If you’ve been reading through my trove of SFX Basics blogs, you probably saw this one coming. Latex is a typical product you’ll find in any special effect makeup artist’s toolbox, whether you’re a beginner or an expert. There’s a lot you can create with latex such as burns, wounds, and even full cosplays!
Liquid latex, in particular, is famous amongst cosplayers and has given imaginative minds the freedom to generate brand new character looks (i.e. my Attacked Debbie Thornberry look). It’s been used in theatre, film, and now cosplay for decades, so I hope this little bit of insight can help you in your latex makeup creations!
I’m putting this here first because the hazards of using latex are more serious than other types of SFX basic equipment.
Latex allergies are common, however, most people won’t know this until they’ve been exposed to the material. When using latex for special FX makeup, apply a small amount to your skin first to determine its effects. If your skin starts turning red, becomes itchy, or burns, remove it immediately.
Liquid latex is usually made of 33% latex, 66% water, and less than 1% ammonia. Some latex (i.e. the cheap stuff you see around Halloween) contains more ammonium, giving it a potent smell. This can cause itching or irritation (especially around the eyes) so try letting the latex air out before applying it to your face.
Credit (left to right): Mehron, Liquid Latex Fashions, The Monster Makers, Rubber Wear
From liquid latex to latex prosthetics, this white or translucent material presents a bevy of opportunities for fantastical looks. I’m going to dive into the four common latex materials just to give you an idea of what they’re all about.
Liquid prosthetics are seen a lot during the Halloween season. They’re usually on a shelf somewhere near the costumes at Wal-Mart or Target. They’re also available on Amazon, but I don’t recommend these products. They smell horrific, they don’t last long, and it can cause a slight burn. Mehron’s (est. 1927) liquid latex, however, comes in skin color so it’s easy to blend and just as simple to remove. There’s no smell and it tends to have a longer shelf life. This one is also Vegan and cruelty-free.
Latex prosthetics give novice FX artists the chance to procure mind-blowing and accurate looks without having to build up the latex themselves. These ready-made prosthetics can be used all over the body, but are primarily used on the face. They’re easy to apply and can be painted over for a more dramatic effect.
This is what prosthetics are generally made out of. Foam latex isn’t really considered SFX basics, but it’s a great tool to be familiar with. This is used heavily in film to create monster, alien, and full-body latex looks.
Yes, believe it or not, you can apply full latex to your entire body. This is a great alternative to water-activated paints because it doesn’t rub off on clothing and can last an entire convention day. I recommend the one linked here because it’s Ammonia-Free and comes in different colors.
Depending on which type of latex you’re using, there are different methods of application. However, removal is generally the same. To remove liquid latex or bodypaint, all you have to do is peel it off or use soap and water. For prosthetics or any other latex applied with something like Spirit Gum or Pros-Aide, you’ll need to remove the latex with Spirit Gum Remover or an oil-based adhesive remover.
Applying Liquid Latex or Bodypaint: Some people like to use brushes or sponges to apply their latex. However, because this material sticks to everything as it dries, I just use my fingers. The latex is usually built on with cotton balls or tissue paper for prominent scars or textures. Because of this, any time I’ve tried to use a sponge to apply the latex over the tissue, I find that the latex absorbs quickly into both the sponge and the tissue so you lose a lot of product. And it’s just a sticky mess.
Applying Prosthetics or Foam Latex: Prosthetics can be applied with adhesives such as Pros-Aide or Spirit Gum. Sometimes you’ll need to use 99% alcohol to rub away the edges of the prothetic to give is a cleaner blend into the rest of your face. Then all that’s left to do is add some color and maybe some gore!
Latex should definitely be in your cosplay toolkit, even if you’re not experienced with it. It can be used to apply elf ears, beards, and can help escalate your character’s persona to a whole new level.
Special effects makeup (usually referred to as FX or SFX makeup) is used throughout Hollywood to bring our favorite characters to life. It doesn’t matter if it’s Jason from Halloween or Iron Man from the Marvel– at some point, these actors have special effects makeup and prosthetics glued to their faces. Granted, a lot of CGI is now being used but hey… that’s the magic of film.
The product we are talking about today probably has been used in theatre since the for literally hundreds of years and remains a staple for easy adhesion. It’s not the strongest stuff out there, but it’s perfect for cosplayers who are new to SFX makeup and are looking for something that is easy to administer and can survive a day at comic-con.
