How I Became A Part-Time Brain Eating Zombie


I’d been thinking about ways to do quick and dirty zombie makeup for a couple of years. It started when I decided to expose my wife and daughter to the soul-sucking influence of the It’s a Small World ride at Disney Land. A friend who was with us and I were discussing how too much exposure to the song on the ride might turn someone into a zombie. We thought it would be great fun to go in as living humans and come out the other end as zombies.

Last year, I got invited to a Halloween party here in Dongguan, so decided to stop thinking and start doing. I checked on the internet, but most methods were a bit too complex and/or expensive. I took some of the best ideas and stripped them down to the bare essentials.

It worked better than I expected. First, I went to the Dongcheng Carrefour to buy some snacks (sadly, the meat department was all out of brains). As I staggered down the aisles, I noticed something. Small children sitting in shopping carts stared at me in horror, but were too terrified to scream. Most of the parents were too busy looking at items on shelves or intently checking the latest WeChat messages on their cell phones to notice that a zombie had just passed by.

I wandered the party, confining most of my statements to “BRAINS! I want to eat your BRAINS!” and managed to terrify quite a few innocent strangers. One girl I cornered was so scared I had to back off to keep her from hurting herself.

Movie Makeup Zombie in 4 (easy?) Steps

This year, I got introduced to a local makeup artist who decided to abuse me like a crash test dummy. Two hours later and I was truly a bloody mess. It looked a bit more Hellraiser than Walking Dead, and was more than enough to freak out some of the people at the photo session.

Joining the ranks of the undead with movie quality makeup is a lot harder than I thought. I had absolutely no idea what I was getting myself into. “Sure, I’ll sit here and let someone slap some makeup on me. How hard can it possibly be?” It turns out that a professional undeath starts at about 2 hours sitting in a makeup chair (can be longer if you want something extra disgusting done) and involves many forms of entertainment, such as getting repeatedly jabbed with a lot of sharp toothpicks.

Using the great expertise I’ve derived from being on the receiving end of this process one time (and the notes taken by HERE! staffer Tracy Lu), I’ve coagulated the whole makeup procedure down to a series of steps.

Follow them closely and you too can turn a living human being into soul-less zombie hungering for human flesh.

Don’t forget to also check my instructions for the quicker, easier, cheaper, and less messy version of zombie makeup.

1015_Featuer_2Step 1

Find some pretty hair clips and secure the soon-to-be zombie’s hair away from the face.  Use foundation makeup all over the face and lips, then start painting.  Using a circular motion (to keep it even), apply light blue eye shadow around the eye sockets, cheeks, and forehead.  Then add cyan to the eye sockets. (Brent Hint:  Darker eye sockets are a bit more in keeping with the common depictions of undead.)  Next apply enough purple to the cheeks to look bruised. Alternatively, beating the person with your fists will give far more realistic bruises, but this variation in the procedure is frowned upon for some reason.

1015_Featuer_3Step 2

Get out some white glue (Brent Hint: if you can get common U.S. school glue, I strongly suggest using it instead of the Chinese version. The fumes from the Chinese glue irritated my eyes.)  Use the pointed end of the makeup brush to (carefully!) draw wounds on the face – don’t just outline, fill in the wounds thickly.  Use a hair dryer on the lowest setting at least half a meter away from the face to help partially dry the glue. (I shudder to think how long this would take without a hair dryer.)


1015_Featuer_4Step 3

Do NOT wait too long (or get impatient). If the glue is too dry, it won’t work well. If it’s too wet, it will be worse. You may want to do some experiments on your own forearm to get some experience with this before trying a full scale version on someone’s face.

After the surface of the glue is dry, use cotton balls to smooth around the edges to make the wounds look more realistic. Then, get out a sharp toothpick. (Brent Hint: If this is being done to you, now is the time to close your eyes and hold VERY still. Even then, it’s going to hurt.). Attack the center of the wounds with the toothpick. Pick the wounds open (ick!) so you’ll have a place to add blood. Pick and crack dry areas too for a more realistic looking wound. Add some red and purple eye shadow to the edges. Once you are done applying the toothpick torture to your subject, break out the hair drier again (following the low setting, one-half meter rule) and run it until the glue is 80 to 90 percent dry. Now, get out your fake blood, made from syrup or honey (works on zombies and pancakes too!) and red food coloring. Use cotton balls to apply the blood, making sure to fill in all the nasty little cracks you made in the wounds. Add a little black eyeshadow on the cracks to make the wounds look even worse.

1015_Featuer_5Step 4

Wait a minute! Those wounds are ugly, but don’t quite reach the horror movie standard. Make the wounds look even nastier by using black, red, and purple makeup to further enhance the colors. Next, liberally apply gel to give that “Wow, I feel so dead this morning” hairstyle everyone always dreams of. Finally, spatter a bit of blood on the eyebrows and hair. If your subject has a beard (like me), spatter some blood in the beard, too. If not, apply a fake beard first. Dress your new zombie and add a little makeup to the backs of the hands.

Congratulations! You’ve just turned the person sitting in front of you into a zombie. Take a moment to admire your work. Notice how with no training, the subject now moans with the soul-shattering pain only a person who has joined the ranks of the undead can experience. You can even see the look of hateful hunger growing in the subject’s eyes. Now run like hell if you want to live!

Need to be a zombie in a hurry?

Once you have the materials needed, you can start your new “Brains!” diet in under 20 minutes.

You’ll need:
1. A long sleeved shirt (no need for makeup on your arms).
Get it dirty and use a red stamp pad on your hands to add a few hand prints to the shirt.
2. Hair gel
3. An eyebrow pencil
Black or brown.
4. Eyeshadow and/or facial makeup
MUST include black or dark grey, lighter grey and brown. Green and purple are also good to have.
5. Corn syrup
6. Food coloring (red, green, blue). Mix with corn syrup. Start with red only. Then add tiny amounts of green and blue to darken.

1015_Featuer_6Quick Zombie Directions?

1. Put on the shirt and start with hair. Use hair gel and have fun. Don’t think messy, think matted. Make it worse on one side. If you have a beard, mess it up too,
2. Use the eyebrow pencil to darken all the lines in your face. Then, use black or dark grey around the eye sockets. Next, use a light grey on your whole face (and hands) for that freshly dead look. Now use the other colors and make a mess. Be asymmetric. Think rotting.
3. Time to get bloody. Not too bloody. Don’t leave a blood trail or mess up other people’s Halloween costumes. A little dripping from one side of the mouth is enough to get the point across.
4. Act like a zombie. Shuffle, stagger, and DO NOT BREAK CHARACTER. Do this and you’ll be scarier than a much better made up zombie who doesn’t act.

Photos by Henry Deng.

Special thanks to Zhao Han, our makeup artist from the Zhishang Cosmetology School.

Category Feature Stories