POSTS Production The Film Business

Special Makeup Effects: Painting Silicone

To save yourself time and paint, I suggest that your appliances be precolored at the time you cast them. Because the silicone we use for prosthetics is clear or translucent, it is an excellent material for intrinsic (internal) coloring. You can color the silicone with either a pigment that approximates the character’s coloring or with rayon fiber flocking material mixed to approximate the character’s coloring. Materials you’ll need:

  • Alcohol palette
  • Naphtha or white spirit
  • Clear RTV silicone caulk
  • Scissors
  • Misc. sponges
  • Wood craft sticks (for mixing)
  • Clear RTV silicone adhesive/sealant
  • Fine disposable brushes
  • Heptane (Bestine rubber cement
  • thinner)
  • One-inch chip brushes
  • 99% IPA in a spray bottle
  • Mixing cups
  • Silicone pigments or artist oil paints
  • Hair dryer
  • Vinyl or nitrile gloves

NOTE Nothing sticks to silicone except other silicone. To paint silicone in a way that won’t rub off with normal wear, your silicone appliance must be painted with silicone paint; that is, silicone that has been pigmented and thinned for application with an airbrush or fine bristled brushes.

Grex gravity feed pistol grip airbrush with magnetic quick-change tip. Photo by author.

An airbrush might seem to be a more practical and an efficient way to paint an appliance, regardless of what material it is made of. It comes back to personal preference and how you were taught (or are being taught). For painting appliances, I believe you will be better off not using an airbrush and instead using chip brushes and cut-down chip brushes. Don’t get me wrong, I love airbrushes; I have six of them ranging in size from very fine detail to big enough to paint a house. But unless you have an assistant whose job is to keep your airbrushes clean and unclogged, you will spend more time cleaning your needles and nozzles every time you change colors, even if you are using several at a time.

Airbrushes clog quite easily, especially when you (try to) run thinned silicone through them. I was taught how to get superb results using thinned RTV silicone adhesive and RTV silicone caulk as the medium for applying color to silicone appliances. I think it worth noting that this method of painting is for preapplication of the appliance, not postapplication. RTV silicone caulk is tin silicone, and uncured is not approved by FDA for applying directly on skin.

Use wash of silicone adhesive (caulk) to prime painting surface. Image reproduced by permission of Neill Gorton.

1. Start off by thinning the silicone adhesive (sealant) in a cup with some heptane, Bestine (rubber cement thinner), or naphtha so that it is a pretty thin wash of about 10 parts solvent to 1 part silicone.

2. Of course, you have a polyfoam (soft or rigid urethane foam) form of your model that the appliance is resting on to hold its shape and facilitate easier painting.

3. Brush this clear wash onto your appliance, but be careful not to paint all the way out to the edges. Because there is a lot of solvent mixed with the silicone, you can ruin the edges; the silicone will absorb the solvent and swell.

4. Because you seamed with silicone gel, this wash will also create a thin layer of silicone over the seam patch. This wash of silicone adhesive will kick very quickly, setting up in less than an hour and resulting in a very strong bonding surface for the color you will add next.

Mix color and brush onto appliance, getting into creases and folds. Dab excess with sponge; continue until desired result achieved. Image reproduced by permission of Neill Gorton.

5. You can use either silicone pigments to make your flesh tones or whatever color you need for your appliance, or you can use artist oil paints, which will work just as well. These colors will be used as detail highlight and shadow coloring on various parts of your appliance.

6. Mix another thin wash of silicone, this time mixing naphtha with some of the RTV silicone caulk instead of heptane, Bestine, or naphtha with silicone adhesive. The ratio is about 10:1—10 parts solvent to 1 part silicone.

7. Mix a bit of the color you need and brush it onto the appliance, getting into all the creases and folds. Dab off any excess with a piece of sponge and continue until you achieve the effect you’re going for.

8. Next take one of the chip brushes and cut the bristles down about halfway. The next step is to flick or spatter paint onto the prosthetic. This can be done by alternating heavy and light amounts. Mix another batch of silicone with naphtha in the same ratio and mix colors to complement the complexion you are creating.

Flick brush bristles to spatter randomly onto appliance (wear nonlatex gloves). Image reproduced by permission of Neill Gorton.

9. With your fingers (wear nonlatex gloves), flick the brush bristles so that the paint spatters randomly onto the appliance.

10. Use another chip brush with longer bristles and tap it against the handle of the cut-down brush to apply spatter in a slightly different way, with different spatter amounts. You could also do this with an airbrush. Be careful with the amount of color; it’s very easy to overdo it, particularly with reds.

FIGURE 6.69 Vein coloration should be subtle. Image reproduced by permission of Neill Gorton.

11. When you’ve spattered sufficiently, you can move on to adding vein color if it is appropriate to the prosthetic, dabbing with a sponge to remove excess color. Vein coloration should be very subtle.

12. You can continue to add color in the form of moles and age spots, if that is appropriate to the makeup, or you can stop and let the silicone paint cure, which will take several hours.

When the silicone has set, the appliance is ready for application. Then you can finish painting the appliance with an alcohol-activated color palette once the prosthetic is glued in place.

Excerpt from Special Makeup Effects for Stage and Screen Making and Applying Prosthetics, 2nd Edition by Todd Debreceni  © 2013 Taylor & Francis Group. All Rights Reserved.

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