Okola and the entire Hair and Make-up department were always there to lend more than a hand. David Tabbert’s costume was simply amazing and really made the character complete. Cinematographer Rick Lopez and his crew made our stuff look good, better than we could have ever thought.

It was also an honor to have talented actors, James Godwin and Patrick Bucklew take the make-ups and really bring them to life. GEP founder Larry Fessenden deserves more than thanks for giving independent films quality original flicks. Special thanks go out to producer Peter Phok and line producer Brent Kunkle two behind the scenes guys who made everything happen.

Finally none of this would have happened with out Glenn McQuaid. Glenn’s script was amazing and he ran a great set. He gave Pete and I an opportunity to work on a film we completely enjoyed and made us up our game. Now we wait anxiously to see a film that was a blessing to work on!

Brian Spears

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Johnny Butane

  • The Phantom Stranger

    Nice article guys. Yea it’s a shame that Fangoria doesn’t do these anymore… Y’know, since they’ve upgraded their site my internet explorer won’t even let me on there.

  • ImTheMoon

    It’s a great movie, and those zombies provide some great scares and laughs.