Yes you read that right. This week we made an arm that can be severed on camera. I would be lying if I said I never thought I'd be making this prop. A severed arm is a tricky thing to pull off (ugh get it?) but I was determined to create one that could A) be pulled off on camera and not look too weird and B) spurt blood after it had been severed. I actually couldn't find many blog posts or videos explaining how to do this, there were plenty on how to make the prop arm or the wound once it had been severed but actually showing a limb coming off seems to be an industry secret. So I had to come up with a plan all by myself.
After watching that Anchorman fight scene about 10 times frame by frame, I decided that it would be much easier for the arm to come off at the shoulder, rather than the bicep. I also realised that if Hollywood can get away with a severed arm that looked that bad on the inside, then so could I, which took some pressure off. I think Anchorman used magnets to attach the arm at the start of the shot, as you can see the metal shine as he moves the wound around, I don't know for sure though, there's not much about it online.
We went to Bunnings in search of something that could connect the arm to the shoulder. Something that could easily be knocked off but that would stay put long enough to get the beginning of the shot where the arm is still attached. We found a 40mm PVC straight coupler and a flush pipe connector. Both already white so they would look like bone and the flush pipe connector was a kind of rubber so it gripped onto the coupler enough to stay put when left alone, but came apart when you hit it at the seam.
Here's an overview of everything I used. In the middle left you can see the two plumbing fittings, you can see they both already look like pieces of bone which is handy. Above them are some plastic bowls, which I used as a base to hold the bone fittings and to bulk out the wound around the bone. Beside the plates is some plastic glue to secure the fittings to the bowls and a Tupperware container full of flour to make paper mache. The paper mache was used to give the bowl bases more texture and to fill in the fittings so they weren't hollow. To the right we have the top that will have the sleeve ripped off, we chose a high vis polar fleece as most of what we shoot is construction/tradie health and safety related so this would give us a prop we could use again and again. At the bottom middle we have a black long sleeve t shirt. This is a tighter fit than the polar fleece so the bowl will fit securely in the sleeve openings. Then we have red and black paint for colouring the wound. Ok lets get into it!
I seam ripped one of the sleeves off the polar fleece (this is obviously the sleeve of the arm you want to be ripped off). I also seam ripped the sleeves off the long sleeve t shirt. You don't have to seam rip both sleeves, but it will ultimately be easier for your actor to get in and out of the top if they don't have to worry about tight sleeves too.
I then lined the black top shoulder seams up with the polar fleece shoulder seams. I did this with the black top inside the polar fleece, but I am showing you with the black top on the outside so you can see what I mean. With the shoulder seams lined up, I stitched them together on the left and right shoulder so the black top was secured inside the polar fleece.
Then I got started on the fun bit. I cut the rims off the bowls so they were roughly the same side as the opening of the sleeve on the black top. I also measured out the size of the fittings on each bowl and cut them out so they could be embedded inside.
I used the glue to secure the fittings in the bowls and left it overnight to dry. My glue kind of ate through the bowls but it still did a great job of secure the fittings.
With the fittings secured in the bowls it was time to paper mache, which was messy. The paper mache has two purposes, the first of which is to add texture to the bowls and make the surface more like an open wound, and easier to paint. The second is to stabilise the fittings and bowl so that when the arm is yanked out of the socket, it doesn't all just fall apart. I paper mached the front and back, making sure to reinforce any seams around the fittings and I also filled the fittings so that they looked more like the inside of a bone.
These were then left to dry overnight.
The next day I added paint which is when it really started coming together.
Once the paint was dry, I attached the bowl to the sleeve with some pretty messy looking stitches. They won't be seen as this sleeve is going inside the polar fleece sleeve for the shot.
I also attached the shoulder bowl to the sleeve opening. As you can see, the black top holds the bowl in the right place and also hides the insides of the polar fleece, making the whole prop more believable
I also drilled a small hole in the side of the shoulder bowl, beside the fitting. I attached our sweat rig (blog post here) which will be filled with blood and can be controlled by the actor during the shot, resulting in controlled spurting blood when the arm comes off.
When setting up for the shot things are a little delicate. We added a glove to the arm that gets ripped off but didn't fill the sleeve as then it was too heavy for the fittings to hold on their own. With some adjusting we got the sleeve looking normal enough - you only see the arm like this for a second before it is ripped off. The key is to add a shot before-hand from the back of the actor, with the actor using that hand then leaning on something, then cut to the shot where the arm comes off.
The polar fleece sleeve seam needs a bit of attention and fussing but with some time you can get it sitting normal enough - it looks pretty bad in this picture but in the video it's only seen for a split second.
And here you can see the whole thing in action during our practise run! We used water so we didn't make too much of a mess but you can get a good idea of what the real shot will be like. It takes a little set up, but overall this was a pretty easy build and I think it's damn effective - especially if you aren't expecting his arm to come off.
How do you think I did? I'm happy, but I do have a soft spot for home made looking props in video production (intentional or not). I'll be sure to post the actual finished scene on our Media Melt social media so keep an eye out for that!
Do you have any other ideas for props we could make? I'd love to know! We're building quite the props department!
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