So You Need Bloody Stumps. (A Tutorial)

Quite a few people have asked me how we did the special effects make-up for Titus, more specifically, the severed hand effects that Lavinia wears during the latter part of Act 2 and into Act 3.

When I started looking for ways/solutions on what to do, I was kind of surprised at the lack of tutorials online. We even went so far as to call a couple of special effects companies to see if they knew of anywhere that we could buy something to use and they were stumped. HA. I emailed a couple Shakespeare theatres that had done Titus before, and most of them said that they just sort of wrapped Lavinia’s hands in bandages and called it a day.

That solution obviously worked well for their productions, but because we made the decision that Lavinia’s stumps had probably been cauterized, it presented a whole other set of problems regarding the look, feel (and yes, smell), of the stumps.

Basically, it came down to “I guess we’re just going to have to come up with something”…and this is what I came up with one night at 1AM.

So here, presented for your enjoyment and gratification, is

“So You Need Bloody Stumps”
A Guide To Doing It for 20 Dollars or Less
(Depending On What You Have Around the House)

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Step One: Procure the following: Knee-high nylon stockings. masking tape, plain, basic Gelatine (you can get this in any grocery store by the Jello) . I forgot to take a picture of red and black food coloring, but you need that, too.  You can get it either at the grocery store OR your local craft store like Hobby Lobby or Michael’s Crafts. Just ask them where the Wilson Baking Section is.  Oh, and you’ll need scissors.

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Step 2: Figure out how you want your hand to sit in the “stumps”. If you make a fist, make sure your thumb is on the OUTSIDE otherwise your hand will fall asleep halfway through the show and it’s uncomfortable. One of the biggest challenges to doing this (for me) is that I have GIANT HANDS, so it took some experimenting to figure out what the best “fist position” was. Once you’ve got the basic idea, put a nylon stocking over your fist.

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Step 3: Start tearing off strips of masking tape and put them over your hand. You’re basically building a masking-tape “cast” that will cover up your hand, so use the tape liberally. Make sure you wrap it tight enough around your wrist that you can’t bend them.

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Step 4: Once you’ve got your tape all wrapped, it should look something like this. To make the stumps more comfortable, I advise hot-gluing some gauze or cotton around the edges.

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Step 5: Carefully, and I mean it, CAREFULLY, cut through the tape  and the nylon stocking vertically to create the opening that you will slide your fist into (heh). I found the best place to cut to is the middle line of your palm when you make a fist.

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Step 6: Once you’ve got the tape cast off of you, take some time to fix up any edges and to hot glue material on parts that may rub your skin later on. I also added a layer of gauze on top to give the gelatine something to hold on to and the final product more texture. I recommend doing this on the top at least, but if you have time, glue a layer of gauze or cotton to the top of the tape– I found out the hard way that food coloring never really dries on masking tape, so if you cover the tape, the food coloring will have something to adhere to and also dry on, instead of rubbing off on your hands.

Step 7: The Fun Part.

Start by finding something to stick your stumps on so they are facing “stump up”. I used pint glasses, and that worked really well. Start by giving the gauze a healthy coat of red food coloring. You can do with with a paint brush or even damp rag– I used an old barbecue brush and it worked fine. All you want to do is put enough color on the white that it won’t show through underneath.

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Then make the gelatine according to the directions on the box. I didn’t document this. If you can’t figure out how to make  gelatine, consider not doing Shakespeare.

Once the gelatine is ready, mix in a healthy amount of black food coloring and start spreading the gelatine onto the top of your “stump”.  As the gelatine dries, you will be able to make a more textured, grody burned look to it. (If you want your stumps more bloody than burned, then simply opt for red food coloring in the gelatine instead of black).

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Step 8: Once you’ve got your stumps the appropriate amount of bloody/burned to your liking, sit them down and let them dry for awhile. Above are the first proto-stumps that I made for the show.

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Step 9: Lastly, get some ACE bandage (or even just strips of fabric) and hot glue an edge as close to the split you cut earlier as you can. When you wrap the bandages around your stumps to put them on, make sure you pull them tight enough that the split closes. That way, your wrists should be immobilized and they will look more “legit”. If you’re still having trouble not bending your wrists, grab a couple of popsicle sticks and stick them in there before you wrap the bandages.

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Remember to paint/dye/stage blood-up your bandages to make them match the stumps.

Step 10: Lavinia Out.

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One Reply to “So You Need Bloody Stumps. (A Tutorial)”

  1. Great tutorial! I’m cosplaying as a dead mermaid with a stump for a hand with a fork sticking out of it (get the reference?). Thanks for the tips and tricks!

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