The zombies are revolting! Well, yes, they’re supposed to be, but this year they’ve started complaining about their hands and how un-scary they are.
It’s embarrassingly true; for the past several years, the zombies have all being wearing work gloves. Why? Because the fake hands you can buy in stores are terrible and only seem to come in the left hand shape. So, work gloves are an easy but horrible solution.
To keep the decomposing little buggers happy, I told them I’d make hands for them this year, so off I went searching for “make zombie prop hands”, digging through forums, Flickr galleries, blog posts and Google images.
I found some pretty horrible hands and some pretty awesome ones, especially the nicely done skeletal looking ones but nothing that really gave me what I wanted. So, taking inspiration from what I’d seen, I created my own.
The first step is to form the basic shape. I used leftover electrical wire, stripped the outer sheathing off and just used the wires inside. If you don’t have rolls of leftover electrical wire, ask an electrician; they’ll probably have a bunch of short cutoffs. I just shaped them according to my hand. Remember when you’re doing this, to shape matching left and right hands. You don’t want a whole bunch of lefties… Leave the length of the wire a little bit longer than your fingers, because you’ll be bending that tip back to keep the tubing in place later. If you want hands with extra long creepy fingers, just make them longer. You’ll be inserting the finished hand into a pvc arm, so make sure there’s enough length to secure it firmly. Zombies have enough problems keeping their body parts intact without you helping them…
Keep adding bits of masking tape to get the basic hand part nice and solid. You’ll still be able to shape the hand by bending the fingers even after you’ve finished taping, but you won’t be able to spread the fingers very easily so make sure you’ve got that part figured out before you go crazy with the tape.
To give the fingers a bit more bulk (without adding TOO much), I picked up some cheap plastic tubing from the hardware store. Some people have used BIC pens, but the plastic tubing is a little thinner and much easier to cut to the appropriate lengths. Snip bits of tubing off and slide onto the wire fingers. Leave a bit of wiggle room to make it easier to bend and shape the fingers, and then fold the extra finger tip wire over to lock the tubing in place.
The next part is the trickiest part. Most of the other “how-to” instructions starting building up the flesh part using rubber latex and cotton or papier-mâché. (Did you know that means “chewed-paper”? Gross…) I wanted to make these hands go a little faster as well as giving them a good sunken / dried out flesh look. To achieve that, I put heavy duty medical gloves on and taped them into place. You may have to re-bend the fingers after doing this because it is a pain in the butt getting those gloves on.
Now that the “skin” is basically in place, it’s time to break out the modelling latex and cotton balls. Tear apart the cotton balls so they’ll be ready to go. Give the hand a good coating of latex, and then start building the hand up using the cotton balls. Think about the fleshy areas, such as the palm of the hand next to the thumb. You can also spiral thin strips of the cotton around the fingers to give them some shape. The cotton will end up looking like tendons or dried, hard chunks of skin. You want to give the hands several coats of latex, letting each coat dry completely. I found about five coats to be a good number. The hand is still soft and pliable, and it doesn’t need to be rock hard. Here, you can see the back and the front of one of the hands. Make sure you paint the latex well down onto the “wrist” part that will be inserted into the pvc arms.
Once you’ve finished the latex coats, it’s time to paint them. I’m not sure whether one coat of acrylic paint is best, or whether several coats look better. The one coat lets you see some of the blue glove and bits of “meat” under the paint, so it’s an good effect. I ended up giving the hand two coats of Burnt Umber, followed up by dry brushings of purple, yellow and blue. I’ll paint the hands to match the zombie heads, as they are various colours. Regardless of the colours you choose, I think the medical gloves give the hands that nice “dehydrated skin” look, somewhat like the mummified remains of bodies that have been discovered.
This might seem like a lot of steps, but you can probably get several hands completed over the course of a weekend. Have fun!