Paper mache skeleton/zombie
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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2010

    Default Paper mache skeleton/zombie

    Paper mache skeleton/zombie
    Back in february I posted some pictures of a standing paper mache zombie.Paper mache corpse
    I had a few people wanting a tutorial so when I built the second one I started putting this tutorial together. Go easy on me, this is the first time I have ever posted a tutorial.

    (14 ft.) 1” PVC pipe—the amount depends on how tall you want to make it. Mine is approximately 5’6”, so I used the biped calculator from Zombietronix. This is a cool calculator I’ve used for some other figures before; it’s also handy because it will tell you how much PVC you will need depending on your figure.
    (4) 1” PVC 90°
    (1) 1” PVC cross
    (1) 1” PVC T
    (1) 1” dowel
    1 ¼” screws
    (18) #10 flat washers or corresponding washers to the screws you are using
    (6)2 ½” Corner L-brackets
    (8) 2” mending brackets
    (2) 4” mending brackets
    Small zip ties
    (~15 ft.) Garden hose—You can use an old hose, sometimes neighbors/friends might have an old one. Home Depot around here also sells damaged garden hoses or stuff they just can’t move really cheap. I picked up a 100ft hose there for a couple bucks.
    (~ 5ft.) 14 gauge wire
    Elmer’s All-Purpose Glue—I buy it by the gallon because I use it quite often, but you shouldn’t need to use the whole thing
    (2) Scrap plywood—approx. 2’ by 2 ½” (It does not have to be these dimensions specifically, smaller would be okay, just keep stability in mind)
    PVC glue and primer
    Crayola Model Magic
    Recycled Cereal box
    Recycled paper (newspaper, printer paper)
    (~18 in.) twine or yarn
    Wood Glue

    PVC cutters (a saw will work perfectly, these just make things a lot easier)
    Tape Measure
    Wire cutters
    Needle Nose Pliers
    Some type of saw to cut wood dowels

    Begin by cutting the PVC to length for the shoulders, hips, and upper arms and legs. I just directly used the measurements from the biped calculator from Zombietronix. Only glue the PVC cross to the main center PVC pipe and leave the rest of it unglued, this will make it easier to attach the ribcage.

    Next is building the ribcage. I have a bunch of anatomy books but there are a ton of good diagrams online to use as a reference. Start by predrilling a hole about a half and inch below the center of the PVC cross as shown. This is where you will be attaching the sternum

    For the sternum itself, cut approximately an 18” piece of garden hose. You also want to predrill a hole at the tip of the garden hose using a small drill bit. Don’t get too close to the edge or you might end up tearing the hose. Attach this end to the PVC cross using a 1 ¼ screw and washer. For the other end, predrill the hose and PVC before attaching it about ¾ way down the PVC (as shown in the picture).

    To make the first set of ribs, cut (2) pieces of garden hose about 13” in length, I think I did end up trimming a little off both ends but I would rather have enough to work with than not enough. Next, predrill two holes off-center on the back of the PVC cross. After predrilling the ends of the garden hose ribs, attach the two ribs to the back using screws and washers.

    Alright, this is the part that may seem a little confusing so I will try to use as many pictures as possible. It’s really not that difficult once you figure it out. Where the ribs meet the sternum, drill two holes vertically on the center using 3/16” bit, the holes need to be wide enough to slip a small zip tie through them. Space the two holes approximately ¼” apart.

    Thread one small zip tie through the holes, looping it back through the other holes so it reconnects with itself. Pull it tight, but not too tight, you may end up ripping the hose and you also want a little wiggle room. Now thread another small zip tie through the original zip tie (See picture).

    Drill holes in the end of the two rib pieces, then thread the small zip tie through them; this requires a little finesse because the hoses will try to spring back. This is the part where a needle nose pliers comes in real handy because it can reach in to the areas where it might be a little difficult getting it with your hands. After pulling through the two ribs, reconnect the zip tie with itself and tighten (as before, don’t over tighten).

    Continue attaching ribs in this way, but increase the size of the rib length by about ½ - ¾”. Use a diagram as reference; just make sure the ribs don’t extend past the shoulders, unless this is something you are going for. When you get about halfway done with the ribcage, start decreasing the size of the ribs to get the curve of a ribcage.

    The last set of ribs, instead of attaching it to the center PVC pipe, I just attached it to the rib directly above it, trying to make it as anatomically correct as possible (I guess this is where the biologist in me wants it as accurate as possible), but I don’t think this step is absolutely necessary. On the last skeleton that I made, I just attached the last rib to the PVC and I think ended up looking alright. It’s your choice; I will say it is considerably easier to just attach it directly the PVC and if I were making another one this is what I would do.

