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How To Make a Charred Corpse

This describes how to add a charred corpse effect to a skeleton, using only some common hardware store items. (It would have made a great addition to my Cannibal-Themed Halloween Supper!)

P.S. For more information on corpse effects, as well as the original inspiration for me wanting to make a charred corpse, take a look at gore-galore. If you're interested in more, you can also search the web for the term "corpsing".

Items Needed

  • A skeleton of some kind as a base, but you can use almost anything that you want this charred effect to be on. I used a 4-th quality "bucky" torso from the Anatomical Chart Company.

  • A can of expanding foam insulation ("Great Stuff" is one of the many brand names.)

  • A tin of liquid latex (I couldn't find the good paint-on stuff all the prop houses seem to use, so I just used Contact Cement.)

  • Flat black spray paint

  • Glossy bright red spray paint

  • Small amount of acrylic black paint (it's water based and will clean up with water and soap as long as it's wet.)

  • Small amount of acrylic brown paint

  • Small amount of clear gloss finish

  • Some old paintbrushes, rubber gloves, and a well-ventiliated area.

Step 1 - Apply the Foam

The first thing to do is either suspend your skeleton, or lay it on some work surface. Then apply a thin coat of the expanding foam all over the skeleton. The best way to do this is by applying it directly from the can onto the skeleton, then smearing it around and into the nooks and crannies with a gloved hand. One can was just enough for this whole skeleton torso.

Careful, this stuff is s-t-i-c-k-y! It will clean off with acetone (nail polish remover) if you get it somewhere it really needs to come off of right away. If you get it on your clothing, it's pretty much permanent - so wear old clothes.

Don't worry about getting it too even. When it comes to giving a realistic looking corpse effect, too even looks fake.

After applying the foam to your satisfaction, allow it to cure. Don't mess with it until it's dry to the touch.

(The wedge shown is in the mouth to hold the jaws open as the whole thing sets.)

Step 2 - Coat with Latex

Applying a coat of latex will result in a hard, smooth, and uniquely kind of gross layer on the foam. This layer is both durable and paintable.

I know there is paint-on latex available that prop places seem to like to use (and many other Halloween sites mention it) but I was unable to find any. So I used LePage Contact Cement. It's cheap and did just what I needed. Just make sure you apply it in a well-ventilated area.

The best way to apply this stuff is to goop it on (or even pour some direct from the can for large patches) and then spread it around with an old brush. One 946mL can was a little more than I needed to coat the entire skeleton. Apply several layers in separate batches if needed - put too much on at once and it will run and result in drips or "latex-icicles". Allow it to dry completely.

It even looks pretty good just the way it is, with the sickly brownish-yellow tint the dried latex coat gives it. But we're making a charred corpse - not a mummy, so we're going to press on with more.

Step 3 - Apply the Paint for the Juicy Inside Layers

First thing to do is apply some black spray paint to the "inside" areas of the skeleton. The nooks and crannies that should be dark but that we don't want to have to try to paint by hand later.

Some good places to paint black are:

  • Eye sockets

  • Joints

  • Inside of the ribcage

  • Along the spine

Put some masking tape over anything you don't want painted! (For example, the teeth if your corpse has any.)

Allow this to dry at least enough to no longer be tacky. Then we're going to apply what's going to be the underlying layer of juicy, bright red flesh underneath the charred exterior.

Now spray the rest of the skeleton with the high-gloss, bright red paint. It's OK to overlap the black slightly but generally stay away from the areas you already painted black.

Note how the black is nicely worked into the deep parts thanks to our previous spray job.

Allow this all to dry completely before you continue.

Step 4 - Apply the Paint for the Crusty, Charred Exterior

Now take out the black acrylic paint and a wider brush. We're going to paint on some black, but we're going to apply as best as we can to ONLY the raised portions. This will, in the end, result in a cracked and blackened outside with the juicy bright red visible between the "cracks".

To do this, put only the tip of the brush into some black paint - give it a bit of a wipe on some newspaper to remove some excess if you need to.

Then, lightly drag the brush's tip across the surface of the skeleton. If you do it right, the raised portions should mostly pick up the paint, leaving the lower areas still bright red. Those of you famliliar with the technique known as "dry-brushing" will recognize what I'm talking about.

Give it a try in a less-visible spot of the skeleton until you get the hang of it. Remember, don't worry about being uneven! Too even will look fake! Apply in more than one pass or coat if you like, until it looks right to you.

Step 5 - Finishing Touches

To give your skeleton those last couple finishing touches, I would suggest two additional steps: add a few highlights, and add a clear gloss coat.

To add highlights, paint some raised portions of the corpse with brown paint, using the same technique as for when we painted on the black exterior over the red. This will make them stand out a little more and enhance the effect. I would suggest going over the black with some brown in the following areas:

  • The forehead

  • The nose-hole

  • The jawline

  • The front of the ribs

  • The raised parts of the the spine, and hips

  • etc, as applicable to your particular corpse.

Finally, paint over the whole thing with a clear gloss finish. This will restore some of the juicy shine that was lost somewhat due to the drybrushing we've been doing. Again, don't worry about being too even!

Step 6 - Show It Off!

Show off your completed charred corpse! Make it the guest of honor at the dinner table. Or perhaps it should BE part of dinner?

Imagine this, the chest cavity lined with food wrap and stuffed with BBQ'd meat and links of sausages. Or perhaps it could use some of my Awful Edible Fleshworms?

For example, the skeleton on the left was the main course for my Cannibal-Themed Halloween Supper; it worked great, but it would have have a much different effect had I turned it into a BBQ charred corpse, first.

Or perhaps your new corpse could be the centerpiece of a Human roasting on a giant spit in your yard?

And why not finish off the corpse you just made with a Bleeding Heart?

Or a charred corpse can be an excellent passenger for a car, especially if that car is part of a Halloween prop. But it won't get you into the carpool lane.

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