Professor Zombie Costume How-To

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays, perhaps because my birthday is the day before. This year, Halloween fell on a Thursday: I teach undergraduates on Thursdays. So this year I thought: I should dress up for my students. Even though students should come to class for the pure enjoyment of learning (haha), it doesn’t hurt to do something a little entertaining now and then to keep their interest.

A few years ago, I got a bunch of free tickets to a haunted farm: about six of us went, dressed up and everything. At the time, I attempted a “classy zombie,” a zombie in a suit. I used a suit from the thrift store, cut it up a bit, and dabbed some red paint on it. I put about five minutes of effort into it. The costume wasn’t that special, but then again, we traipsed through that farm after dark, so details weren’t really important.

With the increasing popularity of zombies in recent years, I thought: this year, I have to try that zombie costume again, but do it right.

I don’t think my costume was perfect: not by any means. But it was better. Read on to find out how I became…undead.

The costume

Let’s start with the costume. This part was the easiest to modify. Here’s what it looked like before:

Zombie suit version 1.0

A little red paint splashed on the shirt and suit, plus a little mud on the pants. Some rips, but not enough.

First, I cut up the suit a lot more. I learned something important: suits have more than one layer of fabric. Rather than cutting through all layers at once, I only cut through the front layers, giving the clothing a…layered look. Anyway, it made the rips look more authentic.

I also added a lot more blood. This was the end result of the shirt:

Bloody zombie shirt

I added the blood in several phases so that it didn’t have a uniform drying pattern. This gives the impression that I’ve feasted on flesh more than once.

I added the blood while the shirt was on so that I could get it to drip down realistically. The blood soaked through, so after the staining, I had to shower real quick.

Bloody chest

Strategically, I did this in the bathroom, as I knew the blood would drip all over. This made clean-up a breeze.

Blood on the floor

It actually looked a little disturbing seeing this blood on the floor. It also got in the toilet and shower.

The make-up

Like I said, the costume was the easy part. The make-up took a bit of research.

First, I watched the following two videos on zombie make-up. The first one is definitely more professional than the second, but the second still looks pretty realistic.

First, I needed to get the proper supplies. Thankfully, a Halloween store had the necessary blood and liquid latex, and a quick trip to Walmart’s cosmetics aisle yielded the rest of the make-up I needed.

Zombie make-up

Blood: $9.99, Liquid Latex: $4.99, Powder: $3.97, Eye shadow: $5.97 and $3.97. Total with taxes: $30.78.

The matte powder was to give my face an ashen appearance. The eye shadow gave me green, brown, and red coloring to add to my skin to make bruises. The black eye shadow was for my wounds.

I’ve never attempted using make-up before, so I figured I needed to practice before the Big Day. What most interested me in the video tutorials was an explanation of how to make scars. I spent about an hour practicing with a scar on my arm. The transformation is below:

Zombie arm scar

First, I cleaned the skin and added a bit of make-up. Second, I used liquid latex to paste Kleenex onto my arm. Third, once the latex was dry, I cut the Kleenex to make it look like my skin was peeling. Fourth, I filled the wound with black eye shadow, which forms the basis of congealed blood.

The great thing about zombie make-up is, you can be pretty sloppy and it will still look good. After filling in the scar with black eye shadow, the next step is to cover the tissue with make-up. Finally, blood is applied.

Scar removal note: Shave any hair from the area where the scar will be applied! Tearing off this practice scar hurt so much, and for ten minutes I was pulling dried latex from my hairs!

Preparations complete: Time to get into costume!

I knew putting the whole costume together would take time, so I got up at 6 a.m. I showered, shaved my arm, and ate a large breakfast, as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to eat lunch without messing up my face make-up. From about 7:15 to 8:30 I applied all the make-up. The results are below:

Zombie portrait

At school, getting ready for class. When I walked around campus, I shuffled and leaned to the side.

Zombie arm scars

I was most proud of the sick scars on my arm!

My costume ready, it was time to go to school! While a lot of people liked the costume, and my students loved it, I was a little disappointed with the response I got from passersby: at least 2/3 of them failed to acknowledge my existence! They either looked at the ground as I passed, or they fiddled away at their cell phones, oblivious to the world around them.

I felt like maybe I was a disabled person, somebody with a deformity, and people didn’t want to “stare” at me–they thought that might be impolite–so instead they ignored me. It’s Halloween, people! It’s okay to look at people in costume!

The other thing that disappointed me: almost nobody was wearing costumes! Now, my roommates all claim they saw plenty of Halloween costumes. I only saw one substandard Buzz Lightyear costume, nothing else. Apparently my end of campus is a No Fun Zone.

I was in costume for about 10 hours. I didn’t know how the make-up would last. It faded a little throughout the day, and it got a little clumpy at the end, especially the blood around my neck, but I think that actually improved the costume.

Here’s a closer examination of my facial scars, 10 hours after the make-up was applied:

Zombie face scars

Man, showering all this make-up off at the end of the day was glorious. All the blood drained away, and the scars peeled off like magic.

What I would do differently next time

I still have my make-up and zombie suit, so I could bring the costume back some day, with a new crowd of people, obviously. I have some ideas about how to improve the costume next time:

  1. Blood doesn’t show up well on a dark suit, but mud does. Next time I need to apply more mud to my pants and jacket to make it look like I just came out of the ground.
  2. The blood starts out dark red, but dries pretty light. Next time, I need darker blood so that it appears better congealed. I think if I add a little blue and yellow food coloring to the already red blood that I can darken the color.
  3. I kind of forgot about getting my hair into costume this time around. Next time, I think I’ll rub some mud and blood through my hair.
  4. Experiment with different types of scars. I think a long gash across my neck could look pretty gruesome. Also something over my eye so I can’t fully open it could look pretty scary.
  5. Bring extra make-up and blood to work. That way, if I have a long day again, I can retouch the make-up as needed.

If anybody else has experimented with zombie costumes, let me know your tips and tricks in the comments below!

Only 363 days until the next Halloween!

~Dennis

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