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Theatrical Blood Effects for Realistic Casualty Simulation: Part 3

In the two previous blog posts in this series on theatrical blood effects we’ve discussed important facts and characteristics of human blood (and how it bleeds from the body) that you need to know in order to portray blood loss accurately in a simulation.  We also covered some important requirements and what to look for in choosing theatrical blood products for realistic portrayal.  Real time field training, clinical laboratory exercises and visual effects for film and TV production demand products with high fidelity elements for diverse types of real-to-the-eye end results.  Above all, they must contain the three prerequisites essential to high realism portrayals and that is opacity, texture, and color.  For film and TV use, this is vitally important as theatrical bloods can have different visual reactions in a range of light sources, especially in variable sunlight and stage/set lights.  To this end, you must be very careful in making sure the blood has the correct undertone in its color, so that it doesn’t render too orange or pink, or too purple or blue in camera.  If you ignore the undertone color then your simulation will have a visual skew in the overall performance fidelity, regardless if you have the right opacity, texture and redness in color.  In addition, it also must have a believable behavior/mobility on human skin or artificial appliances, meaning it must flow or dry realistically to the eye.
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The biggest question everyone has is “will it stain skin and/or clothing?”  Here is the short scoop from our decades of experience in using nearly every theatrical blood brand on the market: all commercially available products will remove completely from human skin with soap and water.  Sugar based bloods will usually wash off completely with the first washing.  Non-sugar based bloods will come off with the first washing, but may leave a slight red halo effect on skin that will wash off with a second washing.  We have found it’s best to wash these bloods off skin with an orange based cleanser, such as Fast Orange Hand Cleaner, which is a mild scrub that has granules in it to help remove the remaining residue.  As for clothing: never rely on any manufacturer’s product statement that their blood products will completely wash out.  That depends entirely on the fabric and its reaction to the red cosmetic pigments used in the blood, and how long the blood has been left to dry on the fabric.  We have had some sugar based bloods, such as the Graftobian brand, wash out completely from military uniforms while others have left a slight red halo residual effect.  So, the bottom line to all this is that some products MAY launder out completely, some products might semi-stain (meaning they will wash out eventually) and some products will be permanent stain.  We always recommend role players should wear clothing they won’t mind getting stained with any kind theatrical blood so plan accordingly.

For our professional theatrical blood needs we stick to trusted commercial manufacturers that use high quality control with proven results in their products, and that we have established to be safe and consistent in our performance requirements.  We are also very careful in making sure blood has the correct undertone to the red color as discussed previously, so we do have our favorites for this reason.  One of the major problems in using cheap discount/bargain brands is that they always end up being poor in color undertone, texture, and opacity, which is not a good trade-off for the money savings.  “Pantry Made” theatrical bloods also tend to be off-color in undertone, because food based pigments aren’t nearly as strong, precise, and stable in a mixture as cosmetic based pigments are, especially when you are trying to achieve true color realism for film and TV use.  To this end we have developed a unique blood color “planograph”, in which we use accurate blood color swatches representative of the correct range of actual venous and artery blood colors in fresh to dried/aged blood.  This planograph has been tested thoroughly in HDTV cameras and monitors for super accurate color rendering.  It’s a vital tool for anyone in selecting theatrical bloods for the truest color resolution for the camera or human eye engagement, whether used for film and TV or live training exercises.

Theatrical blood products are available in 5 textures: thin liquids, thick syrups, semi-solid gels, solid pastes and dried/powders.  Each has differing degrees of viscosity, along with a range of reds that you should always test first for color/undblood_spatterertone, texture and opacity before implementing them into your particular needs.  Always be aware of their classification as either cosmetic/external use only or food grade safe, especially if you are going to use it near the eyes, nose or in the mouth.

Liquid Stage Bloods: these can be thin with a viscosity like water, and transparent in color.  They are great for running through simulator manikin bleed lines, external pump tubing assemblies, or spraying through an atomizer, squirt guns, syringes, or rubber bladders for spattering effects.  They work well for blood splashes, or residual dripping effects in a scene or on clothing and props.  You can adjust sprayers for a light misting or full soaking effects.  Be aware that these liquids will dry fairly quickly and need re-application for a fresher blood effect.

Syrup-Based Liquid Stage Bloods: these are thicker viscosity liquids that are made from a sugar (usually corn syrup) base.  They are the most commonly used bloods to portray fresh bleeding injuries or to create pooling blood, and are typically available in both venous and artery colors with high opacity results.  The texture allows it to flow or drip slowly, and they stay wet for a reasonable length of time, depending on how much is applied and how hot the weather is.  Sugar based bloods are often food grade/edible so they can be used in digestible gelatin blood capsules to portray mouth bleeding.  Non sugar based bloods are often petroleum/mineral oil based, or methacrylate based, and available in both venous and artery colors with high opacity results.  They are ideal to use on both human skin and silicone based prosthetics or manikins when you need continuity in texture when using blood on combined surfaces.

Semi-Solid Blood Gels: these are products that have a very thick and smooth texture, much like a fruit jam consistency, but heavier.  They have very slow movement and can drip slightly once in contact with skin temperature or downward gravity.  Blood gel is usually darker in color so it’s better used as most wound cavity filler or as coagulating venous blood.  It is completely opaque once applied, but maintains a realistically wet sheen to it.  It never dries down completely, so it has a nice semi-coagulation effect, and great to use for abrasions that need some slight active bleeding effects.  Some gel brands, like Graftobian, will actually issue when sprayed with a mist of water, so it gives a nice blood ooze effect

Solid Paste Blood: this is a very dense, dark red soft-solid product that resembles vegetable shortening in texture, and is also completely opaque.  It has a dull sheen to it and it doesn’t dry out.  It’s best applied with a spatula or similar tool on skin or prosthetics for exact placement.  The viscosity is super thick and it stays in place once applied, and does not drip.  It’s ideal to use as clotted wound filler or scabbing wound material, and in some cases it can even hold small lightweight impalements in place. It’s also easy to mix with liquid theatrical bloods if you need to soften the texture down a bit or change the color, but it will mm-1289_lglose some of its firmness if you do. It will also issue slightly when sprayed with a mist of water.

Blood Powder: is a super pigmented highly concentrated powder mixture, and an important product to have in any casualty simulation moulage kit!  Blood powders allow you to apply a myriad of finishing touches to any trauma portrayal, especially when you need that extra layer look of active bleeding or blood “splash back” look on your role players, props or casualty scene.  It can be sprinkled or brushed dry onto any surface and then sprayed with water to produce a highly realistic looking fresh bleeding or oozing effect.  It will eventually dry in place when sprayed with water, but the beauty of this stuff is that it can be sprayed again multiple times to “reactivate” the bleeding effects.  You can also apply more powder over an application to build up the effects.  When blood powder is mixed into a small amount of corn syrup, it becomes a base to disperse in water to make a large amounts of liquid blood.  It can also be mixed directly into other forms of makeup products, such as gelatin, to create deeper realistic blood effects.

In Part 4, our final segment in this series, we will finish up with some extra tips and techniques in using blood products safely and effectively, so tune in next month.  We welcome your comments and suggestions on this series so please feel free to post your thoughts!

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