Gelatin(e) is fantastic for making quick effects like burns, open wounds, scars, etc. It's one of the most flexible materials, and easily accessibly to amateurs like us. Also, it is cheap to buy and very easy to use, making it perfect for Halloween! In its simplest form, gelatin is simply a food additive, such as Knox Gelatin, which you can find in the Jell-O aisle at your grocery store. Special Effects Gelatin can be bought from most party and/or costume stores around Halloween, or it can actually be made at home, from materials you can find in your local grocery store and pharmacy/drug store. If you'd prefer to buy ready-made special effects gelatin, or you want to buy gelatin ingredients from a special effects company, I suggest you have a look at FX Warehouse's gelatin supply page.
Also, you need a microwave for gelatin. That's a pretty important part of the gelatin makeup equation.
Pros of Gelatin Makeup:
- Easy to use, very beginner friendly
- Easy to remove (gelatin applied directly to skin without use of adhesives may be easily peeled off without needing a removal agent)
- Can be applied over/in hair (comes right out)
- Generally cheaper than latex
Gelatin makeup is easily made in the home instead of purchased in ready made kits, and as a result is a great solution for the average Halloween goer. The simplest ratio for gelatin is 1:1 with hot water. However, this does tend to dry out after awhile, and as a result it will get rigid, shrink, and pop off the face if placed in an area with lots of movement/facial expression. Makeup artists suggest adding glycerin (also widely available) to the mixture to slow the drying process and prevent the gelatin from shrinking and hardening. The recipe/mixture may vary depending on your preferences; the more glycerin you add, the softer the gelatin will be. An example of a basic gelatin recipe:
Another recipe calls for the use of Sorbitol, which is a sugar substitute. Adding sorbitol increases the tensile strength of the gelatin; meaning, it makes the gelatin more tear-resistant. More sorbitol equals a stronger prosthetic. In this version of the recipe, use as much sorbitol as glycerin (ie. 1/4 teaspoon glycerin and 1/4 teaspoon sorbitol). If you cannot find sorbitol in the grocery or pharmacy, some people have success using sugar-free maple syrup. Powdered Zinc Oxide may also be added to the gelatin recipe to increase tensile strength.
Gelatin may also be colored during the mixing process by adding drops of food coloring or liquid makeup. Flocking (tiny bits of colored fabric) may also be added to suggest the look of blood vessels. Here's a video by Stiltbeast Studios demonstrating how to mix your own special effects gelatin, as well as how to apply it for various wound effects:
Here is another outstanding video, by Bonnie Corban SFX, which is a quicker overview of making and storing your own special effects gelatin (also includes troubleshooting and quick application):
- Knox gelatin OR Homemade gelatin mixture OR ready-made Special Effects Gelatin
- Hot water
- Mixing cup
- Popsicle stick/makeup spatula/plastic knife to mix and apply gelatin
- Foundation/Concealer, creme makeup, aquacolor, etc (personal preference)
- Eye liner/shadow for color highlights/lowlights if desired
- Lipstick/color if desired
- Setting powder or spray
- Adhesive (and remover)
- Liquid Latex (used as a final layer to seal the set gelatin)
- Stage blood, blood gel, or homemade "blood" (if you like gore!)
Advice on Adhesives:
Spirit gum is a favorite sell for Halloween shops, but it is a poor choice for attaching prosthetics. It is much better suited for lace hair pieces and crepe hair. It is cheap and
easily found, but be aware that there are higher quality products available. A silicone (Telesis) or acrylic based adhesive (Pros-Aide) will offer a much more secure bond. Be aware that these more powerful adhesives will require a proper removal agent.
Mixing and Applying Knox Gelatin Directly to Skin (building prosthetics on the body)
1. Clean face
2. Mix one teaspoon of Knox gelatin to one teaspoon of hot water (or use your homemade recipe discussed above), stirring thoroughly to avoid bubbles
3. Apply mixed gelatin to face
4. Use the popsicle stick to move the gelatin around, creating bumps and shapes as you go (WORK QUICKLY! Gelatin sets rapidly, so if you're doing a large area of the face, make small batches of gelatin and apply them one at a time until the area is completely covered). Tap the setting gelatin to create a "pulled apart" effect if desired, and be careful to blend the edges of the scar into the skin
5. Allow to set
6. Apply foundation or other makeup delicately to face
7. Use eye liner pencil or like utensils to create color and lowlights on the disfigurement if desired
8. Apply lip color as desired
9. Once finished, spray setting spray on face to set the colors and prevent them from rubbing off.
Gelatin can be heated up in a bowl in the microwave, but be careful not to burn the gelatin. It will be ruined if burned.
Applying Ready-Made Gelatin Directly to the Skin
1. Clean face
2. Heat up a cup of water on stove or microwave
3. Submerge bottle of gelatin in hot water and allow to liquefy
4. Carefully apply to face, be sure the gelatin is not too hot because it can burn the skin!
5. Create desired dimensions by moving gelatin on face with popsicle stick/tool
6. Allow to set
7. Apply foundation or other makeup delicately to face
8. Use eye liner pencil or like utencils to create color and lowlights on the disfigurement if desired
9. Apply lip color as desired
10. Once finished, spray setting spray on face to set the colors and prevent them from rubbing off.
To remove gelatin that was applied directly to the skin WITHOUT any adhesives, simply peel off. Remove any lingering gelatin with warm water. If an adhesive (Spirit Gum, Pros-Aide, etc) was used, carefully remove prosthetic with the corresponding adhesive remover (Spirit Gum Remover, Bond Off! 91%+ Isopropyl Alcohol).
Another method is to apply the color directly to the skin and apply the gelatin on top, and finally apply some translucent powder over top the gelatin. This will depend on the look you're trying to achieve, so take the time and play around with it to see what method works best for you.
Making Gelatin Prosthetics
Gelatin can also be heated up and poured into molds to make prosthetic appliances, which can then be applied to the skin with adhesives. Be sure to powder the prosthetic thoroughly before removing it from the mold. Also, cuts/burns/other would effects can be pre-made by pouring the heated gelatin onto a flat surface, working it as it cools with toothpick or popsicle stick to create the desired wound effect, then powdering and peeling it off. It can be applied to the skin with adhesives. Edges can be blended into the skin using rubbing alcohol, acetone, or witch hazel. Photos below show special effects gelatin cubes, pre-made wound prosthetics created by making them on a table, as well as two facial prosthetics made in molds and painted with PAX (pros-aide adhesive mixed with acrylic paint):
Video (by Phantom on a Budget) discussing use of gelatin for creating prosthetics:
Makeup artist Kate Daley demonstrating what effects can be achieved with gelatin materials. Photo copyright 2007 Kate Daley. Used with permission. Check out more of her work on her website, Kate-Ations FX!
- FX Warehouse Guide to Gelatin Burns and Scars
- FX Warehouse Gelatin, Glycerin, and Ready-Made Gelatin products