    Before you glue the arms together, make sure you have already decided how you want them positioned. I just mess around with them until I decide how I want them, when I have it where I want it I mark it so I know how to line it up when I glue it. For this skeleton, I knew I wanted the arms angled up, but I hadn’t quite figured out exact positioning, so I decided to build the entire arm first before I glued the PVC 90s on. Take the 1” wooden dowel and cut the ends at an angle, the steeper the angle, the more bent the joint will be. You will need to cut (2) of them for both elbow joints. Cut the dowel to be about 3-4” long. Glue these two pieces together to form the joint using wood glue. For the first skeleton I used regular wood glue and let it dry overnight- however, for this one I found some really cool hot wood glue sticks. These things were awesome since they held REALLY well and dried quickly so I could keep working on it. If you don’t have them, they are definitely not necessary and regular wood glue will work perfectly, just make sure it dries thoroughly before continuing on. At this point, I also added (2) 2” mending brackets on opposite sides for both of the elbow joints. These were kind of a “just in case.” I bought the smallest cheapest ones I could find; I think Wal-Mart ended up having the best price on these. Even though it is not shown in the picture, I predrilled and added another screw through the end and up into the dowel. I was worried about the joints since I built a Pumpkin scarecrow type figure last year and a lot of the kiddies hung on his arms; unfortunately, one of the joints broke and his arm ended up dislocated.

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  3. #2
    Join Date
    Oct 2010


    Paper mache skeleton/zombie
    After the joint is dry and secured with brackets, insert the dowel into the PVC upper arm and secure it in the front and back by running 1 ¼” screws through the wood dowel and PVC. You may have to trim a little off the end of the PVC upper arm so it isn’t too long. Just double check your measurements with the ones on the Zombietronix or even use your own arm as a guide. You can now put on the forearm much the same way as the upper arm and secure it the same way. Repeat this process for the other arm.

    At this point you can glue the 1” PVC T (where the hips and center pole connect) into place. If you decide to glue the 1” 90s (the ones that connect the hips to the legs), just make sure you have already determined how you want the legs positioned. I glue the T in place and just put the 90s on until I was completely ready to glue everything together.

    For the legs, the joints are going to be pretty much the same as the arms; the only difference is I didn’t make the angle of the dowel as steep and I used not only the (2) 2” mending brackets, but also a 4” mending bracket behind the knees. To attach the large bracket, I had to bend it slightly to mimic the angle of the leg. This gives the joint a lot more support. This joint is important because it is going to be supporting all the weight. Attach the knee dowel joints to the upper and lower PVC legs using 1 ¼” screws.

    This is also where you need to figure out where the legs are going to be situated on the base. Start by inserting the remaining 1” dowel into the lower PVC leg until it stops, measure about 3” longer so than it leaves the 3” hanging out the end of PVC. Do this for both legs. You need this room to attach the L-brackets and this is also where you will be making the foot. Prop your figure up and see where the dowels are in relation to the base, then mark that spot on the base. You will then need to angle the dowels to correspond to the angle your legs are at (see picture for reference).

    To fasten the dowel, I may have gone a little overboard but I wanted to make sure it was good and secure. I glued it down with wood glue, ran a screw up from the bottom of the base and into the dowel (just make sure to counter-sink the head of the screw, you can also predrill a small pilot hole so you know where the dowel is from the back), and then attached the (3) 2 ½” corner brackets around each dowel. Just make sure the screws that you use to attach the brackets to the base are not longer than the thickness of the base. I ended up using two pieces of scrap plywood for the base to build up more thickness. I glued them and screwed them together. This will also add stability, which we need because we can have some crazy winds.

    Slip the legs over the dowels and screw them into place. At this point make sure all the PVC joints are glued together. You should have a standing frame that somewhat resembles the body of a skeleton.

    Now is also the time to start working on the paper mache replica of the skull since this is going to take a couple of days for drying time. I used a Bucky skull because that is what I had and wanted it to be proportional, but you can really use any type of skull that you want I think as long as it is full size. The skulls from Big Lots seem to be pretty good size, I will warn you that I have found that the foam skulls from Wal-Mart and Walgreen’s are slightly smaller. There is definitely nothing wrong with using them though. It would definitely speed up the process since you don’t have to make a paper mache copy of a skull.

    To make a paper mache copy of the skull, I used Spooky Blue’s tutorial he has on his website. This guy has some awesome props and really great tutorials. He also has a great sense of humor.

