It may be early for Halloween, but if you want really nice props, you have to start Early. There are lots of ways to build a corpse / zombie prop, but I believe this is the best way to come up with a professional looking product with little or no experience or artistic ability.
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Step 1: Materials Needed
1 forth quality Bucky Skeleton (or less expensive purchased skeleton)
1 quart of liquid latex
2 pairs queen sized panty hose
1/2 pair (one piece) ankle "footy" hose
assorted craft brushes
assorted shades of brown acrylic craft paint
coarse jute rope for hair or vines (optional)
There are many, many different skeletons on the market these days. They vary greatly in quality and price! This tutorial will be using 4th quality Bucky skeletons from SkeletonStore.com, which run about $150 each. While that may sound like a lot of money, a Bucky is a very high quality, heavy, durable prop that will last pretty much forever. The Skeleton Store also sells many other quality products which might be more appropriate for the causal user.
Liquid latex can be purchased in quarts, gallons or 5 gallon buckets from MonsterMakers.com. This is mask making quality latex not intended to be used for make up applications directly to the skin.
Any brand of panty hose will do. Actually, the cheaper brands, or even (Clean!) used ones, are best for this project.
We also used coarse ropes from raveling erosion cloth from a lawn and garden shop that was being used for other decorations. Anything that you have lying about can be used for decorating.
Step 2: Aging the Bones
Start by painting the entire skeleton with a 'dirty wash' of brown paint. Bucky skeletons are white to a very pale shade of gray. Your finished piece will look better if the bones look a little older. If your skeleton is already shaded, skip this step.
Dirty Wash is mostly water with some dark paint added. Mix the water and paint well and then start brushing it over the skeleton. If it looks to dark, add more water. If it is still to pale, you can either add more paint to the mix or do multiple layers.
Step 3: Skinning the Body
Pull one pair of panty hose over the legs and body of the skeleton. The second pair goes over the arms. The "footy" ankle stocking goes over the head. Don't worry about being neat or avoiding tears and runs. You'll be adding more of those later. Secure both pairs of hose at the shoulder joints. You can zip tie, sew or hot glue in place. Sewing is preferred as it keeps the joint more flexible. Trim away any extra fabric.
Step 4: Distressing
After the body is covered, you'll need to 'distress' the skin. Using scissors, a wire brush, craft knives or even screws, whatever you have handy, tear holes and make runs in the stocking skin. You want enough stocking left to appear to be skin, but you also want some bones to show.
Step 5: Latexing
Hang your Bucky up for ease of decorating in a well ventilated area where dripping is not a problem (preferably outside!) Wearing old clothes and using disposable brushes, start painting the hose with liquid latex. Latex will not wash out of your clothes or the brushes. Allow to air dry.
Step 6: Take a Look
You can stop and move on to painting if you like your corpse at this point. You can cut the panty hose away from the hands to leave just the exposed bone as shown, or add more detail.
Step 7: Adding Detail
Latex will also work as a glue for adding detail. Bits of cords or frayed fibers can be dipped in latex and then added to the body to create texture, 'vines' or even 'hair'. Our female has "dreadlocks" of cord which were made by dipping just the ends of the ropes in latex then flaring the ends and pressing them to the skull in rough rows. The same was done to add 'vines' to the male.
Pro Tip: To make individual fingers, cut the latex soaked hose between the fingers and wrap the cut edges around each finger. Super glue in place.
Pro Tip: You can also dip small pieces of shredded paper towels into the liquid latex and wrap those around the fingers as skin.
Step 8: Paint
Give the entire piece a medium brown base coat of paint. From there, you can dry brush on lighter colors as desired. Remember, the more colors and 'coats' of speckled paint, the better your finished piece will look.
Pro Tip: Finish off with one last dirty wash of very dark brown to 'lock' all the other colors together and accentuate the wrinkles by settling into the low spots.
Pro Tip: If your corpse is supposed to be female, you can add purchased acrylic nails. Attach nails to the fingers with super glue. Paint latex across the tops and then push it back to simulate nail beds. These should be chipped and painted to match the rest.
Step 9: The Weeping Widow
If you found this article helpful, you might enjoy seeing other projects by Jeff & Susan Stringer for themselves, their haunted attractions and Beauty and the Beast Costumes, Chattanooga.
I would do the Widow as an Instructable, but there are large parts missing about how to install the water pump and attach the arms. There are good step by step photos of the broken mannequin, creating the draping effect and painting.