Anatomy of a wrinkle

A scrunched up face. Mine, in fact.This post takes a look at creating wrinkles and breaks down a straightforward method which takes the mystery out of how to make them much more realistic every time.

You may want to create a subtle ageing effect or maybe recreate the Caglione & Drexler Pruneface makeup from Dick Tracy…either way, the principle is laid bare below.

And, yes. That is me I’m afraid.  My pirate alter-ego – cap’n Nohair – Aaaaarghhh!

What skin does
Skin stretches but it does not compress – instead it bunches up and creates folds. When you scrunch up your face and cause the facial muscles to contract, the area of skin that makes up your face is suddenly squished into a smaller space- inevitably creating folds of skin and wrinkles.

When creating prosthetics, it is often useful to take reference photos of the subjects face in a neutral, relaxed pose and also pulling a scrunched up smile, so those places where the skin bunches up become much more obvious and can be included in the sculpt to allow for better, more realistic movement.

When joints move, skin on one side of the joint is stretched, the other is forced to compress, invariably creating folds and wrinkles of varying degrees. The elasticity of the skin will dictate how smoothly it appears when it is again relaxed.   As the person ages, so their skin remains increasingly wrinkled as the ability of the skin to ‘ping’ back is diminished. I find as the ageing process works it’s magic on me, I become my own reference material.

(Yay – I win).

This is an important thing to be aware of in larger appliances or body suits. Usually the original lifecast of a body is made in a position with all the major joints semi-flexed so that the suit made on it does not need to stretch so much at the joints.

Imagine in the legs where cast straight, and when the final suit is worn and the knees are fully bent. The amount of stretch require on the front is huge, as would be the compression on the back.

How to create it

  • A wrinkle is a meeting place of two areas of skin, and the wrinkle is the result.
  • Sculpt the skin either side of the actual crease in order to arrive at a wrinkle.
  • Once these mounds of skin are blocked out, the line naturally occurs and can be hardened up using a thin tool or pin through plastic.
  • If you have a very flat area and try to create a wrinkle by just putting a line in the surface, you will most likely not create a wrinkle so much just as a line in an otherwise flat plane.
  • Check out the illustration below – if it is too small to read, just click on the image and it will open full size in a new tab for you.

Illustration showing a cross section of wrinkle sculpting method

Illustration showing a cross section of wrinkle sculpting method

Too see this in action, check my sculpting video part 1 ( forward to 08:06 to see this method in action).  The wrinkle is by definition there because of the volumes of soft flesh either side of it trying to squish together, and it is these which need to be sculpted to get a wrinkle.

If you want the skin to appear thinner, it also helps to add a little more weight at the bottom of your built up mass to suggest gravity is working it’s little magic too!  Varying the profile of this wrinkle mass will give you a huge variety of effect.

If you get stuck with any sculpting issues – just email me a pic and I’ll do my very best to help you out.  Please leave a comment or suggestion below – I would love to hear what you think.

My bundles of joy

My bundles of joy!

I will be posting that Waking the Dead sculpt next – just in the editing phase now.  It’s been so busy, plus my kids are incredibly demanding – at the moment we are on half term so they are home and experimenting with ‘Daddy sleep-deprivation’ apparently.

They spend most of the day as the illustration would suggest.


Happy sculpting!


All material, images and text © Stuart Bray 2011

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