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Working with Fake Blood

Working with blood

Working with fake blood is very sticky, messy and oodles of fun. So, here are some things to consider when working with the gloopy red stuff to create realistic effects and injuries. We also list some basic recipes to make blood effects of your own. Blood makeup tips for the vampire in all of us!

WARNING: we use images of blood (real and fake) and minor injuries to illustrate this post.

If you’ve ever watched TV shows like Dexter or CSI, or any true-life crime documentaries, you’ll know there’s a whole science behind blood pattern analysis. 

From how blood lands and its consistency, to the size and shape of the blood droplets – all these give investigators clues to what happened.

While we’re not going to get this deep, there are things to consider when working with fake blood to add to the realism and believability of the final effect. So, let’s get started!

Why is there Blood?

It is very simple – why is there blood? There are clues to be found in the script or requirements from the director. So, think about the situation and how the bloodiness occurred. 

Was it because of a fall, stabbing, grazing, or bomb blast? Is it actually someone else’s blood that has transferred to another person? This all influences how the blood would look. 

For example, would the blood be running, dripping, a series of scratches, splattered, or smeared? It could also be a combination of these. Also think about how much blood would be involved and, ultimately, what products are best to use to create this.

Where is the Blood Coming From?

Some parts of the body bleed more than others, and different types of wounds bleed in different ways. Also, the oxygenated blood from an artery is lighter in colour than the darker red blood from a vein.

Working with blood and colours
Blood made by Kensington Gore showing the colour difference of arterial and venal blood products.

How Old is the Blood?

Is it a fresh wound requiring fresh running blood, or old enough to have congealed, dried and scabbed over? Luckily, different products are made for all your fresh, dried and scab blood requirements!

Blood thickens and darkens as it dries and scabs over. It’s always annoying when someone has a fresh injury and the makeup artist has used a darker and thicker scab blood product and not lovely runny blood – it never looks quite right. 

However, this can sometimes be down to the filming schedule not allowing makeup people to do their job properly. It can be difficult. In this case, set off down the right path by selecting the best products for the effect wanted and find a way to make it work. 

Where is the Blood Going?

This question is relevant for health and safety reasons. For example, if blood is going in someone’s mouth, can the blood you are using be ingested? Many blood products are sugar-based, so if someone is diabetic, use a sugar-free alternative.

What is the Position of the Person?

Are they lying down, sat upright or face down? If they are found lying down, think about their posture and the effects of gravity. This is because the blood needs to be applied to flow in the right direction to be realistic.

Furthermore, blood doesn’t run in a straight line and it flows around the contours of the body. It will also find the shortest route downwards.

To create uneven blood runs, simply drop blood from a pipette or a brush end and allow the blood to find its own path rather than paint it on, as chances are, it will look painted on.

What Happens in the Scene?

Is the actor moving around during the take? If so, will they transfer any of the blood to another actor, costume, props, the floor, and so on? 

Some fake blood products are not costume-friendly, so talk with the costume department if you think blood could get on the clothing accidentally. The costume department will have suitable blood to use on fabrics, so liaise with them.

Fake Blood Products

NEVER USE REAL BLOOD UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES!

There are lots of great products available to help us create congealed blood, wounds, scabs, scratches, and fresh blood effects. Fake blood products come in liquid, dried and paste form in a variety of tubs, capsules and bottles. You can also make your own fake blood – we cover that later on.

Liquid Blood

  • Liquid blood comes in containers, both large and small. It also comes in different reds to cover the difference in arterial and venous blood. 
  • This is the blood product to use for fresh injuries and to create running or flowing blood effects. It is also used to create pools of fresh blood.
  • Makers of blood include the popular Pigs Might Fly (usually safe on a costume too), Maekup, Ben Nye, and Kensington Gore. 

Powdered Blood

  • This is a powder product that is activated by water, so you just add water to make blood. It can also be easily thickened with corn syrup or thinned with more water. 
  • It is used to create oodles of blood in a hurry or for those large bloody scenes. 
  • Powdered blood is quite useful when creating “live wounds”. For example, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly to the skin for the powder to stick to and use a wet weapon to activate the powder, which then creates blood.

