The original version of this post was written for the Film and Television Institute in Perth, Western Australia a few years ago. It has since been updated and added to several times. In its current form it summarises the best and most accurate recipes and useful information currently available to Makeup Artists, to allow you to make your own Theatrical Bloods for Film, Tv or Stage.
THE HOLY GRAIL OF MAKEUP FX
As a Makeup Artist, I am often asked about the best way to make a CHEAP, REALISTIC artificial BLOOD, that won’t stain, and can be made in bulk for film and theatre.
The answer isn’t always what they want to hear, sadly, there is no such beast! As always, the classic designers triangle applies here: Good, Fast and Cheap. Pick two…..
Quite honestly, if you are only using a small amount then you are better off buying a good brand of theatrical blood as it will work out the same price to make your own and wont always be as good, and less fuss!
However, if you need a large quantity or are unable to source a good quality product in your geographic area, there are plenty of recipes around and one of those listed here is bound to suit your purposes.
In my personal Makeup FX kit I routinely carry between 12 and 16 different types of bloods at any one time. Yes, thats right- at least a dozen! The reason for is that there are many variables on a shoot, and rarely is one product suitable for every occasion. You need to mix and match. I carry runny bloods that dont dry, runny bloods that do dry, runny bloods that are mouth-safe or edible, bloods that stay where you put them, bloods in different colours in the above categories, opaque bloods, translucent bloods, blood pastes, blood that can be reactivated by a spritz of water, blood that will stay on underwater, blood that sets scabby, blood that looks fresh, blood for eyes, blood powder, blood capsules…. you get the idea?
MAKING YOUR OWN BLOOD:
Most recipes are based on a sugar syrup, which binds well to the colouring agents and is also some protection against staining with these, depending on your colouring.Unless you add a preservative, you cannot keep most blood recipes for long. Diluting the sugar allows it to ferment, and it will! Be very careful of anything that you need to put into an actors mouth or near their face- some ingredients sting like anything if they get into people eyes, and all of your ingredients MUST be specified as FOOD-GRADE QUALITY. YOU will be responsible if you poison someone, even accidentally, just remember that….
Most suppliers can be found on the net with a little hard work.
BEFORE YOU START:
An important thing to remember is that the colouring agents in artificial blood rarely matches the ‘actual’ colour of a real wound. Also, many directors have preconceived ideas about what colour blood ‘should’ be. It is your job to know what colour blood is technically accurate for the type of wound you are recreating, ( is it a seeping scratch or a spurting artery?) ….and also to be able to let it go if the director wants something else. They may have a preference for unrealistically dark or bright colours, which is a stylistic choice, and that’s fine, as long as it is consistent with the rest of the style choices in the film. If you are making a war doco, however, you probably want to try and keep it real…
But, I know what colour blood is. EVERYONE knows that blood is red, right?
Well… Yes, and No…
Which blood? Which shade of red?
Human blood is red because it contains haemoglobin, a kind of protein that binds to oxygen and carries it round the body. Haemoglobin also contains iron.
Blood cycles around our bodies, carrying oxygen breathed in through the lungs through your heart and arteries out to the tissues and organs, and returning through your veins laden with carbon dioxide which is then discharged from your body by breathing.
– Fresh blood from superficial wounds is pretty dull and dark red, even purplish in cases, as it is venous blood, loaded in CO2 (carbon dioxide). This blood may be thick or not depending on the sugar content or alcohol (which adds more sugar) or fat. This blood dilutes easily in water and then turn to a more scarlet tone.
– Fresh deep arterial blood is more liquid and brighter, on the scarlet side, as it is rich in oxygen and has not been loaded with impurities. Blood fresh from the carotid artery taking newly oxygenated blood directly to the brain is actually SO bright it is almost pure orange. No artificial blood can be that colour because to our eyes it just wouldn’t look real…..
*For surgery, operating rooms have lighting with a greenish cast to make it easier to distinguish detail in a sea of bright reds. That’s also the reason surgical scrubs are traditionally a pale cyan colour. The idea is to use complementary colours so that the eyes do not tire of the brightness.
