Sunday, March 17, 2013

Avast Poor Yorick!

The Rogues Gallery

Too many good productions of Hamlet have been ruined by a sub-par performance by Yorick.  When Hamlet holds aloft a clean, pristine skull that looks like it came right out of the box from the Anatomical Chart Company, the willing suspension of disbelief evaporates. 

There are many excellent prop builders in the haunt community and I discovered a corpsification/dessication technique from one of them.  It's called the Skull and Bone technique.  The original technique used fairly toxic materials which had a long dry and cure time.  The props never seemed to lose the odor of the adhesive.  I used the original technique a time or two about five years ago and the props still smell of the flooring adhesive.  I knew that there was a quicker, easier, less toxic way to acheive the same results by using materials we are already familiar with in the theatre props community. 

You can make your skull as simple or elaborate as you wish.

The Skulls
I get my skulls from  The budget two piece skull costs around twenty bucks when you include shipping.  The nice thing about this skull is that it does not have a split calvarium. skulls

Skull Prep
The skulls are easier to work with when mounted on a stand, so the first step is to drill a hole in the base of the skull, large enough to accomodate the post.

Drilling the post hole

The skull stand

After the skull is mounted, the next step is to determine the dispositon of the lower jaw.  The lower jaw can be left closed, opened, canted to one side or removed completely.  The positioning of the lower jaw will add more to the character of the piece than almost anything else you will do.

Removing one side of the jaw


This is also a good time to perform a little dentistry on the skull...

When I was younger, just a baaaaad little kid...

At this stage of the process I like to drill out optic nerve channels and nasal cavities in the eyes and nose with a Dremel Tool.  Sometimes I also like to show a cause of death.

Boarding axe

Musket ball

The Skin
The skin is made by drawing knee high stockings over the skull.  Once positioned, cut out eye holes, nose holes, the skin around the mouth and any other places on the head you think bone should show.  The eye holes can and should be used to create expression and angst for your corpified Yorick.

Drawing the knee high over the skull

Cutting away

Goo Stage
This is where my process begins to deviate from the Skull and Bone method.  The Skull and Bone technique uses a latex, solvent based carpet adhesive that takes up to a week to dry and who knows how long to cure.  I used the carpet adhesive more than five years ago and the adhesive still has an odor.  I use a latex mastic called Childers CP-10 Vi-Cryl, which is a roofing surface treatment.  I have also used Jaxsan 600.  I believe other products that are more theatre specific would work as well, although I have never used them for this technique.

Essentially, the goo stage is just painting a healthy layer of goo on the nylon while leaving the bones as undisturbed as possible.  Chip brushes are cheap and work really well for this.  It is important to cover the weave of the nylons in this stage.

You can also press debris in the goo, such as yard bark, dryer lint or Spanish moss. 

Vi-Cryl Mastic

Application of the goo

The Hair
Applying the hair on a skull is essentially the same technique as creating an old school beard on gauze and latex.  Blend the crepe hair you wish to use, pull it apart, trim the edges and put a generous layer of goo on the base of the skull.  Put the hair against the wet goo, place a stick over the end of it and pull away.  Do this over and over again in layers until you have the desired level of hairiness or baldness for poor Yorick.

Blending the crepe hair

Pressing the hair into the goo with a stick and pulling away.

There's an angsty looking Yorick

The Paint Job
The Skull and Bone technique uses alot of oil based paints and stains which once again take a long time to dry.  I prefer Design Master Color Tool and Krylon spray paint for the paint job on the skulls.  Design Master is a floral spray dye.  The best color in the whole line is Glossy Wood Tone.  It goes on like watercolor in a can.

I've always been inspired by the bog men of Neolithic Europe and the mummies of Egypt.  I like the brown patination of the skin as it dehydrates.

Most important when painting with solvent based spray paints is to use them with proper ventilation.  A fume hood or a NIOSH mask is most desirable.

because you will use your hand as a frisket when painting the skulls, it is also imperative wear impervious gloves when working in this technique.

Impervious gloves, fume hood

The color tools

The first step is to deepen the eye and nasal cavities.  This is done by holding the thumb and forefinger in an O shape, holding it against the eye socket or the nasal passaage and shooting Krylon flat black in.  It is not necessary to wait for the Krylon to dry, the next step is to over spray Design Master October Brown into the recesses.  This gives back a little life that the flat black robs from the skull. 

Use Design Master Ivory and Flat White to accentuate the bone areas of the skull and Glossy Wood Tone to tone and color the "flesh", once again, using a gloved hand as a frisket.  If you wish to have a particularly moldy skull, mist a little Design Master Basil spray over the head.  Repeat these steps until you have the skull looking the way you want it to.

Using the gloved hand as a frisket

Spraying Glossy Wood Tone under the hair

Over spraying with Design Master Basil

Wiping the wet spray off the surface of the teeth, allowing it to stay in the recesses

Yorick's skull comes out of the grave in the famous Hamlet scene, so there probably ought to be a little dirt on him.  This is accomplished by painting a little flat medium on the skull and while it is still wet, sprinkling in Fullers Earth or Texas Dirt.  Let that dry for a short time and then take a dry brush and sweep away the dirt that isn't fixed in place.

Rosco Clear Acrylic Flat and Fullers Earth

Flat medium on head and jaw

Sprinkling Fullers Earth into the flat medium

Sweeping the Fullers Earth off with a dry brush
The last step is to cut off the "turkey gobbler" left over from the nylons.

With the water based mastic, one of these heads can be created from start to finish in a day, easily.  The dry time for the mastic is only an hour or two before it can be painted.  Total time invested in this particular skull, minus dry time is about two hours.

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