- Ben Bornstein is a special makeup effects artist known for, among other things, creating convincing fake burn wounds on TV shows like “Gotham” and “Blindspot.”
- Methods for creating fake burn wounds include tattoos, lining someone’s arms and legs with burnt plastic sheets, and handcrafted prosthetic pieces.
- Covering an actor with realistic-looking burns is a taxing process, but the more convincing they look on set, the better performances they can give.
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Following is a transcript of the video.
Narrator: Don’t be fooled. These gruesome burn wounds are actually fake. Creating effects like this for TV and movies is a rigorous, time-consuming process that involves complex prosthetics and makeup, some of which are actually lit on fire, and a close attention to detail, but the result is worth the wait.
Narrator: When a director needs a character who’s been lit on fire, or maybe the victim of a chemical spill or explosion, they will go to someone like Ben Bornstein, a special makeup effects artist who runs Taking Shape Studio.
Bornstein has done all sorts of special makeup effects work on movies like “The Departed” and “The Fighter,” and he’s done several types of burn wounds for shows like “Blindspot” and “Gotham.”
Bornstein brought in stunt performer Kachina Dechert to undergo this transformation. Any good Hollywood makeup artist knows that the actor’s comfort is crucial.
Ben Bornstein: How can we make it nice for them and not as crazy and disruptive to their performance? Our job is to enhance their performance.
Narrator: And that can be done without sacrificing realism.
The first step for Bornstein is figuring out what kind of burn it is and what the damage should look like. In a hypothetical scenario for this demonstration, the character has escaped a burning building, but not unscathed. This is a fresh burn wound, and the character hasn’t had a chance to seek medical attention.
Bornstein: There’s all these things that go in the story that we have to think about, from step A to Z. So, say, like, you got burned by an iron on your face, like a curling iron. You gotta think, how hot was it? How long was it on? How long did it sit in your face? We gotta think about the reality of it. Would the skin bubble? Would it come off with the iron? Would it be a piece?
I want this to look like she just got out of an explosion.
Narrator: There are some cheap, easy ways for Bornstein to go about this, methods he would call “out of the kit.” For a burned arm, he can use a burn transfer tattoo.
Bornstein: It’s kinda like a Bazooka Joe tattoo you’d get when you’re a kid, but on steroids that lasts all day.
Narrator: These are great for makeup artists. They stay on all day and need minimal touch-ups. One of the toughest parts of a makeup artist’s job is making sure the cast looks exactly the same on every single day. This method is great for continuity. While efficient, these tattoos are two dimensional, so they work better for background characters.
Another easy and effective method: using Glatzan bald-cap plastic, aka Baldiez, and actually lighting it on fire. There are plenty of ways to make simple materials look gruesome.
Bornstein: So, now I’m just cutting a sheet of bald cap vinyl, and it’s gonna make a little weird gross membrane on top of the burn that Adam’s painting. So, we’ll just glue this on, and we’ll blend with the edge and have K-Y Jelly inside the middle of it, so we can see some depth and translucency to give it more of an effect.
Narrator: Bornstein can and will go much bigger for a scenario like this. After all, this is supposed to be a hero character, another term for the main character. So Bornstein and his team made some large prosthetic pieces.
Before starting on them, he needed to do some research so he could nail down a few key things, texture and colour. That research can take strange forms, like looking at pictures of burnt meat.
Bornstein: The textures are cool, but it’s not, you know, it’s not there.
Look at this, dude. This is what I was talking about. It’s gorgeous. Look at that detail. Look at those colours. If you could see, all the black are really the only raised areas here. So, we’re looking at what could be a piece, or even just, like, maybe the Baldiez stuff that we put on top of just paint. All this little fatty area and, like, all the yellow, golden yellow, I love all that. And to really notice that the edges aren’t black. It’s the deepest parts of it are black. Like, if you look at, this is just black little spots. And then there’s a ring of red, and then there’s black way above it.
We could almost even probably use some of her tones in there. But I love this picture for reference. I think it’s beautiful.
Narrator: You can see that influence in the prosthetic pieces. Look at all the cracks and char and the dominance of red and black.
