Introduction: Adding Realism to Cheap Halloween Props - Weight Your Limbs 'n' Digits

About: t•j cos•grove /tí dʒé kɑ́sgrəv/ Noun: 1. 20 something quasi-creative with a penchant for Fedoras,Vintage Goods and Caffeine.
Halloween is now over, and as fellow finders of cheap and useful components for future projects, I'm sure you've all been rummaging through the cheap surplus which shops are desperately trying to get rid of in time for Christmas. This instructable utilises these cheap Halloween props and adds realism to them by changing the filling and adding more weight.

I'm aspiring to work in the special effects/propbuilding business, so this is practice for me. But it could easily be used in any small budget films and should act realistically, at least, more so that anything available without visiting specialist stores or paying a fortune.

I've documented the entire process that I went through, but this is intended more as a reference for how to take on your own projects, as I know that often you won't be able to get exactly the components I have.

Limb-er up, and lets get our fingers out and get started.

See What I did there?

Step 1: Gather Your Tools and Components

The first step in any project is to gather your tools and components.

Tools -

- Scalpel
- Super Glue
- Cutting Mat
- Needle & Thread

(Optional) Just to make things easier, but not required.

- Calipers
- Funnel
- Forceps

Components -

- Fake Limbs/Digits
- 2/3 500g Bags of Pearl Barley (Or other grain type filler)
- Stiff Cardboard Tube

I managed to get all my fake arm cheap at a large supermarket over here in Northern Ireland. They were selling out for next to nothing, but I will admit that I paid full price for the fake fingers, I was tempted, and they were sold out later that week. For £1 ($1.60) a pack they aren't exactly going to break the bank. The pearl barley was chosen because it is solid, not flakey or dusty, suitably sized, and costs only 42p per 500g, making it very cheap for filling.

Step 2: Finding and Making the Incision

Measure Twice, Cut Once.

If we measure the carboard tube's diameter, it comes to just under 3cm.We need to make a cut in the arm which will allow us to remove the current stuffing, and add our own, as well as inserting the stiff cardboard tube "bone". While the diameter of the tube might only be around 3cm, the hole will need to be slightly bigger, as it is a cylinder. so add around a centimeter onto either end of your cut, bringing the total to 5cm.  Once you're totally sure you have measured and checked correctly, make the cut, trying to keep it clean and uniform, it will make it easier to hide later on.

Step 3: Unstuff the Arm

Now we want to remove the stuffing from the arm. Mine was filled with cotton wool type material, which gave the prop a flimsy, puffy appearance, as well as an unrealistically light weight.

Start by pulling the stuffing out with your fingers, it should come easily, either in large clumps, or smaller tufts. As you progress you'll start to find it difficult to get at the stuffing further back, especially with the small hole which we've cut.

This is where forceps come in handy. You could just continue with your hands, or even use a pair of needlenose pliers if you have them, but I have a few pairs of forceps, and this is exactly the kind of thing they are for, so why not use them!

A technique which I found to work well was to bunch up the empty limb around the base of the forceps, allowing you to reach the ends. There will be stubborn bits at the very far end, especially the fingers, but keep removing all of the stuffing until you have something which resembles a strange defalted skin balloon. Congratulations, you just hollowed out a hand!

I'd advise keeping your original stuffing for another project, it will work perfectly in small pillows or stuffed Christmas decorations, so don't waste it!

Step 4: Chop and Insert the Bone

Next we have to size up and insert the "bone" of our new fake arm. I chose to use stiff carboard tubing because I had one laying around, it's reusing, and it won't react with the pearl barley.

Carefully push the tube into the incision we made earlier, ensuring that you do not rip it any wider. I had measured my tube beforehand, but pushed it all the way inside to get a feel for it before cutting. I found that the last inch or so stuck into the palm area and made an unnatural bump, this was easily fixed by chopping an inch off the end of the tube.

Once you have the bone sized and placed in the incision, don't push it all the way inside yet, we're going to utilise the fact that it's a hollow tube in the next step.

Step 5: Fill 'er Up!

Now comes the fun part!

In order to ensure the fingers are properly filled, I let the tube stick partially out of the arm, and put the funnel on top of that. That way, I could direct the internal flow of grain so that all the fingers and thumb got filled properly, snazzy eh?