-Old or dried blood is brownish red or rusty coloured. Blood changes consistency as soon as it leaves the body. It starts to thicken due to degradation and oxidation, and fibrillation “gels” the blood, forming little mats of fibres that end up being a clot, which then becomes a crust or scab to seal the wound. As Blood contains iron salts, they react with oxygen and moisture in the air and turn into iron oxides, which is basically rust!!
–Blood in a corpse is blackish purple in the places where it pools (a condition called Hypostasis) , and leaves yellow grey tones in the higher areas where it has begun to decompose.
Most people will have been taught to play down the actual colour of blood a little as film and video stocks (including HD) tend to be flare a little on reds. But you need at least one bright in your kit in order to lend depth to an injury and to ensure the fluid will show up on dark skin and surfaces.
Here are some suggested questions to help you decide what colour your blood should be:
1 – reality / research / experience,
2 – what the audience expects,
3 – what the director wants,
4 – what is appropriate for the genera and censorship rating.
5 – what will read on camera as you want it to appear.
(courtesy of the talented Nik Dorning of Bluebird FX)
Can you have Green Blood?
Not usually. Unless you are a Vulcan, who has Copper instead of Iron in their blood. Or, unless you are experiencing a very rare chemical reaction, usually caused by overdosing on certain medications:
In October 2005 a man was undergoing emergency surgery for compartment syndrome, where the blood supply has shut off and the tissue is in danger of dying.
“During insertion of the IV line, we normally see arterial blood come out. That’s how we know we’re in the right place. And normally that blood is bright red, as you would expect in an artery,” said a member of the operating team.
“But in his case, the blood kept coming back as dark green instead of bright red.
“It was sort of a green-black. … Like an avocado skin maybe.”
The reaction in the room? “We were very concerned, obviously,” said Flexman, who is training in anesthesia at the hospital.
Samples were rushed off to the lab, which quickly ruled out a dangerous condition called methemoglobin, in which the hemoglobin in the blood can’t bind to oxygen.
While the lab worked, so did the operating team. The man came through the surgery well.
The next day, the lab reported it had detected sulfhemoglobin, a condition thought to be triggered by some medications.
“It’s so rare that we don’t have a perfect understanding how it happens, but some drug donates a sulphur group that binds to the hemoglobin molecule and prevents it from binding to oxygen,” Flexman explains. “And that gives it the green colour.”
You should know by this point in your career that a makeup that looks great under one lighting condition can totally disappear in another, or worse, appear too strong. With the advent of digital cameras, which can be sensitive to some spectrums of colour, it is even more vitally important to do a camera test to see what happens to your fake blood under your D.o.P’s preferred lighting conditions for the scene. Is it opaque enough or translucent enough? Is it going to show up at all? In dim conditions, or on darker skintones and dark fabrics, blood may be hard to see or disappear entirely. Some kinds flare, or go orange, or worse, turn pink over time. It is also vitally important to liaise with your Costume dept head, because many varieties look fine on skin but again, take on some weird hues when they hit fabric. I learned that lesson early in my career- on some bandages worn by a main character, the blood looked great for the first two takes but then it started to spread out in shades of purple and pink, much like what happens when you leave a marker pen on a tissue… In those situations, you are usually best to use something that will dry and stay put.
IS CONTINUITY AN ISSUE?
If you are having problems with blood shifting between takes, or over the course of shooting a multi-part scene, underpaint your bloodstains and trails in an alcohol activated ink makeup, (like Skin Illustrator or similar) and then use KY Jelly over the top for shine. You can use a runny blood over the top but it will eventually wear away the ink. I have even heard of people using spirit gum mixed with blood to keep it on for a whole day of shooting, which works fantastically for that reason, but I personally wouldn’t want to be the one who had to clean it off…..
IMPORTANT NOTE ON INGREDIENTS
Many people ask me about corn syrup- the primary ingredient in US blood recipes. If you don’t live in the states, you DO NOT NEED IT.
Corn syrup is traditionally used in the United States because cane sugar quotas raise the price of sugar there, and domestically produced corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup are a less expensive alternative used in American-made processed and mass-produced foods. Most of their granulated sugar is made from sugar beets. Here in Australia we produce ours from sugar cane, so it makes sense to use that!