If you want the Wikipedia definition, Spirit gum is an adhesive, made mostly of SD Alcohol 35-A (the solvent, or “spirit“) and resin (the adhesive, or “gum“).
In cosplay, Spirit Gum is used mostly to glue down wigs (it’s stronger than eyelash glue) or to apply facial hair or prosthetics. Thankfully, this stuff is easy to find and can be purchased year-round on Amazon. You’ll see it pop up a lot more in your local chain stores around the Halloween season as they’re typically included in those cheap makeup kits (Pro Tip: don’t use those… they suck).
How To Apply Spirit Gum
Applying this SFX product is relatively easy. It’s best used for lightweight items such as facial hair or for gluing down your wig. I actually used it to add on the frozen “crystals” to my Jackie Frost cosplay.
All you have to do is paint a layer onto the back of your prosthetic, wig, or facial hair. You’ll have to wait for it to be tacky before you place it on your face or body. You can test it out by dabbing your finger onto the area where you place the adhesive to check the consistency. If it’s still wet or slimy, it’s not ready to be applied.
For extra security, you can use this same technique on the part of your skin where you will be placing the prosthetic so that you will have a double layer of Spirit Gum to secure it. However, this technique isn’t really necessary for wigs or faux facial hair.
Spirit Gum is perfect for when you plan on wearing a prosthetic all day (i.e. at a convention). It works especially well with heavier prosthetics. I generally don’t glue down my wigs (because laziness), but I’d recommend this adhesive over eyelash glue or heavier adhesive like Pros-Aide. You can also use it to help hold down masks, gloves, or other loose accessories you may have in your cosplay.
Some characters that might require this SFX adhesive are:
Elves (Lord of the Rings, WoW, Skyrim): Use it to apply elf ears.
Poison Ivy: So you can attach leaves arbitrarily on your face and body
Gandalf/Captain Jack Sparrow/Aquaman: Pretty much any character that requires you to glue some faux hair to your face.
Nebula: To hold down the wig cap and her mechanical eye fixture…things
This product has been used in theatre as early as the 1870s. Crazy, right? Since it’s inception, professionals have been able to garner a formula that is pretty safe. The only real cause for concern when using this product is that it may cause some irritation on the skin. More so if you don’t remove your heavy prosthetics properly with Spirit Gum Remover.
Spirit Gum Remover
In case you couldn’t guess, Spirit Gum Remover is used to remove Spirit Gum. The remover smells vaguely of peppermint and can be used to remove a variety of SFX products, such as Rigid Collodion. I highly recommend having this in your SFX makeup supply kit, simply because it’s the safest and easiest way to remove a prosthetic after a long con day.
In order to remove your prosthetic, wig, or facial hair without hurting yourself, make sure to use Spirit Gum Remover.
A fun and sometimes vital part of cosplay is learning how to accentuate your character with the finer details. This can mean embellishing your foam armor with bevels and shading or it could mean adding buck teeth to your Chuckie Finster cosplay. I personally didn’t do this for mine, but I thought it would be fun (and useful) to figure out the best method for DIY buck teeth.
You would think that constructing your own false set of teeth would be easy in comparison to foam smithing and sewing, right? Well, then you would be…
Now, I will say that this is a more tedious method, but it works wonderfully. The products might not be something that is in your typical cosplay toolbox, but I do recommend each and every one of these products for your arsenal.
Here’s What You’ll Need
Insta Morph Moldable Plastic
Yes, that is literally it.
How the heck do you expect to know how to use moldable plastic without knowing what it is first?
Here’s the product description:
InstaMorph is an advanced modeling compound that becomes moldable when warm (150 deg F) and solidifies at room temperature. It’s made out of a lightweight polyester thermoplastic which acts like clay when warm, but when it cools, it’s a strong plastic. Unlike other products that once they dry they are locked in that shape forever, InstaMorph can be reheated over and over again and re-molded into any number of configurations.
InstaMorph is a non-toxic substance, so it is completely safe to put into your mouth.
InstaMorph does come with a Choking Hazard label, specifically stating, “Small parts. Not for children under 3 yrs.”
RELATED: Chuckie Finster Cosplay eBook!
How-To: DIY Buck Teeth
Now that we have that out of the way, here is how you can DIY buck teeth!
(Pics coming soon)
Step 1: Heat water to 140 degrees Fahrenheit (60 degrees Celsius)
I boiled some water, but apparently, microwaving water works just fine.
Step 2: Pour a small amount of InstaMorph beads into the water.
