The Art of Bruising

Whether you’re gearing up for Halloween or April Fools Day – they say that a little bit of makeup does a great job of suggesting a nasty fall or a whack to a limb. With clever application techniques and the right make-up, you can easily create a convincing bruise to a particular body part.

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Bruises are one of the most common special effects in any television show or movie. Any type of film work usually requires some sort of bruising to simulate blunt force trauma to the skin, usually to help exacerbate drama on screen. We all know what bruising looks like, but sometimes when we watch a film or TV Show that shows bruising on a character, it can look off. We don’t know why, but it does.

The reason behind this is anatomy. We all know how a bruise will look as it ages and how a bruise looks on certain parts of the body, but replicating that using paints and creme’s can be a difficult task. To be successful in this, you need to have a decent understanding of the human anatomy, how the skin works and what exactly a bruise is!

Bruises, or contusions as they are known in the medical world, are a result of blunt force trauma to the skin resulting in the blood capillaries rupturing and bleeding out into the surrounding skin or muscle. This is why bruises have colour. It is the blood that has escaped from the capillaries and bled into the surrounding tissue.

Having an understanding of how a bruise colours and heals is of great importance, but also having an understanding of the anatomy will greatly help in producing fantastically realistic effects. Our skin is thinner in certain areas than it is in other areas, so the way the body will react to trauma will be different. Fattier areas that receive bruising are wider and more uniform. Bruises on bonier areas such as the face, are more precise and focused on the more raised areas of the skin where the skin is thinner and the bones can be contacted through the trauma.

Below, I’ve done bruise make-ups based on the four different stages of bruising, showing how a bruise in the same place would heal.

When a bruise first occurs, it appears very pink and red. This is due to the colour of the blood being visible through the transparent layers of the skin. The area will usually begin to swell, which is called erythema, which is a result of the blood vessels and capillaries dilating and filling the area with blood.





After a few days, the bruise will start to go blue and purple. This is due to the blood no longer receiving oxygen. When blood de-oxygenate, it begins to gradually go dark blue.






After about 5 or 6 days, the bruise will start to become a greenish colour, scattered through with purples and browns. This is due to the blood under the skin beginning to break down and reabsorb back into the body. This is an indication that the healing process has begun.






After roughly a week, the bruise will become a yellow-brown colour. This is the final stages of the re-absorption process. This is the last colour cycle your bruise will become and will soon begin to fade away, leaving nothing but healthy looking skin!






It can be incredible jarring to the viewing if they have a basic understanding of how contusions or bruises work if the bruise on screen jumps from 1 extreme to the next. A victim who has just been punched instantly having a black eye can completely ruin any sense of time or continuity within a scene. A special effects make-up artist should know these anatomies and timelines to produce the most realistic effect possible. So while bruising is one of the more simpler make-ups, the underlying knowledge and understanding of the human anatomy makes it all the more interesting and complex.

Here is a quick step by step on how to create bruises using alcohol activated products!

Author / Alistair Arkwright

Senior Lecturer / Australian College of Specialist Make-Up.

Alistair has been in the film and prosthetics industry for 6 years and has worked on multiple feature films and stage productions. His speciality in special effects and prosthetics provides outstanding training and industry knowledge to our ACSM students. To find out more about Alistair, check out Alistair’s “Meet The Lecturer’s” interview. Interested in Life Casting and the world of Specialised Make-Up? Have a look at our Diploma of Screen and Media!