Shannon Fennell's Blog

My life, cooking, make-up, travel, art and the occasional rant!

special effects


I really enjoy doing special effects make-up.  In make-up school I had the highest mark in that part of the program and have a letter from the head of school about it… 🙂

I actually got into make-up in the first place due to special effects make-up… my brother and I joined a Star Trek fan club that was heavily into role playing in full costume and make-up and the members taught each other how to do excellent prosthetic make-up.  I got hooked on that and wanted to learn all about the rest of the art of make-up so decided to pursue it.

I enrolled in the Blanche Macdonald Institute’s Make-Up Artistry program (now called the Blanche Macdonald Centre for Applied Design) in Vancouver.  I also acquired many books and taught myself quite a few techniques before the program started.

I really took things to the limit – for class assignments I would spend 8-12 hours preparing pieces and costuming to go with my make-ups… I enjoyed the whole process immensely!

My SFX Make-Up Final Exam - Cobraman

My SFX Make-Up Final Exam - Cobraman

I do research, make sketches, write notes, do tests, take photos and then start all over if I’m not happy with it!  I apply that same process to custom work I am hired to do – be it body painting or a special effects custom job or designs for a show.

I then had a chance to take some training in LA and Hollywood with some of the top artists.  A highlight of my entire career was showing photos of my Klingon to Michael Westmore and of having him be very complimentary (and giving a few tips to improve it!)

My Brother Neil as a Starfleet Klingon

My Brother Neil as a Starfleet Klingon

I like a challenge and living where I do even getting the proper supplies is a massive challenge!  I had to make a full head cast of the lead actor in the play “Dracula” and it took a week to source the proper type of alginate I needed to make the mould.  Joey, the actor, was a trooper to suffer through the process…

Making the mould and the finished head cast

Making the mould and the finished head cast

Since I do have problems getting the “proper” special effects products I have figured out what can be used for a substitute… and there are lots of everyday items that are excellent replacements.

I use eyelash adhesive (Duo brand) instead of liquid latex, soak bran flakes in food colouring to create “scabs”, make my own blood with corn syrup, and lots of other things.

Burns are about the easiest effect to create… you can do it with red and black face paint, some torn single ply tissue, eyelash adhesive (or liquid latex if you can get some) and a little Vaseline…

Latex burn and bran flake scabs

Latex burn and bran flake scabs

Here is a step-by-step of latex burns that I created years ago.

Easy Third Degree Burn

Easy Third Degree Burn

I’ve also adapted this type of burn “look” to be created with face paints only!  I was getting asked by teenage boys for the latex burns, which I do not do while face painting, so often that I just went ahead and did it with paint.  I lay down the red, blend out the edges, apply the black on top, being sure to leave “cracks” showing the red underneath, then apply dripping “blood” which is runny Wolfe red… looks amazingly similar and gets the same reaction from their parents… 🙂

I’ve also used commercially available prosthetics to create characters requested by the client… Woochie makes some very nice pieces that can be trimmed a bit for fitting to the face as everyone is a different shape.

I worked on a series of short films that were parodies of the Planet of the Apes while I was still in Vancouver.  They were “Convenience Store of the Apes,” “Yard Sale of the Apes,” and “Car Wash of the Apes.”  It was very funny… they had a scene where Squeedgy Boy Ape went up to the human car to clean the windscreen and the driver leaned out and said “Get your hands off my car, you damn dirty ape!”  As the films were very VERY low budget I had to work with the Woochie Ape face and ears… I thought they worked very well once I tweeked them!

My homage to Planet of the Apes

My homage to Planet of the Apes

It took a lot of effort to get the eye sockets to look seamless and I hand laid the hair myself on the mask, had a wig for the back of the head which it blended into… also made matching gloves.  Took approximately three hours to apply.

I really enjoy projects like this… too bad I don’t get lots of them up here in the Great White North… not a lot of demand for movie shoots!

I have a set of prothetics for “Darkness” from the movie Legend that I am dying to apply to someone…. if anyone wants to get done up for Halloween let me know!!


2 thoughts on “special effects

  1. You’re welcome. It’s really pretty easy… if you have any questions just ask.

  2. thanks so much for the DYI on the wounds…Im still not comfortable doing gore and I know I have Halloween coming up 😦

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