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How Actors Fake Puke In Movies

You know how it is: You're trying to shoot a blockbuster motion picture, the kind that'll get people talking. You're getting set to shoot the scene where the leaders of Earth's developed nations circa 1992 line up to greet George H. W. Bush by throwing up all over him, in a timely piece of commentary on the state of the world. There's one hitch, though: Helen Mirren, in the role of Queen Elizabeth, refuses to swallow any more ipecac after completing her seventh take. What are you going to do?

Luckily for you, you're not the first filmmaker who's needed to compromise their artistic integrity by faking a wad of sidewalk pizza. A quick internet search will turn up a veritable reverse smorgasbord of cinematic retching, gagging, and general upchuckery — Hollywood sleight-of-hand designed to transport audiences to a more magical world where Reese Witherspoon is covered in improperly prepared clams. Sure, you could go with the old standby and have your actor bury their face in a toilet or a purse, disguising the sinful imagined emissions being propelled into the air by their diaphragm, but it's the 21st century, and frankly that all seems a little puritanical.

No, society's needs have evolved since The Exorcist, and explosions of pre-chewed food are now the rule, not the exception. Crowds want to watch Idris Elba's mouth transform into a firehose of semi-digested pork and orange juice. There are a number of ways to pull that off. Almost all of them involve taking a shower afterwards.

Let it all out

Step one is preparation. A good puke take is only as good as the puke itself, and practical effects aficionados will be quick to tell you that you can't beat the real thing. That's why, generally speaking, they'll tend to emulate it. In an Insider interview, effects artists at NYSPFX trotted out some of their standby vom – combinations of texture-heavy foods, mixed by the gallon. Potato and split pea soups are listed as favorite bases, with tomato paste and frozen berries added for color. Instant noodle packets are tossed in to give the concoction its "squiggly bits." It's important to prepare plenty of this chef's special, since multiple takes will often call for several stomachs' worth of certified pre-owned lunch.

With a chum bucket full of secondhand lunch at the ready, it's time to figure out the presentation. There are three classic ways to launch puke from an actor's face, listed here by order of difficulty. The first is simple: Scoop up a mug full of the gunk, pour it into your talent's mouth, and have them dribble it all over themselves. It's minimalist, but it can work. For a little more range, the actor can spread out their fingers and try to cover their mouth when they let loose. Giving the puke some surface area to smash up against will send it flying, making it appear that there's more gunk coming out of their mouth than there actually is and, as an added bonus, coat the character's hand in warm, gooey upchuck.

Of course, for a truly evocative volume of tossed cookies, just a mouthful of material is never enough. That's where the serious hardware comes into play.

It's called 'The Aristocrats'

You've probably noticed that really copious onscreen vomiting is usually shown in profile, often with an actor's hand raised to the side of their mouth. That's due to a thespian's tool as noble, time-honored, and respected as anything Stanislavski ever put to paper: the puke sleeve.

It's as simple or as complicated as you want it to be, but the basics go like this. An actor has a long tube threaded under their clothes and through their shirt or jacket, opening at the end of their sleeve. At the other side of the tube is a container full of fake vomit, varying in size depending on just how cartoonish the production wants to get with the effect. For a quick puke, effects specialists might use a simple bladder, smashing down on it when the time comes to eject some vittles. If a more heinous display is in order, a tank will be hooked up to an electric pump, and the performer's arm will be turned into the most flavorful Super Soaker imaginable.

For a truly horrifying experience, filmmakers might want to extend their audience's disbelief even further. Want a straight-on shot of a character's mouth, bursting at the seams with a geyser of disgustingness? The same pump technique can be set up behind a hole in a green screen and shot from any angle. Match the resulting chroma keyed footage to the angle of an actor's gaping maw, and you've got yourself a damp yawn that audiences will never forget. Who's hungry?