Tag Archives: Short Film

Crossed Paths: Art Direction

In my last post I talked about my role as a Make Up Artist on the short film Crossed Paths. I talked about how I created make up effects for each of the two leads and gave a brief synopsis of the film, which was made by young people in Crawley.

I also worked as the Art Director for the film, making key props and dressing the locations. A lot of the action in the film takes place in a small square with shops and a pub where the characters hang out.

One scene required filming in a shop where Aaron gets a job. We were lucky to find a shop in the square where we were shooting that allowed us to film on their premises over night. The shop was closing down and the owners agreed to leave behind their remaining stock for us.

There wasn’t enough stock to fill the shop, which was a bit of a challenge, but I managed to fill the front of the shop, the till area and a central aisle. It was a good couple of hours of shuffling stock around while the crew filmed scenes outside. As often happens with set and props work, the crew only ended up using a portion of the set but I was very happy with how it all looked under the lights.

Aaron’s neighbour Hasan has given him a job in his shop, but they soon come to blows over Aaron’s growing right wing views. When Aaron’s new friend and N.E.M. member Joe asks Aaron to post flyers about their march in Hasan’s shop, Hasan objects and Aaron quits.

We used a local pub as the meeting place for the N.E.M. which was conveniently located in the same square as the majority of our shooting, in Gossops Green. The close proximity of our locations lent itself to the sense of confinement and the intensity of these different cultural groups struggling to live side by side.

The staff of the Windmill Pub were extremely accommodating and nothing like the scary looking thugs we filled their pub with. The pub was already decked out in England flags, which made for a perfect backdrop for the N.E.M. meetings. My work at this location consisted of lighting the scenes and rearranging the pub’s interior to accommodate our equipment and make the most of the location. I repositioned a lot of the furniture and decorations to suit the blocking of each scene, added some more patriotic embellishments and filled the pub with N.E.M. flyers, advertising the march.

We first see the pub when Aaron meets Joe and they go for a pint. Joe is in a similar position to Aaron, out of work and angry at the lack of opportunities. He tells Aaron about the N.E.M. who blame immigration and multiculturalism for the lack of jobs. Joe takes Aaron under his wing and encourages him to come to the next meeting.

In the next scene at the pub we see Aaron becoming indoctrinated into the group as the N.E.M.’s leader rallies them for the march. It was a tough scene to shoot as the interior of the pub was quite dark and the number of wide shots necessary to show the whole group meant that we were limited as to where we could place our lights.

As the N.E.M. are preparing to march, a group of college students plan a counter-demonstration to oppose the right wing group. We filmed the scene in the canteen of Central Sussex College in Crawley.

I decorated the canteen using Stop the N.E.M. flyers, which the protest organiser also hands out during the scene. I created a range of placards for the protest scene, some of which I left unfinished and placed around the canteen along with marker pens, paint and brushes so that our extras could be seen working on them. I also created a large banner to be used later at the protest, which I hung as a backdrop.

The action of the film all builds up to the day of the protest when all of these groups face off against each other.

As this was a Council funded projected we were able to close the roads where we were filming, which was great. It also meant that we had police officers with vehicles on hand who were happy to participate, which really added to the look and feel of the scene.

I made a range of banners and placards for the protest scene, some of which were also used in the earlier canteen scene. I wanted the various signs to look homemade and so I used fairly cheap materials. I also tried to create a difference in style between those belonging to the N.E.M. and those belonging to the students.

It was a strange experience creating protest signs for both sides of the protest, a bit like having split personalities – switching from extreme right-wing hate-speak one minute to anti-fascist imagery the next. I was also a bit worried about what my neighbours would think when I had to leave a lot of the placards outside to dry.

The film was used as part of an anti-extremism project by Crawley Borough Council. It was distributed to schools along with an education pack to help teachers explore the issues raised by the film. The pack also contained further interviews with the characters, which lent more context to the story.

If you would like to explore issues through filmmaking and create a short film with your group then I can provide the necessary training and support to make your project a reality. Visit my website or contact me now for more information about my filmmaking workshops.


Crossed Paths: Makeup

In November 2010 I worked on the short film Crossed Paths as a Make Up Artist and Art Director. The film was made by young people and was funded by Crawley Borough Council as part of an anti-extremism project. The story focuses on two young men, Aaron and Yusuf, whose combined fates are set in motion by an act of violence when Yusuf attacks Aaron in the street with a knife, landing himself in prison and Aaron in the hospital.

