Tuesday, October 4, 2011

They've got skulls on them!

Well, you are sitting in your living room, and you suddenly realize you need to have some skulls everywhere, but the cost of real humans skulls on ebay will break your bank, and your connection in India is cooling his heels for a dime in Avinal. What do you do?
Here are my top secret tips to make lifelike skulls out of plastic models.

The Models
Over the last 45 years, there have been TWO (count 'em) skull models. The first is "Revell Life Size" it was cast in a glow in the dark plastic, and is out of print. It has individual teeth, a multi-part cranium and is fantastic. It is also hard to find 1977 originals for under $75. The second is the Lindberg/Skillcraft 1/1 scale anatomical model. In 1998, somebody decided these were not "real" enough to be called anatomical, and were reduced to "pirate skull models", same thing, different box.

This version is not retarded, it is just from Canada.

The good news is that these are pretty cheap. If you shop right, you can get them for ~$18. The will go for as much as $30 in some shops, don’t get corned. Try online or on ebay.

Out of the Box

The set is pretty simple, face part, dome part, jaw part, nasal part and teeth parts. The teeth are grouped in threes and fours and will not allow as much mixing and matching as individual teeth. I cut these blocks up and mix them up. Always best to make your skulls look like third world savages, not aryans with ideal dentition.


I use super glue with an accelerator. Gap filling formula works like a top, there will be gaps. This model really kinda sucks. I suspect the molds are casts of mods from casts. The pieces will not fit well, there will be gaps at best, heinous mis-match at worst and will require filling. if you are highly motivated and have a heat gun, you may want to warm up and re-form some of the parts. This can have mixed results and could end in cooking parts of the plastic. Don't fret! Burns and scorches will add character if you screw up.

This doesn't look like Jack Sparrow..

Filling can be done with standard squadron putty of you want to use white, if you will be painting the whole skull and don't mind pink, you can use bondo. This is really more body work than modeling. If you find yourself actually re-sculpting parts, you are doing it right. This is normal.

I tend to pile on too much filler with this kit, then sand down, it's the only path to victory.

Most modelers would crap their drawers if they saw this mess.

Again think automobile body work not modeling. If you think you are going to improve this with little diamond tooth files you are high. get an electric angle sander, and lots of industrial sand paper.

Note the way my retreating hairline gives me sanding power!


Again, don't even think about geardoing out with your airbrush.  If you are an Asian dude who is really into car models I'm sorry, this will hurt your face. We are going to use flat outdoor spray paint. Off white. Kinda close to skull color. FLAT is critical, shade of white or beige is not. Ecru and Eggshell is also acceptable. You want the teeth to stay smooth and not take any of the light texture the matte paint will give. FLAT paint, not gloss or semi gloss. in later steps you will see why. Mask your teeth of with tape. You will also want a matte brown, black or cordovan.

After you have the teeth roughly masked off shoot them with the paint. you want to tap tap tap, not SSPPraaaaaaaayyyyyy, this will make a slight unevenness you will need later. Shoot your eye holes and nose holes and brain holes with the darker color. I had some dark brown handy.

Yes, I over shot the nose socket. Don't shit your pants.
After the brown-esque color is dry, or kinda close, then shoot your white-ish color, tap tap tap on the high parts, tap tap on the middle parts and single tap the brown. Look at it, decide it's not enough and do it again until you like it. You are creating the gradient between the brown and white on the fly, so cool kids will do this while the brown is still a little wet. Not critical, but it helps. Let it dry, whoop off the tape and check it out.

This is now halloween store cool.
This is unacceptable.
The Hoark
Now begins the process called "the hoark". Hoarking is a sacred right where you take something that looks like a normal piece of shit store bought decoration and make it look real. Let's face it, if you go to CVS at Halloween and buy a headstone, a bat from the hot topix, or a sword from merlo's cutlery you are not fooling anybody. it looks like a goddamned toy. We are not in the toy business here, we want to make stuff that looks so real the FBI will be checking your trunk for angora sweaters and protein stains. So one needs to ask, how do you emulate the REAL? Use real! So let's say these were made of bone, which we have pretty well emulated, (you used flat paint right?) bone has stuff in it like marrow, fat and  cartilage. Once the talking monkey the skull used to be inside of is gone, skulls get exposed to bugs, worms house pets and pollution which hasten the gooey parts becoming poison crisco around the hard parts.

We will spray some super77 on the skull lightly, mostly avoiding the teeth. This will represent the connective tissue. Then the dried bits of muscle and poo drug onto the bone by rats will be emulated by ordinary BBQ ash. If it has grease drippings in it, its better; Obvious chunks of kingsford briquettes are bad. Cigarette ash is the BEST, but if you don't smoke or can't loot the ashtrays outside of bingo parlors, you will want to get some kind of cruddy ash to dust into the glue. While I try to avoid anything that looks like finger smudges, by no means should your coverage be even, flesh doesn't rot evenly! A few dings may improve the overall look, but they should be random and organic. dobbing here ant there with a wadded up paper towel will aid this process. Likewise, don;t have kittens if you get some glue drippage in the teeth, just rub EXTRA ash into these drips and it will help emulate some leftover gum tissue.

Leave these to dry for an hour or so, then shake the skull vigorously. Do this in a place away from prying eyes. The UPS guy or random wandering Mormons don't need to see you shaking the ash off of a skull at this point. Short of some parts of Norway where this is encouraged and acceptable, it should be done in private.

Next critical stage is fat. Humans are full of water and blood, this is a given, but the water and blood are gone inside of a week of the decay process. Blood becomes a fine dark brown dust that looks like rust. water completely evaporates, and what is left is fat. Depending on your proximity to NACSCAR events, bodies will have more or less regionally. Fat will melt, smell, and be eaten by bugs, but generally stays around for a long, long time. Stick your hand in a vat of Crisco and try to wipe it off. now rub some bacon grease in your hair. Now stick your head in a sandbox, roll in some leaves; See it defeat even salon brand shampoo. This is why corpses take 10+ years to become skeletons, and skeletons can take another 10+ years to become bones. Fat is not particularly water soluble, and attracts dirt and scoopage. You could try to paint it, but most paints will not vary enough in texture and consistency.

If you want a clean look, try a light lemon fresh pledge. The oil will spread, soak into the ash, and attract bits. Spray heavily, roll across your yard and the garage floor to pick up natural flotsam.

Plain ash on the left, furniture polish on the right.
You can see where I scrambled the teeth on the right,
but also where I should have ground more on the cerebellum seam
of both models.
For a more swampy look, or something that decayed without direct sunlight, Dark Old English furniture polish is your magic butweasel. Since this doesn't spray, you will need to dab on with an old lint free shirt or scrap of cloth.

Lemony fresh on the left and swamp rotten on the right.
The one on the right will continue to gather dust
and airborne shmeg with age, making it look even more creepy.
In Closing-

The lesson today is that furniture polish and various kinds of ash can be used to create a nice organic schmeg on just about anything. Remember the effects fo decay will react diferetnly with plastics, metals, paper, cloth, wood, etc. so if your piece is part of a vignette, be sure your decay leveles are within spittin distance on all involved parts.