Blood Capsules

  • These go in the mouth and, when bitten, they release the blood. They are good to use where blood has to appear in the mouth during a scene, as the actor can bite the capsule to release blood.
  • There are pre-filled capsules (with powder that mixes with saliva to create a blood effect) and empty capsules to fill with a blood product. 
  • The capsules are usually made from gelatine. Therefore, they will gradually dissolve in the mouth, so be aware of timing.
  • Kryolan and Ben Nye make blood capsules. There are also blood sachets on the market.
Working with blood
Capsules used to create blood effects.

Frothing Capsules

  • These are also for use in the mouth. As well as producing blood, they also create a frothing effect.
  • Use just like normal blood capsules. 

Splatter Blood

  • This sprays out of its bottle to create a splattered effect. 
  • It is good for any incident that requires a blood-splattered look. 
  • You can also create splatter by flicking the blood off the bristles on a stumpy brush. 
  • Before you create splattered blood, make sure the actor has their eyes closed first and you’re not going to get blood on anything that shouldn’t have it.

Eye Blood

  • Eye blood is used to create red eyes – that burst blood vessel effect – and is safe for use in the eyes. 
  • Kryolan makes eye blood which comes in a handy dropper bottle. It isn’t long-lasting so has to be applied frequently. 
  • Don’t use regular makeup blood products. This is because some contain ingredients that can really sting, plus they are not meant for eyes!

Coagulated Blood & Fresh Scab

  • These thick and gloopy blood products are for that difficult teenage stage between fresh blood and dried scabs. 
  • These products are blobby and slightly darker, creating that thick jelly-like coagulated phase before a scab dries hard. 
  • Some products will stay moist looking without running, and others will look drier but still with some sheen. This provides options for all stages of a wound.
Coagulated blood and "fresh scab".

Wound Filler

  • Wound filler comes in different shades of red, from a raw flesh colour to a darker red. 
  • They tend to be thick pastes that can be applied directly to skin and prosthetics. 
  • Some are waterproof and last a long time. 
  • Brands include Glynn McKay, Maekup and Ben Nye.
Wound fillers and thick blood products.

Scratches

  • These products are used for creating fresh and dried scratches. 
  • The lighter products are for fresher scratch injuries, while the darker ones are for older scratches that have scabbed over. 
  • Use a black stipple sponge to create the scratches.
Fixblut can create various effects, but is great for scratches. Scratch makeup can be used with a black stipple sponge.

To summarise, whatever products you use, check that they are right for the purpose you require, especially for use in the eyes and mouth. Some products are waterproof and long-lasting; others are more easily removed and need watching and reapplying regularly for continuity.

Recipes for Making Fake Blood

If you’re doing something low-budget, knowing how to do a bit of SFX DIY can go a long way. Food items like breadcrumbs and cornflakes can be added to the blood to create good effects. For example, a last-minute request from a director once meant mashing up a banana into some gloopy blood for an effective gunshot exit wound explosion effect. It looked good and tasted delicious!

Good Basic Fake Blood Mixture

You will need the following items:

  • Golden/corn syrup
  • Food colouring in red, yellow, blue
  • Washing-up liquid (a few drops)
  • Condensed/evaporated milk
  • Hot water
  • Large container (clear glass helps you see the colour and opacity develop as you mix)
  • Spoon
  • Reference material – use a quality blood product, accurate colour pictures, or a drop of your own blood (with all aspects of health and safety considered)

Method:

We haven’t specified exact quantities, as it will vary depending on the brands used and end quantity needed – plus as a makeup artist, you should be able to use your eyes!

When adding the food colourings and condensed milk, go slowly with a few drops at a time, and test it continually against your blood reference. You can always add more, but you’re screwed if you add too much.

Beware that this recipe is highly likely to stain costumes and other absorbent things, and possibly your skin too, so test first.

