Introduction: How to Corpse a Skeleton (The Quick and Dirty Way That DOES NOT Involve Latex)

Picture of How to Corpse a Skeleton (The Quick and Dirty Way That DOES NOT Involve Latex)

What you'll need.
A Skeleton
Clear Plastic Tarps
Variable Temperature Heat Gun (I assume it's possible to do this with an embossing heat gun, but don't. Get a proper one.)
Wood Stain
Brushes (I used both sponge and bristle brushes)

Step 1: Mummy Up Your Skeleton

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Sounds exactly like what it is. Wrap a layer or two of plastic around your skeleton. Then get ready to hit it with that heat gun.

Update: This project was inspired by Allen Hopps who showed us how to make human pelts out of trash bags. I thought, 'I wonder if drop cloths would work on skellies,' and they did! (I did find out later that Allen also had that idea...)

Step 2: Melt It

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After you've wrapped a layer or two of plastic (and it's totally fine to have one layer in some places and two layers in other places), you'll want to get out your heat gun. Essentially, you're shrink wrapping the skeleton in plastic tarp. If you burn through the tarp that's totally okay. The more "holes" in your flesh, the more realistic it looks.

Step 3: Lather, Rinse, Repeat

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Flip your skeleton over and hit the plastic on the back with the heat gun. Notice how the spots where the plastic tarp ends meet give the feel of tendons.

Step 4: Back to Front

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And again on the front. (And again, on the back.)

Step 5: And... Paint!

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Wood stain provides wonderfully realistic colour tone for fleshy skeletons. For my "Burnt Offering" skeleton I used a dark stain (Jacobean) and for my "Flayed Man" I used a redder stain (Red Mahogany). The "White Oak" stain is also great, depending on your desired final effect.

Step 6: Details

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My "Burnt Offering" has a lot less meat (since he was meant to be BBQed). This effect was achieved by fully coating the corpsed skeleton with the wood stain (sponge brush).
My "Flayed Man" has more meat (since he only lost his skin). This effect was achieved by very lightly drybrushing (bristle brush). I did this in two coats. Please, notice the details on the back (pictures four and five) where the "overlay" of the plastic seems more lifelike.

Step 7: That's All!

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Let it dry. If your finished product is too "shiny" (I wanted BBQ and oozing flesh on mine, so shiny is good) you can hit your finished product with some matting spray. If you won't be putting your skeleton outside, you can use Elmer's white glue for the same (albeit a bit messier to apply) effect.

This process also works on "Blow Mold" (a.k.a. Blucky) skeletons. See the last image for what I did with my ($1.00 each) skeletons from Dollar Tree. They're miniature skeletons, they stand about six inches tall. (Unretouched on the left, Corpsed on the right.)


TravisR28 made it! (author)2017-09-27

This is the only method I go by. Its easy, fast and produces incredible results! The one thing I experimented with that saves time... I bought a dollar tree spray bottle and did the stain that way. It helped get into crevices that the brushes just cant seem to reach.

Also, I used gloss black spraypaint for the hard to reach innards to give a charred look. It also works to hit spots you may have missed with stain in a pinch.

RosM5 (author)2016-08-29

Just bought the skeletons today..Trying this for our haloween decor this year..

AHRAZ (author)2016-07-27

one word : WOW!

HecateB (author)2015-10-10

Is there a way to do this w/o a heat gun as I don't own one... And don't want to scare my little skeletons?!?

lime3D (author)2015-08-07

I'm looking to make a corpse to go into a casket display. The effect I'm going for is natural, long term decay, so I'm thinking I want to go with more gray tones. Do you recommend painted the skeleton first, or would it be better to leave it natural color, and use grays and browns in my stain?

SparkySolar (author)2014-10-30

OH MY GOD this is awesome

Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it! :)

ElDusto (author)2014-09-27

Fantastic! I made this for forensics training at work. Great Instructable!

Awesome! Thanks so much!

teresa.bruechert (author)2014-09-13

Hello: After you were all done did you have any trouble with the joints

not bending or plastic getting messed up?

Love your skeletons.

Thank you for the compliment. No, the joints still worked after the corpsing. If you have any plastic that comes loose in an area that has a lot of movement, you can use a spray adhesive to reattach it. Personally, I like Super77 by 3M, it's the only propellant adhesive I've found that won't melt styrofoam, and I use styrofoam to make my tombstones.

mbecks (author)2013-09-19

wow super great effect with such simple ingredients. where do you get the skeletons?

Thanks! These are the "Pose and Stay" skeletons that I got at Costco last year. You can find five foot skeletons for ~$50 at Party City, Garden Ridge, Walgreens, and the Halloween stores that pop up each year. Apparently Menards (if there's one close to you) has some on sale for $30 each right now. Also check out Oriental Trading Company, they sometimes have deals.

I'm about to publish an Instructable for the mini skeletons (five inches instead of five feet) to articulate movement. Just in case you can't get your hands on the larger ones in time. :)

technosasquatch (author)2012-09-10

just imagine if you took one of those teaching skeletons, removed all the hardware and did this. People might soil themselves.

I would LOVE to corpse a bucky! Unfortunately, they are way out of my budget... Maybe someday. :)

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