The action picks up some time later, when Yusef is released from prison. Aaron, meanwhile, is struggling to get back on his feet after the attack, which has left him permanently scarred. After a failed job interview he meets a member of the New English Movement, who blame the town’s multiculturalism for the lack of opportunities for young men like Aaron. Angry and disillusioned, Aaron gets swept up in the group’s dangerous ideology.

I created Aaron’s scar using On Skin Silicone and applied it with a Principality Dispensing Gun. The silicone comes in a range of skin tones which need to be powdered after they are dry in order to reduce the shine and blend into the surrounding skin.

As we filmed over several days, it was important to recreate the scar as accurately as possible on a daily basis, sometimes twice a day if it was knocked or peeling. I always take as many photos as possible so that I can keep a record of the look and to maintain continuity.

Yusuf goes through a lot of changes in prison and tries to overcome his violent past by becoming absorbed in his Islamic faith. However, this change is not necessarily for the better as it soon becomes clear that Yusuf has developed some extremist views and has been under the influence of some dangerous people. Yusuf takes to his renewed faith with a dangerous fervour and begins to recruit other community members to his cause.

Rishi, the actor playing Yusuf, was not permitted by his work to grow a beard for the role and so I had to apply a fake beard for him twice a day on location. This was my first time using beards and our schedule and budget didn’t allow for any practise time. I had to apply the beard for the first time on our first day of shooting with very little time to spare. It was a challenge, but I was pleased with the results.

I used a fake beard that was attached to a fine mesh net. The beard had to be glued on using spirit gum and then trimmed.

The action builds to a clash between various sectors of society as the New English Movement organises a march through a Muslim neighbourhood. A group of students stage a demonstration to show their opposition to the march and Yusuf organises a group to fight back against the N.E.M. As events spiral out of control, Yusuf and Aaron cross paths once again, with tragic results.

I’ll talk about my role as an Art Director on the production in my next post.

If you would like to take part in a special effects makeup workshop or make a short film with your group then head over to my website or get in touch to find out more about my services as a Community Filmmaker.


Moonlight Saves The Day

This was a short film made by children from Years 3 and 4 at Meon Junior School in Portsmouth. It was part of a Creative Partnerships project focused on literacy. The group had already worked with another company to devise a fairytale-like story. I was tasked with showing the children how to turn that story into an animation through a series of workshops.

2 General

We began by breaking the story into scenes and discussing how scenes are laid out in a script. It was not long before we had adapted the group’s story into a script to use whilst shooting. Following this, we explored shot language and the group learned about how to use master shots, close-ups and cut-aways to tell their story visually. Armed with this knowledge the group were able to create a shot list and a storyboard for their animation.

1 General

The next thing the group had to tackle was character design and so we discussed what the characters should look like and what physical attributes we could give them to enhance their personalities. Based on this list of qualities and descriptions the class drew their ideas for each character and then voted for their favourites to make the final decisions.

4 character 3 Character

Once we knew what the characters looked like we turned our attention to the animation’s sets and used a similar process to design the different environments of the story.

3 Environments 4 Environments 8 Environments

Once the design stage was complete, we moved onto construction. I led the group through a workshop on how to make articulated puppets for paper cut-out animation and then we assigned teams to start work on each of the characters and sets. This was a difficult job as the children had to take into account the ways in which each character needed to move as well as making sure we had removable features for every facial expression required for each of the characters.

2 Close Ups 3 Close Ups

We also had to create versions of the puppets in different sizes, such as enlarged heads and facial features for close-ups. Added to all of this was the challenge of keeping every element of the animation in proportion so that it would work when we put it all together.

7 Proportion 8 Proportion

With all of our elements prepared, we were able to start animating the film. The group had a workshop to introduce them to animation techniques at the start of the project, so they would be familiar with the software and the process. Shooting out of sequence, the classes were split into small animation teams each with a few shots to complete. We only had two days in which to shoot the film. Everyone involved in the project also got to record narration and sound effects for the film, which were then combined when the film was edited.

10 Fun 11 FunThis is one of the youngest age groups that I have worked with and so I was extremely impressed by the quality of their work within such a limited timeframe. The project was delivered and completed in the space of six weeks, with only a day of workshops each week for each class.

If you would like to try your hand at an animation workshop or make a short film as a project like this one then please visit my website for more information.