In Australia corn syrup is an expensive import, so you are better to avoid it and substitute a different form of LIQUID sugar. It will not affect the quality of the blood. The only thing you need to take note of is the final colour of your desired blood, and the quantity you need to make. Obviously price will be a factor for large volumes. The following alternatives are all available in bulk if you need them.
Suitable substitutes are:
Glucose- this is usually highly concentrated and therefore thick, and will need diluting to the correct consistency. Dilution WILL affect the staining capability of the finished blood. Glucose is clear.
Invert Syrup- a clear mixture of glucose and fructose. It is obtained by splitting sucrose into its two components and can be made at home from plain white sugar. (*Making a plain syrup of sugar melted in water wont do as it will crystallize again) *Invert syrup is closest, chemically speaking, to corn syrup, which also contains fructose and glucose.
900 grams water
450 grams sugar
20 grams lemon juice/1/2 tsp citric acid
Bring up to slow boil then simmer for 30 minutes.
Cool/refrigerate before using.
Sorbitol- a clear form of modified glucose used as a sugar substitute, humectant and thickener. Sorbitol is less viscous than many of the syrups so is a good choice for pumping bloods or where blood needs to be diluted. It also acts as a very efficient dye screener and minimises staining, so you may want to incorporate some into your mix anyway.
Golden Syrup– the genuine article is a pure cane sugar syrup with a light golden colour, which means you don’t need to add yellow colouring to the blood.
Imitation Golden Syrup– this is made of a cheaper invert sugar syrup with added flavouring and colour. Also removes the need to add yellow colouring. Drawback- tastes and smells like fake golden syrup.
I do not recommend imitation maple syrup because its usually too dark, and it also reeks of artificial flavouring.
Other things sometimes used for bulk blood include Methocellulous powder, which forms a gel and is also used for making slime. Beware- this stuff is extremely difficult to clean up, as it dries invisible, until you add water to clean it with, at which point it turns into slime again…
IMPORTANT NOTE ON COLOURS
Master of Makeup and inventor of the first and best realistic stage blood,Dick Smith, recommends you try and find Lake colours as opposed to Dye colours, in a powdered form. This helps give the blood some opacity like real blood.
–Dyes shows their colour when dissolved in solution.
–Lakes do not dissolve but are suspended in the solution, they are the oil dispersible (water insoluble ) form of the dye.
–Lakes are more stable than dyes and are ideal for coloring products containing fats and oils or items lacking sufficient moisture to dissolve dyes. Lakes tint by dispersion. Lakes are not oil soluble, but are oil dispersible. Typical uses include coated tablets, pastry, hard candies, some chocolates and chewing gums. Lakes are ideal for colouring products with little or no moisture, making them ideal for oil based bakery and confectionery applications.
These can be tricky to find but with the increasing popularity of molecular gastronomy there are a lot more ingredients commercially available at a retail level than ever before. You can find them in places that sell colourings for chocolates, they are labelled as an oil-based colour, ideal for chocolate or fat applications. The use rate is a lot smaller than oil-based dyes and the resulting colour is vivid.
Lakes must be wet with water first, then add the wetting agent if using, and stir into a paste, and then add that to the syrup.
The major difference is that:
A blood made with a Lake looks opaque in any thickness, much like the real thing.
A blood made with Dye will look thick and dark at full strength but will be transparent when spread out in a thin layer, and the colour will weaken substantially if diluted.
Wetting Agents: If you need an edible wetting agent then obviously detergent or Photo-Flo isnt going to cut it! Try instead using an emulsifier like lecithin (used in foods like mayonnaise and sauces to stop ingredients separating).
If you can find the powdered form, it works better than granules.
BASIC BLOOD FORMULA:
1 litre Liquid Sugar Syrup of your choice, bearing in mind the price/quantity ratio and the final colour of your blood.
Food colouring in red, yellow, blue and green. You can use may different kinds I don’t recommend the tiny little bottles sold in packs as they aren’t very intense and usually the colours aren’t quite right.
