Projects: Ground-breaker Zombie

I've always had a great fondness for zombies - Dawn of the Dead was the feature of many a movie-night during high school - so it was only natural that I have a few zombies in the graveyard. Here is the first of what I hope will be many more.

I started with a commercially bought head, courtesy of my brother who got me a gift certificate to frightcatalog.com for my 40th birthday!! Somebody knows what I like! I picked out the head called "Worm Food" but from now on will be known simply as Fred.

Below are photos of Fred as he arrived and then in stages as I re-painted him. The original paint was OK (I really liked the eyes) but was a bit flat without definition. I first painted on a black wash to darken the shadows and flow into all the cracks and wrinkles. I then dry-brushed on lighter shades to really bring out the detail. I used regular acrylic paint but mixed it with contact cement and thinner so it will flex with the mask and not crack. I've started adding hair as well. I'm going to give him a comb-over!

With Fred's head looking good I started thinking about some sort of armature to fill out the clothing. I want to have him on an angle in the process of crawling his way out of the ground. Only one arm will be showing. I used some PVC 3/4" tubing, pool noodles and duct tape. It went together pretty quickly over an evening - most of the time was spent standing in Home Depot looking at the different fittings trying to figure it all out in my head. I mounted the neck/arm assembly to a block of scrap wood to raise it off the ground and then cut a oval shaped base out of plywood. The idea is that I'll wrap the clothing around the base and then staple-gun it to the bottom of the plywood. The extra will then be cut away.

The elbow and wrist joints will be moveable. I drilled holes through the PVC and attached them together with electrical wire wrap. A coat hanger wire threaded through the tubing adds stiffness but still allows it to be posed.


I got a second-hand suit jacket, shirt and tie from Goodwill and placed it on the armature just to see how it's going to look. The clothing still needs to be distressed/weathered and he's missing a hand but all-in-all I'm pretty happy with how it's going and think Fred will look pretty spooky come Halloween night. I'll post more photos one he's finished.

I've started working on Fred's hand. So far it's also going together fairly quickly. I started with a scrap piece of 1/2" foam insulation board, cut to the shape of my palm. The hand will connect to the arm by means of a piece of PVC pipe I cemented in. I cut coat-hanger wire for the fingers allowing extra length so I could push it into the foam. I secured the wire with Gorilla Glue and then bent the fingers to shape. I then started filling out the form of the hand using paper towels and duct tape. The ligaments on the back of the hand are wooden dowels and I used flexible electrical wire to fashion the veins. One finished I'll cove the whole thing with "snot-rag mache" and paint it to resemble the head. Here's some in-progress shots... (it looks a bit Terminator-like now but once it's painted it should look more organic)

Here are some shots of the hand so far. I finished bulking it up with the paper towels and duct tape and have applied the "snot rag mache" to give it a withered skin look. I used the Ultimate Paper Mache recipe but used wrapping tissue instead of Kleenex or toilet paper. It worked the same but when dry gave harder edged wrinkles and made the skin look ore dry and withered. I sprayed on a bit of texture stone spray paint just to break up the wrinkles and add a bit of additional texture. For the warts I put small dabs of Gorilla Glue here and there. As they dry the glue expands making a bump. Small amount of glue = small bump. Larger amount of glue = bigger bump. Be careful though as this stuff really does expand a lot so it's easy to do too much. Next step is to paint it.

Fred is now finished. The hand was painted in the same manner as the head and the clothing was distressed using knives, a Stanley Sureform and a rasp to roughen and tear the material. It was then painted using a sponge to simulate dirt, grime and moss. Hair was added and I gave him broken glasses to complete his look as dead Chartered Accountant.