Once you have filled the fingers, slide the tube into the arm so that it ends roughly at the wrist. Fill the tube up first, making sure that it is totally full before filling up the rest of the arm, or that extra space will mean a big gap somewhere else in the arm.

Keep filling the arm, using the funnel so you don't spill Pearl Barley everywhere. I found that a technique of dribbling 4-5 grains at a time in a regular fashion worked better than just pouring a whole bunch in and then having to shake and sift them.

Take your time on this step, making sure that the arm is getting a filling which feels in line with what you want. Grasp the fingers and forearm, is it solid? Does it need more grain? Note that the entire arm will feel stiffer when the bone is in place and it is totally full, but just keep checking.

Because we made our incision on the side of the arm, when we get close to the top, you might need to switch to a horizontal filling position to get it totally full, that's fine, just keep filling and checking, take your time.

Step 6: Seal That Sucker

Your arm should now be full of grain, and feeling rather hefty compared to the pathetic specimen we had earlier. Now we have to seal the incision we made earlier, or else our lovely arm will become empty rather quickly.

It's needle and thread time, and don't cringe away if you don't think you can sew, it honestly not that difficult, especially for what we're doing.

WARNING: The latex arm is thicker than most fabrics, it will resist the needle, adjust for this and don't accidentally stab yourself. That would be really lame.

Sew up the arm, making sure that the incision is pulled tight and closed. This should be fairly obvious, but use a color which will blend in, I chose black.

As a final precaution, I used superglue to totally seal the incision. Apply the glue onto your sewing and the incision itself. If you gently squeeze the arm, you should see some bubbles appear in the glue, when you let go, the suction created by the arm itself should draw some glue inside the incision, sealing it further.

Step 7: Admire Your Work

Well done, you've just made your cheap Halloween Surplus into a viable movie prop, novelty limb, or a great way to freak out visitors. Throw some tattered clothes and a dollop of fake blood on it, and you've got yourself some scared siblings, worried parents, and concerned neighbours.

Hold Your Horses! We're not done here yet!

Step 8: Getting Digit-al

The same principle we used earlier can be applied to these cheap severed finger props. They come filled with air, and sealed, and while they don't look bad, the feel terrible. They compress almost totally, and are far too light.

Let's Fix That.

Step 9: Cut the Trapdoor

This is a technique that I like to call "Cutting the Trapdoor" not that I developed this technique, but I can't find reference to it anywhere else, so this will suffice for me.

It simply involves cutting 3/4 of a circle into the top of the thumb, leaving a small "hinge" of attached material, this allows us to fill the digits, but makes sealing it up much easier later on.

Be Careful, if your scalpel is anything like mine, it is VERY sharp, and making such small cuts is awkward, the blade can sometimes jump forward if you're not careful. The only severed digits we want are the ones we are working on.

Step 10: Finger Fillin' Good!

To fill the fingers, you can use a smaller funnel, if you have it. My paper funnels proved very awkward to make work in this situation, so I developed an easier method for filling them, hereby known as the Scoop 'n' Fill technique.

I just grabbed a spare drinking straw from my backpack, this was a fairly wide diameter one, from Subway I think.

Push one end of the straw into the digit, the trapdoor should not crush it closed, if it does, you've made the hinge too big and the pressure put on the straw will make filling difficult.

Then slide the other end of the straw horizontally into your Pearl Barley, scooping grains into the straw, raise the straw up to dump the grains into the digit.

Repeat as necessary to fill each digit

Step 11: Close the Trapdoor

This step is fairly simple, we're going to seal up our now full digits. No sewing this time, the thicker material of the digits means that the trapdoor should fall back into place, superglue should suffice.

If you cut your trapdoor properly, it should flap back down into position quite easily. If it flips inside the digit, just use your scalpel or a pencil to gently pry it out.

Apply superglue onto the trapdoor edges, employing the same same squeezing suction technique to get the glue inside as well.

Let them sit for 2-3 minutes to dry, and they should be sealed and should stand up to some abuse without coming undone.

Step 12: Finished!

Well Done! You've made yourself some realistic digits! They'll go great with the arm you made earlier.

For extra creepy points, paint each fingernail with a different nail polish. Dexter anyone?

I hope you've found my Instructable useful. I'm applying for the Epilog Challenge, so if you though my entry was worthy, please consider voting for me. I love comments, and will gladly answer any questions.

Thanks for reading, and I'll see you next time!

Tj Cosgrove
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