T.A.N.K.S was one of the films made by young people through the Oak Grove Film Project, a peer mentoring and integration project that brought mainstream young people and young people with special needs together to make short films. Workshops explored genre, technical filmmaking skills, script writing and development, casting, stage fighting, props making, acting techniques and direction.


In the first year of the project the young people made a science fiction film, an outcome decided by the project organisers. For the project’s second year I wanted the young people to have more ownership of what they made, so I wanted them to select the genre themselves. In order to present the group with their options I ran a series of workshops on genre looking in particular at genres that were easy to define stylistically and visually such as Horror, Western, Thriller, Action and Adventure. In each workshop I would show film clips as examples in order to prompt the group to pick out the defining elements or ingredients of each genre. We looked at the visual style, basic story structure and archetypal characters within each genre and explored the associations that the group had with each type of film. The group then voted for the genre that they would like to work in, choosing to make an Action movie.


With the genre selected, we then began to explore Action in more depth looking at films like Die Hard, Hot Fuzz and Kung Fu Hustle. The group explored a workshop on the action hero, looking at the typical personality traits of an action hero, their journey to becoming a hero through the course of the story and their relationship to other characters such as a sidekick, a love interest (who finds herself in danger) and an authority figure who challenges the hero’s methods.


With our understanding of the action hero complete, I then led a workshop that looked at the villain’s role within the genre and the ways in which the villain can be compared and contrasted with the hero. We also looked at his henchmen and cronies.


To begin generating ideas for our film, I ran a workshop in high concept movies – films with a simple premise that can be explained in one sentence. The group were asked to identify a number of films from their high concept descriptions and then began creating and pitching their own high concept premises for the film. The aim was to establish a threat for our hero to fight against as this would provide the basis of our plot. We played around with a lot of ideas, established which concepts were the most popular choices and then began to swap and combine elements until we had a story idea that everyone agreed on. The threat was an evil headmaster with a brainwashed army of school children – Totally Awesome Ninja Kids – giving us our title, TANKS.


With our characters identified and a premise on which to build our plot, I then led the group in exploring the hero’s journey more closely and used story structure, along with all of the genre ingredients we’d already listed, to map out a blueprint for a typical action film plot. This blueprint followed a recognizable three-act structure that the group were able to apply to a number of action movies that they were familiar with. This plan outlined roughly ten scenes in which our hero notices something suspicious, investigates, identifies the villain and meets a series of obstacles before finally defeating the enemy. We were then able to slot our story ideas and ingredients into the blueprint and soon had a full story outline for the writers to work with.


The group split into two working groups for the screenwriting process with a group of writers discussing ideas and drafting scenes while a group of actors improvised scenes and characters. Each week the two groups would feed each other ideas with the writers suggesting scenes or characters for the group to improvise and the actors performing them. I felt that this was a good way for those who didn’t want to write to still feed their ideas into the script and influence the story. Improvisation can be really useful to help writers come up with new ideas or fill in gaps in the story that they might be struggling with.


Castings were filmed and done in groups so that people could also try out for crew roles and get in some practise with the kit.


The film needed to be high energy. Obviously car chases weren’t possible and so our chases had to be on foot. We also had a stage fighting workshop in order to learn safe fighting techniques for the film and devise our onscreen clashes. This was a particularly fun day.


We shot the film over a few weekends at The Rosie and around Oak Grove College. The film was entered into the Oak Grove Community Film Festival and was nominated for ‘Best Drama.’


To find out more about my community filmmaking projects and workshops, please visit my website.

Happy Cloud

0 On set

Happy Cloud was an animated short film made by young people from Worthing Youth Media and funded by First Light. I ran this project, leading workshops that took the group through the process of developing their idea into a finished film. I helped the group to write and edit their script, design the characters, draw up storyboards and put together an animatic, then led them through animation workshops before the shooting of the film itself.

1 HC Title

Happy Cloud was an idea that went through a lot of development. It was originally a short project that I ran workshops for in the summer term of 2008, but when the group’s application for First Light funding was successful, they decided to develop it further.

The original Happy Cloud was a short viral ad in which Happy Cloud smiled gleefully while a narrator spoke to him in voice over. The group had to develop the character in order to find a story for their film. The concept that they settled upon was the idea of a show within a show. Happy Cloud became the star of a children’s television series.

We animated the film using paper cut out animation techniques. We created backdrops and characters using bits of paper, plastic and fabric that we manipulated and swapped between each shot. The whole film has a flat, simplistic style. I really enjoy paper cut out animation as you have to think in different dimensions to stop motion puppetry. Although it looks easier, there are far less options available to you for movement and so bringing things to life can be quite a challenge.

