Blood Science: How to Choose A Fake Blood Product

Let’s face it, there’s a lot of fake blood being thrown around these days. American Horror Story has been having a field day and let’s not forget the epic bloodshed in Game of Thrones. These are just some of the references that come up when customers ask for help choosing a fake blood product, which can seem daunting with so many choices. If you’re planning your next horror shoot, haunted house or prize-winning Halloween costume and want to make your effects look their most realistic, then you’ve come to the right place because we’re here to answer your questions.

When designing a makeup effect, I want to understand what happens and why so I can make it look as authentic as possible. That typically means… it’s science time! And who doesn’t love science more than makeup artists? Probably scientists, but they’re not reading this blog, you are. So let’s get down and nerdy with the blood flow!

Let’s start at the beginning.

What is blood? Blood is a mix of cells, cell fragments, and plasma that form a liquid. This liquid is responsible for, among other things, transporting oxygen from the lungs to tissues in the body and carbon dioxide from body tissue to the lungs.

How exactly does it work? Basically, blood flows clockwise from the right ventricle of the heart via the pulmonary vessels, to the lungs, then on back to the left ventricle. There are also the systemic vessels that carry blood from the left ventricle to the tissues in all ports of the body, which then are delivered back up to the right atrium. This is a very, very oversimplified version of the truth but serves the purpose.

The three blood vessels to know are the arteries, capillaries, and veins.

What’s the difference between arteries and veins?

Pulmonary arteries carry deoxygenated blood away from the right ventricle heart to the lungs while systemic arteries transport oxygenated blood to the left ventricle of the heart to be dispersed into body tissues. Typically, you won’t be worrying much about the blood content of pulmonary arteries since it’s such a deep-seated system. However, because the systemic arteries carry oxygenated blood to the tissues, this blood is much more common to see. Think nose bleeds, paper cuts, scrapes and the like.

Wherever there is surface tissue damage, arterial blood is likely to be on the scene. Because it’s so oxygenated, it’s also bright red in color even when it’s in the body, meaning this blood tends to come out more vibrant than most people expect.  Some of my favorite bloods to use for arterial effects are European Body Art Transfusion Blood in Bright and Prosthetic Transfer Material Red Drum Blood in Orange Red. Both of these bloods are transfer resistant (which I love) and their toning is gory and gorgeous!

The venous network carries deoxygenated blood from the body’s tissues back to the heart for processing. You can see veins in your arms by looking for the bluish network. Since this blood is deoxygenated it’s much darker, making the veins easier to identify. Veins have a thinner and less rigid wall and are less pressurized than the arteries, meaning veins can hold up to 70% of your body’s blood at any given moment. This lower pressure also contributes to the way that the veins bleed.

Arteries are getting direct pressure from the heart so arterial wounds spurt, and veins do not. Some of my favorite bloods for Venous effects are Maekup Bloody Real Dark Blood and Alcone Company Stage Blood. I love them both for their low viscosity, flowing abilities and the color, but I love our Alcone Blood because it washes easily out of most fabrics (a big plus for the wardrobe departments and Halloween costumes!).

What about the capillaries?

The capillaries are the smallest and most delicate network which exchanges blood between the other two systems. However, unlike veins and arteries, this blood doesn’t have a distinctive style or color. One of my favorite bloods for capillary effects is Ben Nye Stage Blood. It’s both cost effective and has a nice mid-range tone, not to mention fresh minty flavor (a must-have for vampires). Another is Fleet Street Bloodworks Drying Blood in Fresh because in addition to its great color, it’s also transfer resistant.

The easiest way to remember all of this is:

  • Oxygenated blood goes to the tissues in the body so the closer to the surface of the skin, the brighter the blood should be.
  • If the effect should affect an artery, remember to spurt.
  • If you’re getting down in the vein, it should leak something a little darker.

In summary, the closer to the surface the brighter the blood, the further in, the darker it goes.

Unless it’s for a zombie. Then all bets are off and even science can’t save you now!

A great deal of information in this article is referenced from the National Cancer Institute SEER Training Modules, a medical reference program that is available to the public and is a fantastic resource.

Post contributed by J.D. Kraemer

For more information about professional special effects makeup products , read SFX Makeup 101: The Basic Kit.

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