Corpsing is a technique for transforming a skeleton or skull prop into a corpse by adding tissue, ligaments, veins, or other anatomical details. This tutorial will cover some of the basic techniques we used when corpsing several skulls for one of our projects.
First you need to decide what style of corpsed prop you want to create. This usually depends on cause of death, timeline, and environmental conditions. A skull that has been soaking in a swamp for 3 months will look quite a bit different than one that has been mummifying in a desert for 20 years. Once you have picked a basic style you can determine color pallet, textures and materials.
Gathering the Materials:
The materials you will need depend on the style of the prop you will be creating. This example will cover a basic skull in the mid-to-late stages of decomposition, with teeth and a single eye.
- Model skull – The skulls used in this tutorial are the Lindberg pirate skull model
- Acrylic denture teeth
- Glass or plastic taxidermy eye – optional
- Cotton balls – the type that can be unwrapped
- Cyanoacrylate glue – AKA Super glue, Zap-a-Gap, etc.
- Tissue paper / Paper towels
- Liquid latex
- Acrylic paints
- Chip brushes
- Detail brushes
- Sculpting tool, pallet knife, or popsicle stick.
- Foam makeup sponges
- Hand-held rotary tool- Dremel tool
- 2 part “5 minute” epoxy – I suggest a brand that dries clear
- Safety glasses
The preparation phase will differ from model to model. This example is based on the Lindberg pirate skull model, which comes in several pieces.
Much like anatomical skull models that are used for education, the Lindberg skull comes with a removable top and detailed cranial cavity. Because we are building an intact skull, we will need to glue the top portion of the skull down. Cyanoacrylate glue is ideal for this task. Lightly coat both surfaces and clamp them together for 5-10 minutes. If you do not have proper clamps for this step, you can manually press the two parts together for a few minutes.
While the top portion of the skull sets, you can glue the nasal bone in place.
When the Lindberg model is cast, a number of seam lines are formed on the surface. These lines run along the zygomatic bone (cheek bone) and along the outer edges of the jaw. Take a medium grit sandpaper or file and remove these lines, as well as any seam lines that are visible where the top of the skull was attached.
To insert the acrylic denture teeth, you will need to take a hand-held rotary tool and drill out sockets for each tooth. Even if you plan on leaving a few teeth out, drill out each socket so the jaw will appear more natural. Make sure you wear proper eye protection while using a rotary tool.
Before gluing the teeth in place, roughen the base of each tooth with sandpaper. This will help ensure a strong bond.
You can use a cyanoacrylate glue to attach the teeth, but for this step I prefer a 5-minute epoxy. As the epoxy cures, you can adjust the alignment of the teeth to create what ever effect you desire. You may want an accurate/natural bite pattern where each tooth lines up properly, or you may want to have some teeth missing or at odd angles.
Before the epoxy fully cures you can texture the surface of any exposed epoxy by blotting it with a paper towel. This will create a more organic look by roughening the surface and embedding small fibers.
Once the epoxy has cured, you can use a grinding tool to chip and wear away the teeth for the appearance of an aged skull. You can also drill into the teeth to create cavities.