2 Happy Cloud 1

The idea for Happy Cloud’s TV show was to create a playful and colourful world in the style of narrated cartoons such as the Mr Men and Mr Benn. The group decided that this would be a pastiche of children’s TV’s patronising tone and inane characters. We designed a title sequence for the show that would introduce the characters and the premise of Happy Cloud’s TV show and serve as an intro for our film, before pulling back to reveal the set, leading the audience into the ‘real’ world of the film.

4 HC intro 23 HC intro 1

Happy Cloud’s narrator speaks over the titles describing Cloud Land as the happiest place in the world, where ‘Happy Cloud makes everyone happy.’ To demonstrate Happy Cloud’s powers, we designed a factory conveyor belt of people forcibly being made happy one by one by Happy Cloud. We wanted to establish the subversive tone of the humour from the outset.

6 Conveyor belt 27 Conveyor belt 38 Conveyor belt 49 Conveyor belt 5

Happy Cloud’s character also needed fleshing out. A cloud who is happy isn’t much to work with. With that in mind the group thought about subverting the idea. They decided that to the viewers of his show Happy Cloud would seem like the perfect role model for children, but only until the cameras stopped rolling.

10 HC concept sketch

‘Offscreen’ Happy Cloud is the pampered star of the show – grumpy, vain, money hungry, alcoholic and demanding. We created three different sizes of Happy Cloud to allow us to alter his proportions to suit each shot’s requirements.

11 HC character 214 Happy Cloud 115 HC Drunk16 Happy Cloud 6

We then turned our attention to developing a cast of characters around Happy Cloud. The first was his co-star and onscreen nemesis Storm Cloud. We designed Storm Cloud as a foil for Happy Cloud. Storm Cloud looks tough but isn’t. He is a somewhat depressive character who gets pushed around by Happy Cloud.

17 SC concept sketch18 Storm cloud character 2

Next we designed the Director of the show. The Director is the voice of authority for the characters, almost a parent figure. We decided to only show him in silhouette to give him a mysterious anonymity.

21 Director 1

The main conflict of the film comes into play when the Director brings in an image consultant to give the show a ratings boosting makeover. He introduces Jiggy Bigwig, an enthusiastic character who claims to be down with the kids.

23 Jiggy 124 High Five

The team had a lot of fun writing and designing Jiggy’s character. They envisioned a man who wears clothes that are far too young for him, tries to act like he is still a kid but is hopelessly outdated and clueless.

25 jiggy concept sketch 226 Jiggy 6

One of Jiggy’s quirks is his attempts to speak like young people so we made a point of highlighting some of his jargon in cut-away shots.

28 Jiggy 630 Jiggy 3

Happy Cloud hates Jiggy but is convinced to accept his input when the Director hints that it could lead to more money and awards for the show. Then there is an accident on set which sends Happy Cloud crashing through the stage.

33 HC falls34 CRASH

Unconscious, Happy Cloud has an out of body experience, floating up from the stage as a ghostly form of himself. We had fun designing the Ghost Happy Cloud, who we made out of translucent paper to give him an ethereal quality.

35 Ghost cloud37 Ghost HC 2

He meets Zany Funhouse, the awards fairy, who acts as his Ghost of Christmas Future to show him the error of his ways. Zany was partly modelled on Amy Winehouse (this was 2009) and styled as a partied out veteran of awards ceremonies with a tall beehive of hair that’s full of trophies and awards statues.

We decided to introduce Zany with a slow tilt, travelling up and up and up to emphasise the impossible height of her beehive hair. The hair felt a character in itself, so we decided that for an added punchline we’d make it exactly that, giving it a face and making it growl and jump off of her head at the end of the shot.

38 Awards Fairy 439 Awards Fairy 340 Awards fairy 2

42 Awards Fairy 6Zany waves her magic wand and whisks Ghost Happy Cloud away to see a vision of his future.

38 Awards fairy43 Awards Fairy Magic wand44 BING

Ghost Happy Cloud finds himself at a glitzy awards ceremony, watching his future self arrive in a limo. This is my favourite shot in the film, as drunken Happy Cloud tumbles out of the limo. Happy Cloud’s anarchic behaviour was great fun to film and is taken to the next level by voice actor Ben Simpson.

