Jack Irish: bringing the dead to life

08 January, 2013 by Rodney Appleyard

Jack Irish, adapted from Peter Temple's critically-acclaimed detective novels, stars Guy Pearce in the lead role as a former criminal lawyer, turned private investigator and debt collector.

Directed by Jeffrey Walker, the two TV movies, Bad Debt and Black Tide, follow the life of Irish after his wife Isabel has been murdered by an ex-client, which leads him on a near-suicidal drinking binge.


Jason Baird's make-up effects company, JMB FX Studio, was invited to design concepts for a number of dead bodies in the two telemovies at an early stage in the production cycle. Walker wanted the corpses to be as realistic as possible, which is why they turned to Baird's team following their success on productions like The Pacific, where the company’s work creating hundreds of mutilated dead bodies won it an Emmy.

Over the years, the effects experts have studied a number of real corpses up close to help them create ultra-realistic make-up effects. For this particular job, the production requested Baird's team draw upon forensic evidence specifically to make sure the bodies accurately illustrated the horrific nature of their deaths.

"Studying real dead bodies is the first thing you do when presented with a job like this," Baird says. "After all, you want the audience to believe what they are seeing is real. For this project, we studied the effects of what time, heat and water had on human flesh and decided on the best approach needed to achieve this look."

Baird's team was also asked to ensure that the visual style of the make-ups reflected the dark tone of the production.

"Jack Irish finds himself in a dire situation, so we had to make the colours and texture match the feeling of the sinister world he is living in. Having this information early on helped us immensely with getting the design process right. It guided us towards providing very sombre and realistic interpretations of the deceased."

Baird created the designs from his base on the Gold Coast and his supervisor, Sean Genders, oversaw the production of the make-up effects in Melbourne, where the films were produced.

They met many difficult challenges during the shoot, one of which included the creation of Ronnie's corpse, who was shot in the head and left in a bubbling spa bath for two weeks.

Baird says the script described Ronnie as looking like a ‘slow boiled lamb shank', which his team created with silicone. "This involved layering different colours and translucencies of silicone over a urethane skeleton to bring out the colours and textures that matched the brief. We kept the flesh very translucent and devoid of any red tones. After all – he had been boiled.

"Once we had the 3mm skin prepared, we fitted a custom-made skeleton into the mould. After that, we seamed and colour-blended it. Our next step involved opening up areas of flesh to reveal bone and cooked meat."

Baird's team also had to create another challenging dead body for Ronnie's friend, Dr. Paul Gilbert, who was shot in the head and left in a steam room.

"Forensically, in this kind of situation the body would bloat, eventually pop and then dry out," Baird says. "To help pull this off, we searched for a heavy person with the right water-retentive physique, to give that bloated feeling. We then created a three-hour make-up application over him to complete the rest of the effect. It involved applying a multiple colour wash on the actor and we added a foam appliance to his gut to create the gas-popped stomach.

"We also collaborated closely with production designer Chris Kennedy, who worked on The Proposition and The Road, to finish off the 'popped' excretion look inside the steam room in a way that would match the look and feel of the set. Fortunately Chris has a great eye for both detail and layering."

Baird knew the tone of the make-up effects were right when the production crew and Pearce first saw the creations on set. Baird says their reactions were of both repulsion and attraction.

"When Guy saw 'Ronnie' for the first time, he said with a smile that it was the most disgusting thing he had ever seen. That was a great compliment.”
The next two episodes are due to be shot early-to-mid 2013 and Baird's team is looking forward to working on the production again.

"In my opinion, the effects created for this series are the most graphic and honest to be seen yet on an Australian TV series. So we can't wait to see what they have for us next."

This article originally appeared in IF Magazine #150 Dec 2012 – Jan 2013.