One of the things that I go over with my blood class students is the ins and outs of working with bullet hits or “squibs”. We as costumers do not build the bullet hits, but we do have to work very closely around them when they are in the costumes. Bullet hits contain small explosives… understanding our responsibilities when working with them and the structure of squibs takes some of the worry out of having to deal with them.
Different things are required of the costume department when dealing with bullet hits on clothing. Because a bullet hit is considered a stunt, the sequence will usually involve both a cast member and their stunt double. Our role is to assist the Special Effects (SPFX) technicians with dressing and maintaining continuity on the cast and/or stunt member during the scene.
We are also (obviously!) responsible for supplying the costumes needed for the scene. The quantity of costumes supplied for a bullet hit will vary depending on the show and budget. Normally the director will hope to have at least 3 outfits set aside to work with just for filming the bullet hit… that means they get three takes! Keep in mind, this is only the number of outfits needed for the stunt, you still have to consider all the other aspects of filming to understand your costume requirements for the entire show.
The SPFX technicians will need to have some time to prep the costume pieces before the stunt. They will need to score heavier fabrics so that the squibs will break through the fabric when detonated. If it is a difficult fabric they will often ask for a multiple costume piece or sample fabric that they can do a test on. With a sample of the fabric to work with, they can test the correct explosive charge and the thickness of blood needed in the squib.
**Remember; unwashed fabric has sizing (a finishing compound added to all new fabrics for weaving) that may give a false feeling of weight. If possible use washed fabric.
Whether the bullet hit is attached directly to the costume or not depends on the fabric. If you need to put a squib in a jacket, suit blazer or military camo, these are usually very heavy fabrics. This means the body structure of the bullet hit will be less visible and can be attached directly inside the outermost layer of the costume piece. If the costume piece is a lightweight silk blouse or a t-shirt, it will be difficult to mount the hit to the clothing with out it being visible.
In this case SPFX will often ask for a fitted base t-shirt or tank top to mount the bullet hit onto. The t-shirt or tank will then go under the costume as a base layer to build on. As an option to a t-shirt, I have wrapped a stunt or cast member in a flesh tone tensor bandage to create a base to attach the bullet hit to.
Keep in mind; unless a bullet hit is being applied directly to the cast member’s body, the SPFX department will build the bullet hit in the costume piece away from set. The costume piece will then need to be put onto the cast member. This is where we need to be ready to help!
Some steps you should know about:
The blood bag, often a condom filled with blood, is placed within the squib to allow the blood to pool directly over the exit point in the bullet hit. If the blood bag has been placed incorrectly, the fluid will not spray out when the hit is detonated, or it will possibly break and run down the inside of the clothing.
The base of a bullet hit can vary in weight. Most SPFX departments now use lightweight plastic bases instead of larger, heavier copper bases. They all have a neoprene or high-density foam mounted to the back for cushioning against the cast member’s body and a short detonator cable that will later be connected to an electronic trigger.
The explosive base and the blood filled condom are sandwiched between layers of tape. This structure is then cut into a rough circular shape. The edges of a circle are less visible when attached to a costume than the edges of a square are.
The bullet hit is now ready to be attached to the costume or directly to the cast member. This is done with color appropriate and lightweight tape, usually a paper tape although it can be cloth tape on heavier fabrics. When applying directly to person’s body, a layer of spray glue is often added to the front of the squib. This helps the scored part of the fabric to stay secured over the squib for detonation.
The bullet hit is then wired to longer wires this enables the hit to be connected to the electronic trigger. At this stage the costume will be set for SPFX.
SPFX is now ready. Ask if they need any further assistance from you, if not… step out. Once the camera is ready to roll SPFX will “GO HOT”… this means that they have connected power to the electronic trigger and the bullet hit is considered to be “live”.
Once the bullet hit has gone off and the director has called “CUT” you need to step in to take your photo while the actor is still in position. Ask for permission to enter the set from the SPFX technicians. There is always the possibility that one of the bullet hits has not gone off during the shot. Allow SPFX to make sure that all explosives are cleared and the set is safe, then they will let you in to take your photo. After you have your picture… step back out, but stay attentive (as always!); the SPFX technician will be calling for you to help with either redressing or cleaning up the actor.
When the bullet hit structure is removed you will mostly likely see that the hole remaining in the costume piece looks like a large “+”, and it will now be up to you to make that hole look like a real bullet wound for camera.
**If you peel the used bullet hits out of the costume do not throw them away, set the hits aside for the SPFX department to collect later.
There are a number of different ways to change a squib hit into a more realistic look; I think an entire blog could be done on this alone. So let’s just say that fraying or burning the edges to make them less uniform, darkening the hole to create powder burn effects and adding blood in a trickle and or spray pattern is a great start. There are tons of creative possibilities.
Take pictures! You will need them for the continuity and they are also a great reference for your future bullet hits!
So there it is, bullet hits, a short… well not so short… and sweet… well sticky really… version of what it is that we do to create those spine chilling moments for the audience to squirm in their seats or cover their eyes when the bad guy gets blown away!
Remember, have some fun! This is one of the times that you get to be creative and show off your artistic talents.