–Liquid colours, from the supermarket or cake decorating supply house.
–Powdered food grade colours are available to order.
–Paste colours are available in kitchen supply and cake decorating stores.
–Edicol food dye, (as used in schools in finger paint) which stains but will wash off most surfaces and skin and is food-grade.
Detergent – preferably clear or blue. A few drops only- use sparingly or you will have foam, not flow!
METHOD: Mix your red food colouring into the syrup, a few drops at a time until you have the desired shade. Then add yellow until the blood smears orange, then add green or blue sparingly to balance the colour and turn it deep red. For lighter bright blood use less blue/green.
Add a drop or two of detergent and shake well.
NOTE: If you need to store your blood you must keep it refrigerated. Alternatively you can add an antibacterial agent like Sodium Benzoate or Sorbic Acid, both of which are food-grade anti-microbial agents for preventing mould, fungus, and bacteria..
*Always test for staining if you only have one copy of your hero costume!!!!!
*For black and white shooting, or in the dark, you can use chocolate syrup as blood.
BULK BLOOD- mouth safe
20litre bucket of invert syrup or substitute
1 litre water soluble childrens finger paint
2 litres red food colouring
Yellow, Blue and Green food colouring
1 cup clear dishwashing liquid (cheap is ok)
Mix the finger paint into the syrup, this gives an opacity because real blood isn’t clear.
Add half of the red colouring, and then adjust the shade by using tiny amounts of yellow and blue or green colour. If you have used a yellowish syrup you will only need the blue and green colours. Sometimes you need an older browner blood in which case you might need to add a brown (Parisian browning essence is good).
Add more of the red food colour if you need to until you are happy.
Lastly add the detergent, it is a surfactant and allows the blood to flow better without beading. *Too much will also help your blood penetrate further and stain more, and will foam. In this small proportion it is safe to use this blood internally or externally.
FOR MAKING VERY LARGE QUANTITIES OF BLOOD:
Use Methyl Cellulose Powder as a base instead of sugar syrup (in US recipes they often refer to the brand Methocel).
It is an inert non-toxic powder used as a thickener.
Two cups will make a garbage bin worth of slime. Dissolve in hot water first to avoid lumps, then colour as above.
It is a lot harder to clean up as once dry any water reactivates it as slime….. which it is also used for.!!!
The old standard as invented by Maestro of Makeup Dick Smith (the legendary American Makeup Artist, not the Aussie entrepreneur!) which he first used in ‘The Godfather’ and which has been the basis for all good-quality self-made bloods ever since:
DICK SMITH’s BLOOD RECIPE-
*NOT SAFE FOR MOUTH! For external use only- (for internal use omit all wetting agents like Photo-Flo or detergent.)
1 Quart White Corn Syrup (You can substitute Invert Syrup)
1 Level Tsp Zinc Oxide to give the blood opacity (from a laboratory supply or sometimes available from artists suppliers, or cosmetic ingredients houses.)
2 Oz. Red Food Colour * Dick used a brand called Ehlers which is only available in the US- substitute another brand
5 Tsp Yellow Food Colour
2 Oz. Kodak Photo-Flo *Poisonous* (any photo supply store) *due to the prevalence of digital photography this can also be vary hard to find, you can substitute detergent.
2 Oz. Of Water
Instructions: Put the zinc oxide into a bowl, add an equal amount of water and paste. Add the food colouring, red first until the colour is nice and deep, then yellow until you see an irange tinge to the blood if you smear a thin layer (If you are not using Ehler’s brand yellow, use only one-half the amount indicated). Depending on the colour of your food colouring you may need to add a couple of drops of green to get the right shade.
Add a little of the corn syrup and mix well. Pour into a container that holds more than the final amount (you have to shake it up before use, as it may separate), add the remaining corn syrup and mix well. Then add the amount of water specified and mix again. This will give your blood a normal consistency. Keep this and all corn syrup recipes refrigerated when not in use (or it will grow mould) and mix well before use.
Note: Due to one of the ingredients being poisonous, this blood Recipe should not be used if it is likely to be swallowed during or after application – that is of course, unless you want a real death in your movie…