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The Reality of Mimicking Reality
By Rob Corsino

As an artist I tend to be very observant and curious about the look, shape, color, patterns, and textures of many everyday things around us; but when it came to recreating these things as sets, there always seemed to be a bit of realistic quality missing. Whether it was the crackled paint on a door or the green patina covering a bronze tank, it always looked like a cartoon of reality, rather than reality itself.

I came to the conclusion that my mistake was that all the faux finishes I had learned were from books and TV programs by people like Martha Stewart and Christopher Lowel. No one would want to live with the mess from walls with actual cracking and chipping paint or the crusty texture of flaking patina and rusty metal…well maybe us Halloween freaks would put up with it, but only if it was really creepy. These techniques were designed to create the perfect look for a wall in a trendy home, not for the suspension of disbelief in a theatrical setting. For one thing, they were too uniform: everything blended together without highlights or focal points.

To overcome this flaw in my technique, I went in search of these textures in real settings; historic sites, Kevin McCurdy's 100-year-old home, county fairs, grandma's house, and even the buildings that house other Haunts! I started taking pictures and notes about materials, specifically the textures and how they decay over time, but also the placement of shades of colors and how they are layered. I studied the physical characteristics of the textures and how they felt, just as a Fine Arts Major must study the masters before being able to paint like them. The masters of this particular "art" are time and the elements of nature. To achieve the most realistically creepy faux effect, you must first study reality. I looked at everything from old glass windowpanes in factories to the rusted crusty frames that hold the glass in place to cracked concrete walls with chipping paint that have wet stains from the leaky pipes that run along them.

The scene: a dark, damp, musty basement with crusty walls and some rusty pipes. Now we need to paint it!

Old Concrete Walls
First we will attack those new walls and turn them into old cracked cement/concrete! The surface can be made of drywall, plywood or Luan; the process is the same. The tools and materials are simple and most are easy to find in hardware stores. As with any do-it-yourself project, make sure you wear protective gloves, a respirator, and safety eyewear.


  • Joint Compound
  • Black, Brown, Orange and Yellow Latex Paint
  • Bondo Automotive Filler
  • Paint Primer
  • Tools
  • Protective Gloves, Respirator, and Eyewear
  • Paint Sprayer or a Quart Size Automotive Touch Up Gun
  • Hopper Sprayer and Air Compressor
  • Metal Paint Mixer and a Drill
  • Large Masonry Trowel (or Homemade Equivalent)
  • 2" Chip Brushes
  • Pump Sprayers
  • Heavy Duty Sandpaper


Step 1
Mix the Joint Compound and black latex paint to the desired shade of gray. Do not mix in too much paint or it will become too thin to use. It must still be of a thick and pasty consistency. A metal paint mixer that attaches to a drill is worth the investment if you are going to be making more than 3 gallons.

With a large masonry trowel, or a scrap of Luan or 1/4" plywood (about 8"x12") with a small block of wood screwed on as a handle, spread a 1/8" - 1/4" layer of compound onto the surface. It does not have to be even. As you drag the compound over itself, leave irregular and rough patches. These will look like empty holes and occur most easily between layers when dragging wet over dry compound as the dry immediately starts to absorb the moisture of the layer above.

Step 2
When the area is covered and completely dry, use a Hopper Sprayer to coat the entire area with a textured spray of tinted joint compound. Hopper sprayers are normally used in home construction to put a texture on ceilings. You will need a decent air compressor for this tool, not a tiny one from an airbrushing kit. If you cannot find the sprayer in your local hardware store you can use a sea sponge and stipple on a thinned mix of joint compound in small sections at a time.

Step 3
Before step 2 dries completely, use your (now cleaned off) trowel from step 1 to lightly "knock down" the wet compound. Apply medium pressure and drag across the covered area until the whole wall is fairly level with a pitted texture. The depth in the pitted areas will be crucial in the later painting steps! At this point, you can also use the corner of the trowel to etch in "veiny" cracks, if desired.

Step 4
After sitting impatiently until the surface is at least dry to the touch and crusty, we can finally start to paint! Use the paint sprayer or touch up gun to mist and highlight the wall with a lighter shade of gray. Spray the whole area from one direction so that the over-spray does not hit the "shadows" left in the holes and crevices. Once that dries, fill your pump sprayer (usually used for spraying deck sealant and varnishes) with a mix of 1/3 black latex paint and 2/3 water, mixed thoroughly. Pump up the sprayer and from a distance spray the entire wall thoroughly, allowing the paint to settle into all the nooks and crannies of the wall. Immediately use a second pump sprayer filled with water and mist the wall so that the first layer of black bleeds and runs down the wall. Continue this process until you have the desired look. Then replace the black paint mixture with a white paint mixture of the same proportions and repeat the process one more time, to provide highlights.

Now for the Rusty Pipes
Using various sizes of PVC piping and connectors and flanges, lay out your plumbing nightmare on the floor. (It is easier to paint before it is attached to the wall but you can do either). You may want to do some research about how real pipes work first. Be sure to use a good PVC glue and primer when assembling your pipes.

Step 1
Rough up all of the PVC pipes with heavy-duty sandpaper, so that the rust treatment will stick.

Step 2
Smear Bondo Automotive filler onto the new pipes to simulate rust and corrosion. Follow the mixing instructions on the can and use small batches no larger than a golf ball. Be sure to wear protective gloves, a respirator, and eyewear for this step! This stuff adheres to everything and has horrible fumes, so be careful! Apply the Bondo with a stippling technique. When the Bondo is dry, go over it with heavy-duty sandpaper to knock off any nasty little sharp points left behind.

Step 4
Using the automotive sprayer or a brush if the pipe is already on the wall, paint the pipe assembly with a good paint primer. When the primer is dry, spray or hand paint the pipes with black paint. This provides a good dark base to start the scenic treatment on.

Step 5
Using several sea sponges, stipple the pipes with layers of different shades of brown, orange and yellow paint, in that order, with the browns covering most of the pipe, and covering less and less area with the following layers.

Step 6
Now you are ready to attach the painted piping assembly securely to the walls. For the final finishing touches, mix some brownish orange paint and water into the pump sprayer. Simulate rust stains on the walls by dribbling the mixture onto your concrete wall where the pipes are attached. Help the mixture run down the wall by misting it with clear water from another sprayer. Then stand back and take a look at your masterpiece.

Mimicking reality is not that hard once you know what reality really looks like. If you want to drastically enhance the look and reality of your Haunted Attraction, so that people honestly believe that that plywood box and plastic pipe are really a concrete slab with a rusty old pipe, you have to get out of your coffin and study what an aged concrete slab and an old pipe actually look like. Study the natural decay of each material. Tour as many old historic sites as you can, and document your observations with photographs and notes. But get permission from the owner. Claiming that you were trespassing "In the name of creativity," does not work (unless you have a dog named Scooby and ride around in the Mystery Machine).


Rob Corsino, of Banned From The Graveyard Designs, graduated with honors from The Art Institute of Philadelphia with a degree in Industrial Design with an award for "Most Outstanding Achievement." His studies included toy, furniture, and automobile design, but he focused on special effects make-up, tradeshow exhibits, and set design, and the skills needed to complete these projects such as sculpting, mold making, airbrushing, and conceptual rendering. He has worked as Co-Designer and Key Artist for the scenic company Imaginart Studio since 1997, and as a make-up artist for Kevin McCurdy's Haunted Mansion since 1994. Rob can be reached at (845) 485-8237 or Scaryfxman@aol.com, or check out his web sites at www.thehauntedattic.com.

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