How Sharp Objects Faked The 400 Scars On Camille's Body

Photo: Courtesy of HBO.
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Words are essential to understanding Sharp Objects, HBO's latest prestige drama starring Amy Adams as Camille Preaker, a reporter who returns to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on a series of mysterious murders. Words are how Camille processes emotions. They're part of her job. They're lurking in dark corners of the screen, signaling mood, flashbacks, fleeting stabs of pain, and grief. Words are literally carved into the flesh of Camille's skin, covering almost every inch of her body in angry scars.
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Camille's self-harm is a theme that the show explores from the onset, but it's not until the end of the first episode that we see the result: Lying in a bath in her childhood home, Camille raises her right arm, revealing the word "Vanish" etched in large letters amid a sea of smaller markings.
Since then, we've progressively seen more of Camille's words, and the lengths she goes to hide them, wearing long sleeves and skinny jeans even in the humid Missouri summer. But we hadn't gotten our first full shot of Camille's body until this week, when Adora (Patricia Clarkson) punishes her daughter for writing a negative story about Wind Gap by taking her shopping, and forcing her to exit the changing room in nothing but a bra and panties.
It's a jarring scene — although we've known about the scars all along, there's a difference between seeing them individually — "fuck u up" on her lower abdomen when she lifts up her shirt; flashes of "vice" and "fornicate" on an indeterminate patch of skin — and seeing the full result of her battle with self-harm.
Of course, in reality the scars that mar Adams' body aren't real. They're part of the magic of special effects makeup: Medical adhesive molds applied to Adams' body by Special Effects Makeup department head Adrien Morot and makeup artist Kate Biscoe. There's more to it than that, so we asked them to walk us through the arduous process. Click through for a behind-the-scenes breakdown of what goes into faking Camille's Sharp Objects scars.
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If you or someone you know is considering self-harm, please get help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255
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Make A List, Check It Twice

The first thing Adrien Morot did was read the book and make a list of every word mentioned, as well as their placement on Camille's body. Then, once the scripts were written, he repeated the process again, marking any changes from the book. ("Vanish" for example, had to be moved from Camille's thigh to her arm, because of the camera's placement in the scene.)

He ended up with somewhere between 50 to 60 words, at which point he sat down with director Jean-Marc Valleée to discuss the nitty gritty: What should they look like? How big should they be?

Because they needed the words to be visible on a screen, Vallee and Morot decided the letters should be roughly a quarter of an inch long, give or take. Some would be bigger, some smaller, in order to make them credible. Once that was settled, Morot started calculating how many words would be needed to cover a woman's entire body.

"I did an average per square foot," Morot explained. "The rough estimate [was] that it would take the 350 to 400 words to cover the entire body. So, I went to see the writers of the show and I asked him to provide me with a list of 400 words I can use, [and] prioritize the ones that are most important."
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Lay Out The Linguistics

Once they had the words, Morot and Biscoe physically mapped them out in a computer model, in order to make sure that they would A) Fit in the space they were supposed to appear on, and B) Be written in a way that would be legible to the audience watching at home.

That last part was trickier than you'd imagine. Take the bath scene, for example, where we first see the word "Vanish;" Camille puts her arm up over her head, and we see the word written out on the back of her arm. Morot and Biscoe had to do some spatial positioning to make sure that the word was in a place that Camille could realistically reach in order to write it, but also that it could be read from left to right when the arm was up.

To do that, Morot brought in a live model, who stood in front of a mirror and wrote out every single word on her own body using a Sharpie. "I wanted it to be not just as if an artist had written words on her, but as if she had carved them out on herself," Morot explained. "So the places where she can't reach, well, there are no letters. In some places the words are crooked, or stretched, because of her hands' position when she's carving herself. That's why there's this blind spot in the middle of her back, about six to eight inches wide by a foot tall, with no words, only a few scratches."

Once that was done, Morot proceeded to create a map of Adams' body with all the words, and started the process of making molds of various body parts, in order to cast them with the medical adhesive that would then be applied onto her skin, creating the effect of raised, reddish scars.
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Get Out Your Glue

Part of the reason for using a medical adhesive for a project like this is that it saves time. Morot estimates that to achieve a similar effect using makeup would have taken roughly five to six hours. By using the adhesive molds, he was able to cut down that time to an hour and a half to two hours. And because the molds were made to fit on various body parts, Morot and Biscoe could pinpoint the areas visible in any given shot, so as not to have to cover Adams' entire body every time. The molds would be pressed directly onto her skin to have the adhesive stick, and then peeled off, leaving the illusion of scars.

Still, this came with its own set of challenges. First of all, because the adhesive was sticky, it couldn't really go under Adams' clothes. And then came that pesky bathtub scene. "Warm water is the best makeup remover," Briscoe joked.

Then came the time to take it all off. "Because it's glue, you needed something to make it unstick," Morot said. That something turned out to be a mineral oil, applied over the adhesive to loosen its hold. But because it was so much thicker than one would usually apply — the glue is typically used to hold other prosthetics, not the prosthetic itself — that took up to two hours. "We saved time in the morning, but we certainly paid the price at night," Morot said.

To solve this problem, Morot played mad scientist. He tinkered around for a couple of weeks and developed a primer that could be used underneath the glue, which made the peeling off process smoother. "Once I've found the right formula, we were able to cut it down between 15 minutes to half an hour," he said."

As for Adams, she spent this time staring at her near-naked body in the mirror, a process that made her feel very vulnerable. “I wasn’t seeing it quite as other people were,” she told Time. In fact, she added that it was only when she saw full-body photographs taken by her husband, actor Darren Le Gallo, that she realized how shocking it all looked.

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