How Costumes Are Destroyed For Movies And TV

  • TV show and movie decomposers work behind the scenes to simulate all the damage to a character’s costume.
  • Sarah Blostein added bloodstains to costumes from various injuries in “The Boys.”
  • She uses steak knives and cheese graters to simulate heavy damage like rips and bullet holes.
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Here is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: One of the most famous movie costumes is this plain white tank top worn by Bruce Willis in “Die Hard.” But much of the damage you see there didn’t happen naturally. It was deliberately faked by the film’s costume designer, Marilyn Vance.

John: Now I know what a TV dinner looks like.

Narrator: Today, there is a specific job to age and destroy costumes, as described in the plot.

Breakdown artists like Sarah Blostein need an intimate understanding of the scene and countless creative ways to recreate all the damage a costume has suffered. When done right, they just might create an iconic piece of movie history that would end up at the Smithsonian.

Sarah Blostein: A lot of what we do breaks down through use. Narrator: Every item of clothing on a film set requires some sort of handling. Even a simple white shirt is bathed in dye or tea. But breakdown artists go way beyond that, like Sarah’s work on “The Boys.”

On set, the gunshots were created by placing firecrackers under the actor’s jacket, which left holes in the costume. But those tears were nothing like real bullet holes. The problem with this is that it causes the fabric to blow outward. He would never do something like that.

Narrator: One way to solve this problem is to sew up the holes.

Sarah: A bullet hole actually looks like a cigarette burn. The size of the firecracker they were using was making gigantic bazooka-sized holes in his jacket.

Narrator: So off set, the troubleshooting team made the bullet holes from scratch, using a box cutter to ensure the holes lined up precisely. Cast artists can also emphasize details that aren’t necessarily realistic but stick out on camera.

Sarah: There’s a certain amount of cinematic magic you have to do when you create a bullet hole and make it a bit more recognizable to the audience.

Narrator: Like adding some black paint around the edges to look like gunpowder.

Sarah: Some people misinterpret this bullet-wiping look and think it’s actually gunpowder. You wouldn’t get gunpowder residue on a shot unless the muzzle was directly against the person.

Narrator: There are a number of tools you can use to create smaller tears in combat. Sarah’s favorite tool: a steak knife. But it is less easy to control, therefore less precise.

Since she will need to create multiple identical versions of the same outfit as backups, crafting knives and seam ripper are better for consistency.

As for “The Strain,” she had to adapt to this doomsday scenario. So she needed tools like a file, roughener, and wire brush for more destructive ripping. Some outfits, like this jacket from “The Strain,” are made of harder-to-rip materials. For this, she will have to use a cheese grater.

Sarah: I really only use it on things that don’t break down otherwise.

Narrator: It’s not just heartbreak and tears. There are many ways to depict wounds and blood, and Sarah must decide which techniques work for the scene. In “The Boys”, the characters crash into a whale.

The special effects team was tasked with most of the blood and guts on set, but the troubleshooting team had to go through several bloody outfits. Their biggest challenge? Obtain the correct color of blood to maintain continuity.

When the characters first strike the whale, the bloodstains are a brighter red. As it dries, it appears much darker. But the troubleshooting team couldn’t let the fake blood dry on its own, as they first finished shooting the last scenes of the episode. This meant separate shirts for fresh and aged blood with the stains precisely aligned.

Sarah also had to consider the different ways blood reacts to fabrics and other accessories.

Sarah: The only time blood would really drip like that is on something that’s plastic. If it’s on fabric, it tends to run. Sometimes I find it’s more realistic to just use your hands.

Narrator: For something like whale guts, the material matters as much as the color. For cooler guts, she needed something big that would stick to clothes and only look wet.

Sarah: The silicone somehow forms on everything underneath. So if you do it flat you will have a flat looking shirt.

Narrator: That’s why it’s best to use a dummy.

Sarah: It will keep that kind of wet, sticky fabric look. When we did this we started with a brush or a stick and then gave up and used our hands


because honestly you’re just smashing stuff all over the place and you don’t really have to be artistic about it. So there’s a nice rough piece up there.

Narrator: For later scenes where the guts dried out, Sarah switched to latex. It still had some shine and was sticking to the fabric.

Sarah: Just like blood, when they’re dried they’re darker, kind of shrunken.

Narrator: Blood and tears are fairly common breakdown scenarios for action projects, but sometimes a scene will throw Sarah into a less common situation, like this scene in “Ready or Not.” Sarah had to think about how clothes break down on a body. She had to work on the tuxedo of this corpse buried underground for decades.

First, the clothes had to reflect the context.

Sarah: So this guy gets shot with a bow and arrow, but he probably ran before that, right? It could therefore have tears. It might have dirt, definitely sweat.

Narrator: She used black paint for the bloodstains because they were completely dry and set. Next, she had to think about the impact of body changes on the outfit. There is death, there is bloating, there is liquefaction, there is putrefaction, there is desiccation.

I really wanted it to look like any body juice seeping into him, seeping into his clothes.

Narrator: This body was also buried in a deep pit. So Sarah imitated the dry rot caused by the humidity and added holes of moths and other insects. This is really where the rough and file came in handy. To top it off, because the corpse was underground, it was covered in dirt. And believe it or not, recreating dirt is one of the hardest challenges of the job.

Using real dirt is really unpredictable, as some dirt stains can be permanent, a problem in case productions need to wash and reuse an outfit. Sarah will therefore reproduce it with non-permanent materials. For the tuxedo, she painted over brown stains and ground in non-permanent powder to create mud stains.

And for “The Boys,” Sarah had to adjust Kenji’s clothes after he knocked down a ceiling on Homelander and then was thrown through a wall by Stormfront. She went beyond the dirt powder and added diatomaceous earth, a powder that simulates the dust and dirt you would find in a tunnel. After Kenji was thrown through the drywall, Sarah added this cellulose, which is the same material used for house insulation. It matched the debris of the set perfectly.

Even the sweat stains you see on screen can be fake. This is especially true for action scenes shot out of order. To simulate sweat stains that stick and look wet, she sprays a mixture of glycerin, water, and oils.

Sarah: He won’t just run around, he will somehow stay where he is supposed to be.

Narrator: None of those techniques we’ve mentioned so far would work for those scenes in “The Boys,” though, because of the supersuits. These costumes were expensive and shipped from Los Angeles to Canada for filming, so the production team didn’t have multiple versions to play. So how did Stormfront and Black Noir’s suits look so damaged here and here?

Sarah: So we had to come up with unique and innovative ways to make the costumes look damaged without damaging them.

Narrator: Sarah used scraps of fabric to recreate the Stormfront costume. This way, the troubleshooting team could rip it up and stitch up prosthetic burns created by the makeup department. By painting a pasty mixture around the edges of the tears, Sarah was able to mimic real burns.

Sarah: If you look at a burn, usually just around the lip of the burn, a slightly lighter color remains. And it gives the illusion that the edge is burnt and somehow melted, which is, I guess, what you would imagine for this type of supersuit fabric.

Narrator: For the Black Noir costume, the supersuit team deconstructed it into panels, allowing them to swap out the original pieces for pre-damaged ones, then return after filming was complete. And watch shrapnel and melted pieces in Black Noir’s costume from a different explosion. Sarah: And then these were sewn one by one onto the costume.

Narrator: Thus, none of the damage was permanent.

Sarah: Casting artists are many things. They are scientists, they are alchemists, they are detectives.