How to Create Nasty Severed Limbs in After Effects

Need to blow off an arm, sever a finger, or decapitate a head for your film? This tutorial will show you how.

Bloody, gory, and disgusting special and visual effects aren’t just fun to include in your films, they’re also fun to create. If your project calls for some recently and viciously removed limbs and appendages, you might want to take a look at this tutorial from Film Riot.

In it, Ryan Connolly walks you through the somewhat complicated and time-consuming process of removing body parts for use in a movie, including special effects techniques like applying wax and fake blood to create a fake wound, as well as visual effects techniques like green screening, tracking movement, and using mattes in Adobe After Effects. Check it out below:

Both processes, creating a fake wound and doing all of the VFX work, is going to require some time, practice, and perhaps even a little bit of experience working in After Effects and Mocha, so this may not be the tutorial for those who are new to either. (Even then, give it a shot. Why not? I would…and have…and failed…miserably…but whatever…it was fun.)

But first things first, you’re going to need some special effects makeup, fake blood, and some green screen material to get started. Film Riot used some Ben Nye Nose and Scar Wax to create the wound, which is about $16 on Amazon for a 2oz. container. (Make sure you choose the right skin tone for your subject.) They also cut a finger off of a green screen suit and some Ben Nye Thick Blood (about $11 on Amazon), but you can just use some random green screen material and homemade fake blood if you’re not interested in buying some.

A couple of things to remember before you start shooting:

  • Make sure that you shoot a clean plate so you can use it later in post.
  • Try to get a good key on your green screen elements, because it’ll make your life easier later on in post. (This means lighting your green screen evenly and reducing shadows.) If you can’t, that’s fine. Just be prepared to do a hell of a lot of tracking.

Now, once you move into After Effects, assuming that you weren’t able to get a good key, you’ll start the process of tracking your severed arm or pinky or whatever using Mocha’s tracking tools inside of After Effects. I’m not going to regurgitate the entire tutorial, but you’ll be using masks, doing some feathering, and adding some stock footage (blood dripping) to put your effect together. A quick note: if you’re an experienced Mocha user, which I am not, you can have it do all of your masks and roto for you, rather than After Effects, and get it all done faster.

How would you approach creating these effects? Are there any easier/faster ways to do it? Let us know down in the comments.

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