Like with any prostheses, it started with a head cast. Bornstein used that cast to create a sculpture of Dechert’s head. From there, they got a plaster version of her head and a rubber mould negative. That negative was used to build the silicone pieces. His team sculpted away to get the perfect texture.
While working, they had to keep in mind that this was supposed to be a fresh burn as opposed to an aged scar.
Bornstein: Like, it just happened, and she’s still smouldering, but she’s put out.
Narrator: Prostheses like this are needed especially if there is going to be a lot of close-up shots of a burned character.
Bornstein: You can’t fake that. You need the textures there.
Narrator: Everything had to fit and be blended in perfectly and follow the right colour palette so it looked like a truly fresh char. The team also had to build around her wardrobe. They knew what costume she would wear and that it would be torn up by the explosion. While they didn’t have to make prostheses for her entire body, they did need to decide if there would be visible wounds in areas where skin was exposed. If there were open areas left blank where there should be a burn, it would make the overall performance less convincing.
Bornstein: We’ll glue this to her, and maybe we’ll fuse it with an appliance or something. Here’s the boot line. That’s good. We’re gonna do a number on you, Kachina. Gonna be dope.
Narrator: Hair was just as much a factor.
Bornstein: I want the piece to lay flat with the edge. We’ll blend the edge, then the hair will go over it. So, all of this hair has to go this way.
Narrator: To maximise comfort for the star, they saved some of the least comfortable prosthetic pieces for last.
They started early by gluing on the big chest piece. Blending it into the skin is key.
This scaly piece could have been placed on Dechert’s leg, but the team decided it made more sense on her arm.
Bornstein: I love the little black. And these little edges we should paint black too. I love that.
Narrator: And remember those burned-up sheets? They were put on alongside the two prosthetic pieces, layered and blended in, so sometimes it was hard to tell the difference between the two.
They decided to rely more heavily on the burned plastics for her legs while sticking to the colour palette and directly painting on yellow wherever they could.
Bornstein: So, I see a big hole. We’re gonna paint that.
Narrator: Then this massive piece went right on Dechert’s stomach. Notice how the edges were peeled off and the piece was blended into her skin. The final prosthetic piece they attached was the face piece, which only covered the left half.
Bornstein: This was most of the meat of the build, was making this piece. Her ear will come through this, and then I think we’ll put a black char to connect it.
Narrator: While they could have covered the ear to make it look like it fell off, Bornstein thought it would have been too obvious and instead liked the idea of keeping it on but dirtying it up. He also had to consider that the eyebrow would have been burned off, so Bornstein simply painted over it so it wouldn’t show up under the face piece.
There are lots of different final touch-ups to make sure they looked as fresh as possible.
Other materials, like “clean dirt,” added to the colour palette. The final piece was also the most uncomfortable: contact lenses. This stage required a lens technician.
In the end, everything was so well blended together, it’s hard to tell what’s paint and what’s silicone. The real winner of the day?
Bornstein: I think it was, honestly, the Glatzan sheets that we put on her. It really did sell it. I wanted to mix kind of that reality with, like, some superhero look where half her head and hair is missing. The fact that we decided to take the sculpture up into the hairline. ‘Cause if it was just here, it just doesn’t look right. So we wanted to go, like, the extra mile and have it wrap around her head.
Narrator: Applying the makeup to taking it all off took over four hours. Computers and visual effects have enhanced the work of makeup and special effects artists.
Bornstein: If you marry the two, we can, like, recess crazy areas of the face or body that we can’t do with makeup. We’d have to make a fake head of it.
Narrator: So, why didn’t Bornstein and his team just create the burns using CGI? Especially when, as is the case of Two-Face in “The Dark Night,” the minimal practical makeup might just be covered in a CGI layer? Because practical effects won’t just give you a better movie, but also a better performance.
Bornstein: We can bring something to the table that looks organic, that looks real and enhance the actor’s performance. If they have nothing on them, maybe they won’t emote as much. Maybe they’re laying in a hospital bed and they’re looking at their hand. Maybe that will help them cry more on camera. We’re giving them tools to work with, but most importantly, we’re giving the camera tools to work with so they don’t have to do it in postproduction.
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