    Here is a picture of what you should have when it is done:

    To do the hips, I looked up a detailed diagram of the hip bones and printed it. I then took a recycled cereal box and laid it out flat. I did a freehand drawing of the general shape of the hip bones. You can see in the picture, I centered it on the side part of the box, I figured it would help when I had to bend it into place. I didn’t worry about the sacrum (tailbone) because I was planning on adding it after the hip bones were attached. I also drew a circle, the same circumference as a 1” PVC connection where the legs connect to the hip bone.

    I then cut it out and also cut small slits so it could slide over the PVC hips easily. I did end up trimming this quite a bit since I did not know how big it actually needed to be. I just trimmed it so it looked proportional. I didn’t obsess over it too much because not all of it is going to show when it is covered over. The only part that really needs to look correct is the iliac crest (the arches). The picture is from before I trimmed it down.

    I then cut out about a 6 in. triangle out of recycled cereal box to use as the sacrum (tailbone). I just bent it to give it a curve and duct taped it into place. I also looked online for a diagram of a scapula (shoulder blade), resized the image and printed it. I used that as a template to cut out two cardboard shoulder blades.

    I balled up some aluminum foil and put it underneath the shoulder blade before I attached it to the skeleton with duct tape. That made it curve so it looked more like a shoulder blade and the skeleton also looked more realistic when viewed from the side. (You can tell from the pictures that I had already attached the head and begun paper maching, but I realized I had forgotten to add the shoulder blades.)

    Once the skull is done drying you can attach it. You have a couple options for attaching it. You can cut a small section of 1” PVC pipe to go all the way up into the skull, this will give the appearance of him standing almost at attention. For this particular skeleton, I used a the wood dowel, I made a split it partially through it and slipped that over the edge of the PVC cross. I did this to give the neck more of a downward angle and to give it more of a cervical curve. I also used some hot wood glue all around it to help hold it in place. I then attached the skull at the top by hot gluing and using duct tape.

    1. To make the clavicle, I just rolled up a sheet of recycled newspaper for each side and attached them using duct tape to the top of the sternum and the top of the shoulder. I also folded and shaped some aluminum foil and attached it to the front of the sternum to give it a smoother appearance and make it more prominent. I like using aluminum foil and duct tape because the aluminum foil is easily molded and the duct tape holds it in place really well. It also doesn’t get damaged like newspaper would.

    To form the neck, I just started using strips of duct tape and attaching them to the shoulders letting the tape sag a little to give it a nice curve. I also used some twine I had from another project (yarn or something similar would work well too), dipped it in a mix of Elmer’s glue and water and attached it to the sternum and just below where the ears would be to give it the appearance of some of the neck muscles.

    I then began the process of putting paper mache on the neck and the front of the ribcage. To mache over the ribcage, I found it easier to wrap it with some aluminum foil. Just make sure you kind of press it into the space between the ribs to get the detail, but not push it too hard as to puncture it.

  4. #3
    Join Date
    Oct 2010


    Paper mache skeleton/zombie
    I also started bulking up the arms and joints using aluminum foil wrapped around or balled up to give it the slight curves a human arm has I also used it to smooth the transition from the shoulder joints and get rid of any “straight lines”. This is also a part where a good diagram becomes useful.

    I think before you start working on the stomach area of the skeleton, it would be best to let the paper mache on the ribcage dry completely; it will make it much easier to attach duct tape to. When it was dry, I attached long strips of duct tape to the bottom inside rib and ran it down attaching it to the top of the hip bone. I then attached another strip the same way only this time making sure it stuck to the original piece of tape I put down. I wanted the tape to sag much like the natural curve of a waist. I continued this all the way around so the whole thing was sealed. I had originally tried to use just aluminum foil to cover the torso, but it was just too flimsy when I tried to mache. I guess you could also try just filling the void with newspaper or something. As I’m typing this, the thought even crossed my mind to use Great Stuff and just trim it down? Basically, whatever works best for you. I also used the same technique to smooth the transition from the hip bone to the upper legs.

    For the legs, I bulked them up the same way I did the arms, using aluminum foil and duct tape. I know some people use pipe insulation or pool noodles to bulk up their props. This might work pretty well, but I think you might have to cut them in half and attach 2 of them to completely surround the leg. I’m sure you could kind of trim some of it down to avoid the straight line look too. I also made sure before I covered the knee up to really reinforce it with duct tape. I did not want this joint to fail. I also did it to the elbows before I covered them too. I guess it is just a precaution. It will also help to bulk up the joint.

    Then mache, mache, mache. I do three layers of mache just so I know it is strong enough. Just make sure you let each layer thoroughly dry before adding the next. I’m not really a huge fan of using recycled newspaper because I end up with black hands from the ink, but I just use recycled printer paper, because it’s free, strong, and we ended up with a lot of it when I raided the recycling center. Pretty much any type of paper will work. I use a 50/50 mix of Elmer’s Glue-All and water. Once again I won’t go into too much detail; there are so many different ways of doing it. The only thing I really know about other mixes, is the flour type of mache paste has a tendency to mold over time. I think some people use salt or bleach to prevent it.

