Welcome to part two of the Let it Bleed post where I will be discussing blood formulations in film. If you didn’t read part one, click here before moving onto part two.
The last post ended in a bit of a cliff hanger. I ended with mentioning that until the early 1970s, blood in film was very fake looking. It was too bright of red and looked too opaque, almost like nail polish or latex paint.
I also made the bold proclamation that there is a single person responsible for revolutionizing the way audiences view blood on screen. That person is FX artist, Dick Smith! Below is a short clip of Dick explaining what was used as blood before he created a new standard.
DICK SMITH REVOLUTIONIZED BLOOD FORMULATIONS
If you are not familiar with Dick Smith, he is the artist responsible for all the blood gags in classics such as The Godfather(1972), The Exorcist (1973), and Taxi Driver (1976). Smith’s blood had a translucent quality to it that mimicked real blood and when that was paired with deeper red coloring with a hint of brown, it changed expectations of how blood should look on screen forever.
Still photo from The Godfather:
Continuity photos from Taxi Driver:
This new blood formula quickly proved a little too real. When the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) got its hands on Taxi Driver and its bloody ending, they threatened it with an X rating. Director Martin Scorsese came up with a solution: In order to make the blood look less realistic, he de-saturated its color in post production until it took on more of a sepia tone. Scorsese has said that he secretly thought the new blood was even more disturbing, but the MPAA gave the movie an R. Dick Smith’s blood formula, while being THE most realistic, happens to be toxic…
Dick Smith’s Don’t-Try-This-At-Home Poisonous Fake Blood
- 1 tsp. zinc oxide (purchase from a laboratory supply)
- 5 tsp. Ehler Yellow Food Color
- 2 oz. Ehler Red Food Color
- 1 oz. water 1 oz.
- Kodak Photo-Flo *Poisonous* (purchase from a photo supply store)
- 1 quart white corn syrup
- 1 level teaspoon methyl paraben
- 2 ounces Ehlers red food coloring
- 5 teaspoons Ehlers yellow food coloring
Place the zinc oxide in a mixing bowl, add water and the Kodak Photo-Flo (remember this is poisonous). Add the red and yellow food coloring and mix (If you are using a brand other than Ehler’s yellow, use half the amount indicated). Mix in a 1/4 of your corn syrup and place in a container (make sure your container is larger than your ingredients because the blood will separate). Mix in the final amount of corn syrup and mix well. Keep your blood refrigerated because the corn syrup may make it grow mold. When you need to use your recipe always mix vigorously before application.
DO NOT EAT OR PLACE IN YOUR MOUTH OR EYES – Reminder: this recipe is poisonous!
The corn syrup is the base, the methylparaben is a preservative to keep the blood from going bad on longer shoots, the food coloring is used to adjust for just the right hue, and the Photo-Flo guarantees that the mixture will flow just right—it ran over skin and soaked into fabric just like real blood.
The formula above has been industry standard since the early 1980s with a few variations. Most variations involved removing the toxic Photo-Flo so that it could be placed near the mouth or eyes.
Want to try re-creating a blood formula? CLICK HERE! This PDF handout includes different additives to change the consistency!
VARIATIONS IN CONSISTENCY AND COLOR…
For the most part, different kinds of blood are used for the same movie. There are several factors that go into blood selection:
- whether the blood needs to be edible
- what type of lighting will be used in the scene
- whether the blood look stay wet and fresh for every take
- what the time frame is in relation to the blood (blood congeals after being exposed to air)
- whether it’s arterial (lighter) or venous (darker)
- what kind of style the director is looking for
- whether the color will effect the MPAA rating (see below)
For one of his more gruesome productions, writer-director Martin McDonagh used nine distinct varieties of fake blood to achieve his desired outcome: something that would provide a slow drip and nauseate live audiences.
There were stills much more graphic that I declined to use…
Before I move on to currently popular blood texture and coloring, it is worth noting that some filmmakers still want an old-fashioned look: For the nightclub massacre in Kill Bill, Vol. 1 (2003), Quentin Tarantino ordered more than 100 gallons of “samurai blood.” “I’m really particular about the blood, so we’re using a mixture depending on the scenes,” he explained. “I say, ‘I don’t want horror movie blood, all right? I want Samurai blood.’ … You have to have this special kind of blood that you only see in Samurai movies.”
Still from Kill Bill:
BLOOD AS IT IS CURRENTLY REPRESENTED IN FILM
If you are a fan of horror and suspense films, you may have noticed a recent trend- blood is DARK almost to the point of being black, especially in movie trailers. Why? The answer:
The MPAA (Motion Picture Association of America) has very strict guidelines on what you can and can’t show in a Green Band Trailer (you know- the trailers with the green background that show before them that says “The following preview has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America”).
According to the MPAA’s Advertising Administration Rules, “Approved (Without Restriction)” forms of film advertisement may not include…
Realistic or excessive violence, brutality or scary images, including, but not limited to: depictions of blood or wounds; scenes of torture; dismemberment; mutations or mutilations of bodies (including cadavers); people in jeopardy, including images of people being abused, punched, beaten, bound or gagged; etc.
To get around a restricted trailer rating, films will digitally de-saturate and darken blood so the clips can be shown to mass audiences. Here is an example of this from Kill Bill:
The red blood rule also applies in to a film as a whole. For example, if a film contains a certain amount of red blood, it could face an NC-17 rating as opposed to an R rating (Wes Craven’s Scream ran into this issue back in 1996). Because of this, filmmakers have been finding creative ways to work around that rule… the most popular being to tone the blood down to a darker color.
Here is an example of the darker blood you currently see today, the formula hasn’t derived much with the exception of the color:
So there you have it! We are now caught up to current day blood formulations. It should be noted that many productions are currently using a mixture of fake blood and CGI save time when re-setting the scene. The jury is still out on whether the CGI blood reads successfully on film… so far, audiences notice and complain online about the lack of realness. My opinion is that practical fx (done in camera) always have more realism than CGI.
Make sure to comment below if you try any of the blood formulas in the downloadable PDF! Subscribe to the blog while you are at it!