Pro Tip: A little goes a long way. In other words, you don’t need much for two small buck teeth.
Step 3: Wait 2 minutes or until the beads turn clear and start to stick together. I recommend using a wooden spoon to bring the pellets together.
Step 4: Remove from the water and place on a paper towel.
Warning! These are heated plastic so it will be hot.
Step 5: Pat the plastic a little bit and wait a few seconds for it to cool. You’ll notice that the plastic will be flimsy enough to manipulate, but still not in its solid form. It’s kind of a jelly-like material.
Before it dries, place the plastic on your two front teeth and start molding to your teeth.
You may find that you need to add more pellets. All you have to do is stick the teeth right back into the hot water and add more. The new beads will start to gravitate towards the other plastic piece, making it easy to mold the plastic together.
If you need to make your buck teeth less prominent, you can heat the InstaMorph back up until it returns to its jelly-like form and start ripping the plastic apart to make smaller pieces.
Step 6: Let it cool at room temperature (usually takes less than a few minutes). And voila! You have your own custom DIY buck teeth.
The plastic dries white so you don’t have to worry about painting them or anything.
You can use more InstaMorph to create a kind of base for the top of your gums to hold the buck teeth in place, or you can simply glue them on with denture adhesive.
Here are some characters you can use for DIY buck teeth:
When it comes to special effects makeup (or SFX makeup), products can fall under tiers ranging from Easy to Difficult. While Rigid Collodion isn’t difficult to use, I would place it in the Difficult category purely because you must know the hazards of using this product.
Rigid Collodion can give you lasting and impressive scarred looks, but we want to make sure those looks don’t become permanent. So for this SFX Basics, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Rigid Collodion so that you can incorporate SFX looks into your cosplays!
What Is Rigid Collodion?
Realistic looking scars can be incorporated into cosplay with the use of Rigid Collodion, also known as scarring liquid. The medical field typically uses this clear, flexible solution to cover actual scars. Theatrical or SFX Rigid Collodion is a non-flexible version that pukers the skin when applied, which gives the illusion of a light or dense scar.
Rigid Collodion tightens the skin when applied. As the solution drys, it shrinks, pulling the skin inward– thus creating a scarring effect. You will start to feel Rigid Collodion working on your skin almost instantaneously.
Using Rigid Collodion For SFX Makeup and Cosplay
This SFX product can be used to intensify cosplays that call for scars in their typical look such as the Joker, Harry Potter, or Katarina from League of Legends. Rigid Collodion is also great for simulating wrinkles or severed fingers.
Before applying, map out where you want your scar to go. Use a mauve lip liner for a fresh cut look, and use a nude or natural color lip liner to simulate an older scar.
The more layers you apply, the more dramatic and deep your scar is going to look. When administrating Rigid Collodion, wait for the first layer to completely dry before applying the next. Rigid Collodion works best in less mobile areas such as the cheek, forehead, or nose. While you can opt to use this SFX product in areas such as the sides of the mouth (i.e. for a Joker cosplay), it won’t last as long and will start to peel as the day goes on. When you’re satisfied with your scar, I also advise coating the scar with a finishing powder to eliminate the shine.
Before using this product, make sure to test it on a small part of your skin. If it starts to hurt or irritate your skin, stop using it, remove it, and lay down Barrier Spray for protection. Never put this on or near your lips or eyes, and always make sure to work in a ventilated area because it has a very strong odor.
Rigid Collodion can create actual scars if it’s not properly removed. This will generally only happen if you peel off heavily applied collodion or if you use the product in the same area multiple days in a row. Just like a real scar, if you pick at it you have a higher chance of damaging your actual skin. So be sure to remove this stuff the right way.
Which leads us to:
How To Properly Remove Rigid Collodion
Removing Rigid Collodion is just as easy as applying it. However, you will need a couple of extra tools, which should cost you less than $10.
Spirit Gum is an adhesive used to connect prosthetics to your face or other parts of your body. To remove those prosthetics, you simply use Spirit Gum Remover to safely lift the prosthetic from your face. This product is made for SFX products, which is why it’s the simple solution for removing Rigid Collodion as well. Simply pour Spirit Gum Remover on a cotton ball and wipe away your scar creation until it peels off. This ensures safe removal of your SFX look and you won’t be left with any real scars.
You can see how I use Rigid Collodion (and how I remove it) in my upcoming Harry Potter scar video tutorial coming this week for a visual look at how to use this product!