    I stop at the knee and elbow joints just so when I do the hands and feet I can make the easiest transition from PVC to hand and foot.

    To make the hands and feet, I use 14 gauge wire and Crayola Model Magic (just a tip to save money, I usually buy my Model Magic from Hobby Lobby using a 40% coupon they have online).
    I just make an outline of my hand and cut and bend the wires to look like hands. I then use Model Magic to form the individual bones. I let the hands thoroughly dry, and then brush them with mache paste. I’m sure you could also dip them in Monster Mud and brush off the excess. This will help stiffen them up and maintain their position.

    There are so many great tutorials on here to make skeleton hands so I won’t get overly detailed. Just do a search for skeleton hand tutorials.

    Once the hands are dry, I stuck them into the PVC forearms and used hot glue to hold them in place.

    For the feet, I used the same wire; however, you have to attach it around the dowels. I cut 5 wires for each foot so they were approximately 15” in length (this should be more than enough by I like trimming them down). I bent the wires up in the back to form the heel and the Achilles tendon. I hot glued the heel curve together and also to the base. This is not necessary, I just have little to no patience with working with wire and for me it just helped hold it in place so I could manipulate it easier.

    I then mixed up some Celluclay. It was my first time ever using this stuff and I will say it’s pretty cool. I am not a sculptor or even pretend to be one. I sure some of the very talented sculptors on here will probably laugh at it. I didn’t use Celluclay on my first skeleton. Originally, I just balled up a bunch of aluminum foil and duct tape and then paper mached over all of it until I got to the toes.

    After trimming down the wires for the toes, I used Crayola Model Magic because I wanted a little finer detail than what I could get with the Celluclay. I rolled out the toes and smoothed it onto the Celluclay foot. I then carved out toenails (yes, I know it’s weird it has toenails and stuff, but I had originally tried doing more of a skeleton foot, but frankly, I couldn’t get it to look right no matter what I did. I figured since it was a zombie, it wouldn’t necessarily decay all the same. Who knows? I guess it is just my interpretation.)

    I guess that is it for right now. I will keep you updated as I finish the rest of it. Let me know if there are any questions.

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  6. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2010


    I love it! Thanks!

  7. #5
    Join Date
    Aug 2005
    Massillon, Ohio


    Awesome tutorial!
    Stay Twisted! And Sleep with the lights on!

  8. #6


    This was very helpful! The pelvic bone picture was especially nifty. Great tutorial. Thanks!

  9. #7
    Join Date
    Oct 2010


    Paper mache skeleton/zombie
    There are several ways to corpse, I use the “snotrag” technique. I will give a brief synopsis if you are unfamiliar with it.

    Materials for Corpsing:

    50/50 Elmer’s Glue All and water mix
    Paper towels: untextured is best
    Toilet paper
    Cheesecloth: you don’t really need that much, a little bit goes a long way

    For the first layer I used paper towels. You simply just dip it into the glue mix and wring out the excess. After applying it to the corpse, use your fingers to just create bumps and waves that are meant to recreate the appearance of wrinkles. I pay close attention to the detail of the face since I think it has the biggest impact of the prop. This is where you can also give your prop some “attitude,” depending on its facial expressions. The picture shows what the first layer starts to look like.

    After letting the layer of paper towels dry, I use toilet paper for the next layer. Toilet paper is really good for doing fine detail. I tend to use more of this than I do of the paper towels. Just a tip for working with it, it is VERY fragile until it dries. I use one square at a time and dip it into the glue mix. I then sort of drag it along side of the glue container to help wring out the excess, but be gentle with it. This layer takes the longest to dry since, due to the nature of the toilet paper, it absorbs the most amount of glue.
    Since I do not use that much cheesecloth, I go ahead and apply it right over the wet toilet paper layer. After cutting a bunch of random piece of cheesecloth, I rip and pull on them until I am happy with it. I then dip it in the glue and apply it to the corpse.

    Here is a close-up of the texture:

    Then I let it dry for at least 24-48 hours.

    Next step: Painting
    I will keep you updated!

  10. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2010
    Edmonton, Alberta, Canada


    I love this prop Rynnye, I book marked it a while ago!! Thanks for the great TUT, I am going to try for next year, I likely have too many on my plate for 2011.
    Embrace the Panic
    Rutherford Manor Haunt

  11. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2007
    Markham, Ontario, Canada


    Looks so awesome. Do you have a large area for storage since the base is quite big?

  12. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2007
    Lindside west virginia
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