From Your Inquiries

Frequently Asked Questions

I am looking for any recipes for realistic skin type substances. I have heard of a skin product that contains gelatin. Have you heard of such a thing. Also, any blood, guts, brains, gore in general that are low budget yet effective that you know of would be great.

Gelatin is a great material from which to make fake flesh. Mix a cup of water with a cup of dry unflavored gelatin. Use Knox brand gelatin. Melt it in a double boiler, it will melt at 100 degrees F. Color it with any water soluble paint such as latex craft paint. The color you mix will pretty much be the color you get. Cast it in alginate, latex or silicone molds made from body parts. Use makeup for your final coloring.

Bad stuff about gelatin effects:
1) It rots, so make it the day of your effect,
2) It melts at low temperature, so if you put it in your car on a hot day, it will turn to mush.
3) It isn't durable, but it cuts and acts just like flesh. Great Stuff. The commercial stuff is much more durable probably because it comes with a preservative. Keep your gear really clean.

I teach sculpture at a small college, and I am looking for a relatively inexpensive way to cast clay portrait busts. (I've been having my students make plaster waste molds. This is very inexpensive, but very messy, and the mold can only be used once.) I've considered "Smooth-On" rubber molds, but this is probably too expensive ($40-$50 per portrait bust).

Smooth-On is seriously over-rated, too expensive and limited in use. It is however fun to play with.

Try hot melt or moulage, both are relatively cheap, hold excellent detail and can be reused. Use plaster bandages for your mother mold. You should get our books on mold making, especially the Prop Makers Mold and Casting Handbook -- well worth the $20.

I am also interested in making life casts. How much alginate would I need to do a whole face? (I read on your home page that 4 oz. will make an ear.)

It depends on your style and what you consider to be a whole face, I need 1/3 pound to do a face from chin to forehead, no ears. Our Advanced Face Casting Kit, K-55 will do three faces or one face and neck. Again, it depends on your style.

How many times can you use an alginate mold?

Usually once, immediately after removal, but some people will take 2 or 3 casts before it drys out. Alginate will break if pulled too much.

Do you have to make a plaster mothermold?

You need a mothermold, but it doesn't have to be plaster. I use plaster bandages, they work exceptionally well and you don't have to make a box. Just wet them and put them on.

I mixed some Bondo to make a prop and it didn't harden, I had to scrape it off. Some that I had mixed earlier in the day hardened in only a few minutes. I left the top off the can between batches, but why would that make any difference?

You probably mixed the first batch on cardboard and the second in a waxed cup. Almost any two-part system will react to paraffin. Always use a wax-free surface to mix Bondo. Keep the can covered to keep it from drying out and capturing dust.

Maybe you can help me. I am trying to get into stop/start animation. I have researched on various cameras, and the only non-professional camera I can find to do this is the JVC GR-SZ9 super VHS camera. It will record in 1/4 second intervals. I would rather go with Hi-8, and I'm wondering if you know of any cameras that will do this. Also, do you recommend any products, books or videos that will help me achieve great results. I have experimented with Claymation in the past--but I am interested in creating skeletons out of metal frames with latex covering. I would appreciate any help you can give me-----thanks

I've only done stop-motion work a couple of times. There are no books or videos on the subject that I am aware of. In regards to a video camera, I can't say because everything I've done has been for film, which may be the way for you to go. Find an old Bolex with single frame capabilities and try it out. Video seems to me to be just too hard an image anyway. In regards to skeletons (armatures as they are called in the business), make sure they move at the joints, some people use ball joints, most make their own metal joints. Regardless, make sure they are very smooth. Foam latex works great for this type of animation. You may also want to use interchangeable heads (Nightmare on Christmas). There are many ways to do it, the trick is to not worry about how everyone else does it, but figure out how you would do it, you may come up with something very clever.

You can also use the Claymation clay, I have some I'm trying to get rid of. It is very smooth and actually gets better with age. It can also be blended to make new colors. About 10 years ago there was an article in a magazine called "Step by Step Graphics" which outlined the Wil Vinton Claymation techniques. See if you can find it, it's very informative, but it won't tell you how to move the animations.

The best way to learn is to experiment, so don't try to do a big project until you feel comfortable with your technique. When I was 16 I did a short segment about two watermelons crashing together and forming slices. It was a lot of fun but it took me and my friends all day to do it. Do something like that so you can get experience with speeds, your camera, lighting and characteristics of the film.

PS: I'm interested in what experienced camera operators have to say about cameras for stop motion animation.

Why doesn't my silicone Mold Cure next to my Sculpt? I mixed it as per the instructions but the inside just became a gooey mess.

You probably used Plastalina clay which has sulfur in it. You can get around the problem by sealing your sculpt with shellac. Personally I like to use Klean Clay or Industrial Tooling Clay which do not contain sulfur. I don't like to paint my sculpts with a sealer because it takes away from the texture and personality of the sculpt. You'll also see the same phenomenon when people try to use clay to plug leaks in molds.

Where do it get squibs for bullet hits?

Good Question. Liability issues keep me from selling them to you. Laws regulating pyrotechnics vary from state to state. Utah is a lot like most states; A license is required. A license backed up with training, a test and experience. California has the strictest laws. If the laws and permits don't discourage you, then insurance will, it usually costs about $100 per day for the required $1,000,000 in coverage. I recommend you skip the little blood bags and bullet hits and use a blow tube or paint ball gun. Blood bags don't look all that realistic anyway, if you think about it, does a person's body instantly drain out exactly four ounces of blood every time it's hit with a bullet? Graphic blood letting often backfires anyway, especially in a student film, it psychologically pulls the audience out of the drama, you want to keep them in the story. As film-makers, we are still recovering from the "Realistic" films of the seventies. Think about it, if you need graphic violence to shock your audience you are not doing your job as a story teller. I almost always resent someone who stops the forward action of the film in order to use some tired old gimmick. (So much for the sermon.)

So let's say I do want to become a licensed pyro, where do I start?

Contact your state fire Marshall and find out what your state laws are. Some states have classes that will help you. Others may not have any regulations at all. Next contact your local fire Marshall, he can tell you what local requirements are. Most of the time you will need to be at least 21 years old. If you need the name of your state fire Marshall, send me Email and I'll get it for you.

NOTE: playing with pipe bombs doesn't count as experience.

Let's say I didn't want to hassle with the local laws and just did it on my own, it's a risk I'm willing to take I don't think anything will happen any way.

We all take calculated risks everyday, it's a part of life. But I'm not going to recommend anyone use pyro on a project without permits, insurance and training. Think of it this way: Stage and film people fall off ladders everyday, some suffer serious injuries that last for years, but you won't see a ladder accident on the five o'clock news. If an accident with pyro was to happen, everyone would know about it, including the State Fire Marshall and the BATF. Just one big accident would cause public outcry for more regulation. There would be a search for fault, and if you're standing there without a permit or insurance, it's going to be your butt on the line, even if it was someone else that caused the accident. I say do it right, meet all minimum requirements so that your butt is covered.

Do I need a permit to use Flash Powder?

Yes. You need a Type 19 license/permit from the BATF. It's a long story and almost makes no sense, but if you mix the two part flash powders, the federal government considers you to be a "Manufacturer of Explosives". The Type-19 (or higher) permit is in addition to any state requirements so don't think that because you have one, you don't need the other. This issue is very confusing, that's why I published a little booklet on the subject.