Painting Zombies

22 April 2013 | Luke Yates

Some of you may have seen the Walking Dead zombie model I repainted recently and I’ve gotten quite a lot of feedback and questions regarding this one. To start with the basics, it’s actually a 15” tall hollow plastic money box (though I will refer to it as a model) that I picked up from a comic book shop and painted as a present for some old bloke. I was pretty stoked with the results and it certainly had me jumping a couple of times on late night fridge runs during the painting process.

Whilst not every single step is included in this article (there were so many washes!), all the important stuff is covered. Enough waffle, here goes:

This is the model/money box as I bought it from the shop. Whilst the paint job isn’t anything too special, I thought the model underneath was good enough, with a few minor tweaks. The first thing was to fill the base with clay and glue the coin retrieval port (or whatever you call it!) closed. This gave it some weight and also removed it one step from being a cheap, knock off money box. I knew I wanted to keep the text across the front, so some tape and paper was employed – nothing fancy there, but I would need to re-tape it a few times before the painting process was out.

The coin slot was filled with some greenstuff (the first batch fell in and thankfully stuck into the clay). This was only very rough as I knew some Vallejo Modelling Putty would be used later to nasty it all up a bit. I sort of wanted this to perhaps be the wound that zombified this guy, so I tried to make it look torn and brutal. Once it was suitably gory, I took a knife and trimmed back some parts to blend it into the model a little more (this can be seen in one of the later pics). Some putty was also added to the teeth on his right side, which would later be painted as chunks of flesh.

After a black undercoat, basic colours were airbrushed on, starting with the skin. Obviously, the main area of colour is good to spray on first, and I’ll usually airbrush the main colour of any model I’m working on over the entire thing. You need to go back and re-do some bits, but it generally saves a lot of time. A bit of white and grey were added for the highlights, which you can just make out in the first pic here. Basic washes were added at this stage, and several layers would be used to build up the colour. Flesh wash and brown ink were diluted and added a few times to give some depth. Crazy black wash was added to the teeth to redefine them for later painting. Purple paint was also roughly added inside the mouth, knowing full well that most of it would be gore soaked in the later stages.

Front on showing the build up of the wash and that the teeth have now been blocked in. You can see on the burnt/decayed flesh the wash is building to create the right look. Aside from the one tear drop on the left eye (which was fixed later) it’s coming together as planned. More was added around the missing limb and ‘bullet wound’ to the front right of the chest. I thought that might have been a wayward shot by the guy who’d end up smeared all over the zombie’s face later on. In Pic 8, some purple has been added to the wash mix and selectively washed into some areas. A basic blood outline has been chucked on, which will be built up in various layers as the model progresses. You can also see the bone from the skull, which was deliberately left matte to contrast with the glossy skin and blood. Looking closely, there is some turquoise I washed around a vein on the hand – it won’t be totally obvious later, but it helps to add little details like this to convey the right look.

Pic 9 shows the back of the model with the skull and spine bursting through. Heavier washes have been applied around the spine and the area where the skull meets the skin was also coloured in a bit later on. A little gloss was allowed to run around this perimeter. Wiping the wash off the back of the model left the deeper skin contrast more with the raised areas. Pic 10 shows a lot of the basic detail which has now been built up over the previous layers. The exposed muscle was given a more purple wash and the fingernails have been started, as have the eyes. Because the eyes will be mucousy and yellowed later, the colours were painted dark and contrasting to show through the latter stages. More of the blood pattern on the face is visible and the second pic also shows that the jeans have been airbrushed on, using paper and a gloved hand as an ad-hoc frisk.

Here the model is really starting to take shape. The protruding arm bone has been painted, the t-shirt is a pale, easy to contrast green, and the eyes are becoming yellowed. More layers of blood effect have been washed over the mouth and, aside from the drying time, this was all quick fun and quick. One of the eyes is more milky than the other, to make it gross, and the skin is really showing up good now. A sponge was used to add a highlight to the t-shirt (trying to simulate a cloth pattern) and then splatter and gore were added. Black and brown paints were thinned and blown onto the model, by holding the brush and taking a lungful of air. This took longer than I thought and did cause dizziness. A few layers were added while holding the model on multiple angles, to try and get a good look – obviously this needed to be done before any further blood spatter. The previous layer was dried using an airbrush and several, smaller patches were gradually added to. Watery blood was also pooled in the mouth and allowed to run out the side and down his neck.

Using the same method as above, blood was now added. The effect was, I believe, better served by trying to think about where it might realistically sit and how it would interact with the skin and clothing. The fingers were left cleaner than one might expect as there was enough blood on the face and I didn’t want to cover the colour provided by the nails and vein. By using various thicknesses of blood, it ran and moved in a convincing way and where two areas met, the effect was doubled and quite natural. The ‘bullet hole’ got some more attention and glossy yellow washes were added to the eyes, with some reddish inks added around the eyelids – trying to make it creepy. Pic 14 shows the blood pattern on the neck/face from the side. By dragging some of the blood up to the temple, and allowing some to run down the neck onto the shirt, I reckon it looks like this bloke has just chomped on something. All good stuff.

These last two pics were taken by Lorenzo and are just for record keeping. I like them both for different reasons – the white one shows the blood more clearly and the black one is just eerie. Once the tape was removed off the front text, some watered down black was painted around the lettering to help it sit against the black spray, which was used to cover the other paint from the various stages.

So there you go – all up, around 7 hours, but I did dawdle a little on some of the stages. Sometimes work is just too fun to not slow down and enjoy. It was a well received present and prompted much zombie talk and DVD watching upon it’s arrival.

Any questions, please do let me know! Cheers, Luke

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