45 Limo 146 Happy Cloud 5

One of the features of the red carpet scene was the paparazzi, snapping pictures at the side of the red carpet. We designed something very simple of this, using two rows of people and then moving holographic silver paper in and out of each frame to represent the camera flashes.

48 Papps 2
We envisioned the awards ceremony as the Oscars for the cartoon world and wanted the celebrity audience to be filled with cartoon characters. The group designed several members of the audience to resemble popular characters.

50 Awards audience 1

Paper cut-out animation works by moving pieces of paper, or changing and substituting them frame by frame. Substitution is particularly effective for facial expressions and dialogue. We had a range of eyes, eyebrows and mouths in different expressions and mouth shapes for each character which we then duplicated for each different sized version of the characters.

The screenshots below show the range of facial features we used to make a drunken Happy Cloud falling asleep at the awards ceremony.

51 Tired HC52 Tired HC 253 Tired HC 3

With Happy Cloud asleep, Storm Cloud has to accept the award on Happy Cloud’s behalf, but just as he is doing this, Happy Cloud wakes up and storms the stage, hurling abuse at Storm Cloud and the shocked audience.

55 HC Swears 256 Awards audience 2

Then, to make matters worse, he throws up.

58 HC Sick 259 HC Sick 360 HC Sick 4

I was delighted when Happy Cloud won the award for Best Comedy at the First Light Movie Awards 2010. We attended the ceremony at the Odeon Leicester Square, where the award was presented to our young filmmakers by Bill Nighy and Nick Frost. Simon Bird, actor and comedian from The Inbetweeners, was one of the judges of the awards. This was his feedback on the film:

“Ambitious, inventive, unexpected. Slick and professional yet still imaginative and energetic, it is exactly what a short film should be – an interesting idea concisely and expertly brought to life.”

Thanks to First Light, the film has been screened at film festivals around the world and picked up the Small Film Award at Canterbury Anifest 2010.

If you want to see more from behind the scenes then have a look at how the finished film compares to the animatic. The opening sequence in particular is very close to how we shot the finished version.

An animatic is when you put your storyboard together on a timeline to work out things like pace and timing. It can include test shots and sound, although we recorded our sound after the animation shoot. On a larger production the animatic can be used to fill in gaps when full scenes haven’t been shot yet. You might notice shots in the animatic that weren’t included in the film. This is because we had to cut a couple of scenes from the script to fit our shooting schedule.

If you’d like to learn animation techniques, or want to produce an animated film, please check out my website to see how I can help.


0 Teenager MakeUp2

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 TeenagerTeenager 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.

Teenager 1

As with Outbreak, I worked with the Art Department sourcing props and costumes, dressing the set and working as a Makeup Artist during the shoot. 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 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 these screenshots of Sidney and Cassie’s bedrooms.

1 Teenager Set Dressing 12 Teenager Set Dressing 2

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.

3 Teenager MakeUp

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.

5 Teenager4 Allie m-up26 Allie m-up1

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

7 Teenager screengrab 18 Teenager screengrab 2

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 from being grabbed or held firmly.

10 Allie arm13 Teenager screengrab 10

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 Ann would have had time to clean herself up by this point.

Bruising Day 2 - 3Bruising day 2 - 4

The next scene involving Ann 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.

Allie make-up3Teenager screengrab 6

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 edible blood so that she could take a swig from the bottle between takes. Daniel was played by Andrew Elias, who is lovely in real life but terrifying when in character.

Teenager screengrab 7Teenager screengrab 8Teenager screengrab 13

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.

Teenager screengrab 14Teenager screengrab 15

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 but obviously important to explore the issue. I’m really proud of everyone’s work on Teenager, it’s an emotionally powerful film with excellent performances.

If you’d like to try your hand at one of my Special Effects Makeup workshops then please visit my website for more information.

Outbreak: Zombie Makeup Effects

outbreak hands

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.

Park zombies 1

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, burned, dirtied up and covered in blood as we matched the outfits up to our actors.

Chav zombies

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.

Runner 2Twins 4

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.

Latex 4Latex 1

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.

Chef roar

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.

Chef 3Chef 4

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 fresh scab again. I love using fresh 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.

Chef 5Chef 6

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.

Caroline 2Caroline 4

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.

caroline zombie hand

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!

Caroline 3

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.

Derek unwell 1Derek 1

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.

Derek 3Derek 2

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 me as a zombie too. I also run workshops in Special Effects Makeup so if you’re interested in having a go yourself, take a look at my website.

Derek 4