How ‘Dead Ringers’ Used Fake Babies for Birth Scenes – IndieWire
It’s hard to talk about “Dead Ringers” and not start with the wall of lamb. One of the most striking images in the entire six-episode Prime Video adaptation is Elliot Mantle (Rachel Weisz) standing in front of an exhibit of lamb fetuses in various stages of pregnancy. In order to fully feel the impact of the meticulous work the Mantles do to push the boundaries of science, the show’s production team did a lot of their own (much more legally and ethically acceptable) work.
For the show’s props master Patrick Head, that meant making something that fit the show’s aesthetic as designed by showrunner Alice Birch, and felt functional for Elliot’s purposes in the story.
“We showed Alice the prototype, which is very similar to the research currently underway in Philadelphia. We wanted to show different stages, the scientific version of DIY,” said Head. “The next version will be much cleaner. Then we forgo functionality and just get a very impressive display. So we made these lambs at different ages. Some were just static props and some were puppets that could be manipulated to make their legs move. It became the simplest, cleanest presentation in these glass boxes, and then they float around, you know, wow.
Before we tackled the final reality of the four-legged puppets, one of the biggest challenges came early in the production, with a scene depicting an emergency C-section. This was just one example of how the production team worked with OB-GYN consultants to make sure the tools and techniques involved were accurate and used properly. That goes for the rapid succession of births in the first “Dead Ringers” episode, which established Head’s interactions with LA-based effects house Autonomous FX, which built the prosthetic dolls that allowed the series to film in the intense delivery room. scenes as practically as possible.
“The birth montage was something they wanted to depict very viscerally and accurately. I had access to many photographers who accompany people when they give birth. I took lots of pictures of the newest newborns, all the different colors and weird head shapes. We defined some details that we wanted to depict. I knew early on that I was going to need a lot of fake dolls,” Head said. “We said to Autonomous, ‘We want a blue-colored baby and a broken-headed one,’ all of that.” They gave birth standing up for another show. So they sent me a picture of a prosthetic they had already built, which was essentially a stomach, an anatomically correct vagina and legs. It’s hollow so they can put the baby in the top and push it through. This went well and we asked them to include more of these in different skin tones. And that was it for the first week of shooting.”
Back in the day, like one C-section shoot, the complicated setup required everything from a silicone umbilical cord to a huge two-step process.
“The C-section had some moving parts. This was another piece they built for us where they could fit the baby in the belly. There was a piece just for the incision where the scalpel cut the silicone skin and there is a little blood underneath that then seeped out. Then there was a separate section where the incision was cut and then you have all the different layers of subcutaneous fat, a uterus that could be cut open. And then inside was the baby attached to an umbilical cord connected to the placenta. They could do their hand motions and eventually scoop out the baby.
In this birthing center’s intricate choreography of silicone, there was one surprisingly practical part of the shoot’s requirements that proved just as tricky as the elaborate setups: enough props.
“Take it one after the other, we needed fresh gloves, paper for the table and everything. Once it gets messy, it turns everything off again. So we just blew through all these different surgical drapes and PPE. It was kind of nerve-wracking, I think, ‘Are we tired of this very specific surgical drape?’ Head said. “And of course, when you’re working with actors who aren’t doctors, you have to get them to a point where they’re comfortable doing the moves like they’ve been doing them forever. And that was another example of us bringing in actual OB-GYN surgical techniques and using them as hand doubles so you can work very quickly and confidently to get every step right.”
While these prosthetic dolls need to look realistic, a lot of attention is also paid to their weight. For the scenes where Weisz has to move around with (at least) a cradle in her arms, this helps give the illusion that the model has the same weight and can’t just be thrown around.
“When you hold a living being, a precious newborn, you treat it with the utmost care. Every move is considered and you need to keep your head up. You want to build that into the prosthetic or the prop so that when the actors handle it, they have the same care and attention with this piece of silicone, which turns out to be about the same weight and one type. floppy,” said Head.
These dolls were not only a budget investment for the prop department, but also a time investment. With each baby brought to life in the show, it was a lengthy process to ensure that the performers who played the expectant mothers fit seamlessly into the fabric of “Dead Ringers.”
“The time frame for making the work is much longer than it usually is for television. We should water some of these mothers very early in the process, much earlier than otherwise. That way they can sculpt their body and adjust their skin tone and all those things that take weeks and weeks to do,” Head said.
Another challenge for “Dead Ringers” was that some sequences switched back and forth between models and the actual live dolls they were modeled after. Monitoring this process and making sure everyone stayed safe – especially filming at a time when Covid considerations were still very much at the fore – added to the crew’s list of considerations.
“Anytime there’s a baby, bring in a nurse. We work with the nurse and the costume department to properly swaddle the baby in the blanket and hat or whatever else we want to appear on screen. We work with professionals to make sure we don’t do anything that will cause babies an adverse reaction or stress them too much. Nobody wants a crying baby,” Head said. – If we want to do any kind of abuse against them, we have to direct it to the nurse and the parents. We bought a thick baby lotion to replicate the vernix, the protective coating that babies have on their skin when they are first born. You shouldn’t really wipe it off because it contains nutrients, but that’s why they look like they’ve been smeared on something white.
Although the birth is the star of the show, don’t sleep on the food. This poultry cut is what sets the visceral processes with the scalpel in some ways. Head also pointed out that food plays a key role in tracking the thematic evolution of the season.
“Each episode had a fruit theme that matched the development of the fetus. We started with cherry, then moved on to lime. Grapefruit was the episode when they’re in Alabama, and then we ended with watermelon. If you look closely, there’s also a pomegranate when the parents visited, Head said.
This, in turn, was an incredible parting gift for the cast and crew of “Dead Ringers.”
“For packaging, I made these little goodie bags with a fake placenta and fake umbilical cord and put them in a biohazard sample bag. The placenta was dehydrated watermelon, followed by a little red licorice. It was a hit,” Head said.
“Dead Ringers” is now available on Prime Video.