Night of the Living Airbrush

By Glenn Hetrick

I love horror movies, I always have and I always will. Quite simply, that is how I ended up being a special effects make-up artist. So when I was called on to provide fx for my favorite horror-rock band, the Misfits, and one of the all-time greatest horror film directors, George Romero, I jumped at the opportunity with reckless abandon.


Sometimes (more often than not), directly after taking one of those kinds of jumps, the "art" part of special effects artist can become an issue. Things like budget and time constraints become the pinnacle of importance, and you are forced to bear witness, as much of your original artistic vision gets swallowed whole by the repulsive beast known as a shooting schedule.


However, this monstrosity can be effectively combated with timesaving application tools and techniques that allow you to concentrate on the quality of your work. In this battle, no weapon is as invaluable as your trusty airbrush! Full body make-ups can be achieved with stunning results in a fraction of the time. Using two airbrushes, one "all around" type brush and one higher quality brush, you get the range and versatility you need to handle just about anything, while also giving yourself two colors to work with at the same time. I prefer anIWATA HP-C and an IWATA ECLIPSE; more on that a little later.


Now, let's get back to the videoâ basically, the storyline revolved around the "zombied-out" band members having attacked a group of fans, causing various wounds whilst trying to eat them. The video begins when the injured victims arrive at a small hospital desperate for help. Unfortunately for them, just seconds latter an unknowing group of EMT's gurney in the Zombies from an arriving ambulance. Wasting no time, "All Hell Breaks Loose" and we are treated to a Romero-Misfits Zombie shindig, replete with the head-biting, blood-spurting, pulse-pounding action you would expect from such a pairing.


I had been given about three weeks for pre-production and then it was off to Toronto, Canada, for the shoot. The designs of each were a combination of two goals: The first was to capture the intrinsic qualities and characteristics of each band member in the make-ups, and the second was to pay homage to my favorite Zombie make-ups of film. I spent a lot of time going through back issues of Fangoria, books and other reference materials to decide on a look. I tried to emulate the ultra-realistic work of Optic Nerve in "Night Of the Living Dead 1990", as well as a taste of the camp in "Return of the Living Dead." I wanted these to be completely different...eerie in a real but not-too-real kind of way, if that makes sense.


Technically speaking, the make-ups were sculpted in Leisure Clay on Ultra-cal life casts of each member, smoothed down with 99% alcohol, molded in Ultra-cal and Hemp and run in black tinted GM Foam Latex. I pre-painted each piece (three of each character so that I had two safety pieces with me on set) with custom-made PAX paint through an Iwata HP-C. Once everything was painted and powdered, I had a solid two or three hours left over before getting on the tour bus and leaving for Toronto.


We shot the whole thing over two very busy days; I applied for about 13 hours straight the first day and something like 18 hours the second day. I was working alone because my fiancèe/assistant was recruited to play a nurse who gets her face bitten off by the drummer, Dr.Chud. That little acting stint kept her busy almost the entire time, leaving me flying solo...but, thankfully, the band's multi-talented manager, Ken Caifa, lent me his artistic hand when he could.


For each of the band members, their prosthetic pieces were glued down with Pros-aide and the seams were blended off (that means hiding the edges of the foam latex piece) with a material called cabo-bondo. They were then painted with the same custom-made PAX paints that I had pre-painted the pieces with.


Now some of you may be wondering what the heck I am talking about there. Pros-aide is an acrylic emulsion adhesive used in the make-up effects industry as an adhesive for gluing on prosthetic pieces. PAX is a type of paint, often custom mixed by the artist, that employs Pros-aide as a medium for its flexing ability, thus allowing the finished paint job to move with the very flexible foam latex piece without cracking. It is made by combining Pros-aide and acrylic colors and then thinning that mixture down with water, in this case until it is thin enough to flow through your airbrush effectively. Cabo-bondo is simply Pros-aide thickened with a fine powdery material called cabo-sil until it reaches a mayonnaise-like consistency. With that said, let's talk about technique.


When pre-painting, I only base out the pieces, render the deepest shades and pick out some of the highlights. This provides an excellent template for a much quicker paint job on set without being too constrictive or causing the colors to become excessively muddied. I also stick to more solid color patterns; gently blending the edges of each color with overspray.


Once the make-ups were applied, I shaded out most of the blending areas and then threw in some really punched-up highlights for that really "contrasty" break-up. This helps to trick the eye into perceiving the prosthetic piece as being one with the performer's face. I keep my Eclipse bottle loaded with the shading color, an extra bottle with the base color, and the highlight color in my HP-C. This allows you to go back and forth quickly. It is important not to be afraid to hit the same area multiple times until you are really comfortable with it. I never move on until an area is where I want it to be; that's just how I sections. Once the base coat is on there, everything is handled in small sections.


After I have the piece blended off with color, I use three new colors (highlights and shadows) to give the piece dimension and help it blend into the paint job that is going on the rest of the body. I did all of the body make-ups with Michale Davy's Airbrush cosmetic colors and an Eclipse. Once the highlights and shadows are complete, I use combinations of the multiple colors that were used thus far and my HP-C to spray stipple patterns all over the prosthetic piece and body. This creates a mottled effect, which has two purposes: 1. It goes a LONG way to adding realism to any flesh/organic type paint job, and 2. It ties the entire make-up together.


Well, without getting too long winded, that is pretty much it. Thanks to the use of airbrushing, I was able to handle an ABSOLUTELY impossible amount of make-ups and FX gags in an extremely short amount of time and still end up with astounding results.


It takes a little adjustment to get used to airbrushing make-up as opposed to hand brushing everything, but it is well worth the effort. The end results of combining some hand details with a good airbrushed paint job just can't be beat. Both in the shop and on set, the airbrush is an indispensable tool of the modern FX artist.