  1. Put the syrup into the container.
  2. Gradually mix in the red colouring until you have a good red colour going throughout the syrup.
  3. Gradually mix in drops of yellow and blue food colourings to get that red-brown blood colour (remember your colour theory and use your reference).
  4. Add a few drops of washing-up liquid. We find this helps with the viscosity and how the blood stays on the skin.
  5. Adding condensed milk to the mix creates the opaque quality of blood (syrup is translucent – blood isn’t).
  6. Add hot water as necessary to thin the mixture (especially if the blood needs to flow through tubes).
  7. Test continually, tweaking the colour as you go.

Other Blood Recipes & Tricks

  • An old blood look. Use dissolved instant coffee to add a brown tone to the red. This also looks great on a costume or smeared on walls, creating a look of “it’s been here a while.”
  • Blood in the mouth. If you don’t have capsules, use a piece of bath sponge soaked in blood suitable for use in the mouth. The blood will also mix a little with the saliva to create a nice consistency.
  • Vomited blood. For fresh internal bleeds, use liquid blood suitable for use in the mouth. For the blood-clot look or melena, add jelly or coffee grinds to the liquid blood.
  • Blood bags. Can be made cheaply from a whole of things like condoms, food bags, or the fingers from rubber/latex gloves. Just fill them with blood, secure the opening and they can be squeezed or popped at the right moment to release the blood. We once created a “gouge out your eyes” moment on the cheap by gluing the fingertips of latex gloves to the actor’s thumb pads, leaving the top part of the edge unglued. This was then filled with blood using a tiny pipette. The blood splurged out under slight pressure. Gouge-eous!
  • To keep blood fixed in place. If you need a drop or run of blood to stay in place, add blood to a gelatine-glycerine mix to make it set without losing its fresh look. It is easy to make – pop a sheet of gelatine (or agar-agar) into hot water (or whatever the instructions tell you) and simply add a few drops of glycerine and some blood. This liquid will eventually cool and set to a firm but smooth jelly. Use the liquid to create blood drops or runs. Once they have set, they can be placed where needed.

Create Blood from Nowhere Effect

The chemicals potassium thiocyanate and ferric nitrate work together to create a very authentic-looking dark red blood. It can be used to turn “water” into “blood” right in front of your eyes. This can be used to create things like a blood trickle from a weapon, make a stigma appear, or anything else that requires blood to suddenly show from nothing.

You need two glass vessels filled with water, some potassium thiocyanate and some ferric nitrate.

Method:

  1. To one water-filled vessel add potassium thiocyanate (the water stays clear).
  2. To the other vessel add ferric nitrate (which creates a straw-coloured solution).
  3. When the two solutions come into contact, blood magically appears. It’s all to do with the iron and, heck, that’s part of the reason why blood is red!
 

To create a bloody knife cut, apply the clear potassium solution onto the body where blood is to appear. Dip the knife (a blunt one of course) into the iron solution. When the knife is run down the skin, blood will appear. Magic!

Here’s a short video showing how it all works:

Working with Fake Blood on Set

  • Use containers – blood has a habit of getting away from its container if you’re not careful – leaving a lovely red sticky mess in your kit bag. Always use containers that have a tightly sealed top and keep them in a zip-lock or plastic food bag for extra protection.
  • Use plastic bags – put all tools (brushes, pipettes, sponges, etc.) used for your blood effects in zip-lock baggies. They are easy to replace when they get mucky and it keeps the blood away from everything else.
  • Have an ample supply of wet wipes, flannels and tissues with you. Working with blood is sticky and messy!
  • Keep products at the right temperature – if working in a hot climate, put blood products into a cool bag and keep out of the sun. Likewise, if working in cold conditions, blood products can thicken with the cold, making them less likely to run or work properly. Therefore, it is best to keep them somewhere with a normal room temperature.
  • Finish blood effects in situ – if dealing with a running blood effect, work with the actors in situ to get the blood running in the right direction. Let the AD know that you need time on set to finish the makeup.
  • Do not cross the department line – do not put blood on props, the set, or costume without express permission from that department. Sometimes blood effects are a team effort, so absolutely talk with others, and do not cross the department line.

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Working with blood