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Corpsing A Skeleton: Part 1

Materials:

  • Skeleton
  • Wood Stain
  • Paint Brush
  • Rag
  • Heavy Duty/Protective Latex Gloves
  • Heat Gun
  • Thin, clear plastic tarp
  • paints
  • Spray Glue

There are many ways to corpse a skeleton, but usually it involves liquid latex. The year I did this project, I had come across a video by Stiltbeast Studios showing a lesser known approach using plastic sheeting and a heat gun. I highly recommend the video (I watched it 4 times before I tried it out myself). Here I'll recap my experience and throw in some tips/tidbits that might be helpful for anyone who is attempting this for the first time. 

I used a 5 foot posable skeleton from buycostumes.com.

 

Things to remember: 

1) A proper heat gun is hot. I mean volcano hot (unlike the craft heat guns you use for embossing). In the video, our host catches himself making the serious error of putting his hand in front of the heat gun to (for whatever reason) check if it's hot yet. This is not a hair dryer. The gun heats up fast. There's no need to do this. Please don't. 

2) Make sure the surface you put your skeleton on is, for lack of a better word, industrial strength. Something tough, like a work bench. Or your back concrete patio. I worked on a slab of wood covered with a tarp (which I melted in three spot).

Part 1: Wrapped in Plastic

In a well ventilated area, set up your materials. The vapor from the melting plastic itself isn't too bad, but when you start working with the stain (and even that spray glue) it can get strong and unpleasant to say the least.

I bought two 8 ft x 12 ft plastic drop sheets that were .75 ml thick. I used one and a half on this skeleton. 

Tip: partially unfold the plastic sheet so it's at its  width (8 ft) and then cut the whole pile in half (so you have 2 piles of 4 ft x 12 ft sheets). This will save you time later when you're cutting up pieces to wrap around your skeleton.

To make life a little easier, coat the rib cage and hip bone with a little spray glue and press one end of the plastic against it (top image). 

Bring the plastic around the torso, under the arms and over the pelvis (second image). It doesn't have to be taut. In fact, I found having the plastic a little loose created a better wrinkling effect.

If you have a heat gun with different heat levels, play around a bit until you get a feel for the process. I started at 550 F until I got my feet then cranked it up to 950 F and higher later on.

You want to hold the heat gun a few inches away from the plastic (the hotter the temperature, the further away you need to hold it) and keep it moving. If you're too close or stay in one spot too long, you'll melt a hole (and maybe your skeleton). The heat shrink wraps the skeleton in the plastic. 

Don't worry if you make holes. You can patch them (later you will purposely make holes). 

 

Flip over your skeleton, and do the same melting technique to the back.

I started to play around with folding the plastic in areas. You can see (to the left) how it creates long sinewy textures in the "skin".

Tip: While wearing your super protective heavy duty latex gloves (specially made for paint stripping), you can manipulate the plastic a little with your hand, pressing down edges after you've hit them with heat.  

Take another long sheet of plastic and wrap it around the torso two more times. 

Apply heat.

Repeat if you like. 

The more plastic you add, the sturdier it will be and the more wrinkles you get.

In fact, while strengthening the layers around the shoulder joint by using long thick folds of plastic to wrap over and around where the arm meets the shoulder, I discovered the melt effect to be quite cool.

As shown in the video, you can build up muscles (like biceps) by putting knots in a length of plastic, attaching it to the skeleton with spray glue, and then wrapping it in plastic (as pictured below) before melting it in place.

Keep in mind that while the limbs of your skeleton will have some movement to it when you're done, you might want to consider bending the arm or leg into a position before you melt the plastic. I always find having the limbs of creatures at different angles makes a piece more interesting.

So take a moment and play with the position of the limbs.

Make sure hands and feet line up with arms and legs (and are facing the right way).

The toughest part for me were the hands (left). After wrapping the plastic around the hands, melting them, cutting the excess off the tips and cutting slits between the fingers, you go back in with the heat gun. If you're wearing heavy duty gloves, you can try to form the plastic around the fingers (melt, squish, melt, squish, repeat). I decided I could be happy with having very boney hands.

All that's left is the head which is done the same way as the rest of the body.

You'll want to partially melt the nose area and the eyes. Later I'll be popping some eyeballs in there (I didn't want them to melt during this process).

I tucked the plastic back into the mouth before I melted it. Tip: be mindful where that hot air is going. I was melting out a bit of the cheekbone, and didn't notice the hot air was escaping out the mouth, melting a big hole in the jaw plastic that I didn't intend to have. It's like you create a wind tunnel and it comes out another side, so keep an eye out that while you're working on the eye socket, you aren't melting a spot under his chin at the same time.

Part 2: Staining

This is where it gets interesting. Something happens when you add the stain to the plastic and then apply heat. It's like an accelerator-shrinker, and adds even more wrinkles. 

I decided I wanted two layers of colour. This first was a red colour called "Bombay Mahogany". I brushed it on, then wiped some of it off with a rag. If and when I do this again, I won't cover the whole body with the red. Instead, I would just pick the meatiest places. I found that a lot of the red - while cool - kind of gave my corpse a bit of a BBQ sauce feel. 

Once the stain was applied, I used the heat gun to start melting holes through to the bone in places. The heat gun also helps speed along drying times.

Time to add the brown stain using the same technique: paint on, rag off, melt. I used "Dark Walnut".

Tip: If you get some stain on your hands, you can scrub it off using cooking oil (I used sunflower oil) and then wash your hands with soap. 

For the record, it being my first time corpsing a full skeleton, this project took me somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3 to 4 hours.

And while the heat gun dried most of the stain, it was still a bit tacky. Let it dry overnight before moving onto the next section.

Coming up in Corpsing a Skeleton Part 2: dry brushing, creating eyes, and finishing touches.