One heated moment is all that’s needed to kill off a character. Making the cadaver, however, is a time-consuming and involved process.
That’s the job of Optic Nerve, the prosthetics company that creates everything autopsied on “Crossing Jordan.”
“We prefer to have three weeks,” says Optic Nerve managing partner Greg Solomon, who estimates that’s how long it takes 12 to 15 people to manufacture a cadaver for use on the show.
It starts with a mold of an actor’s head, and his or her body if there isn’t a close enough one on hand. The model is covered — save only for the nostrils — in a flexible material called alginate. From that cast, a plaster positive is made. Then the team makes a permanent silicone and fiberglass mold that can be used to create unlimited heads and bodies. Only then does the finished product emerge, tinted just a shade lighter than the actor’s skin color. That’s when the the real work begins.
For starters, there’s the hair — and they don’t use wigs. Each individual hair gets punched in on a cadaver’s head, face and, in the case of male bodies, arms, legs, and chest. It takes two days before they cut it open and insert the internal organs, which must often be molded from scratch.
Once they have something that looks reasonably alive, they have to make it look reasonably dead. How and how long ago a body was supposed to have been killed are the key considerations, but “there are literally dozens of factors that will dictate just how fresh or desiccated each body must look,” Solomon explains.
They do get outside help. The show has a tech adviser at the L.A. County Coroner’s Office who often provides photos or a description of the specific decay or mutilation called for by the script.
Still, the writers keep Solomon’s team on its toes.
“We had a frozen guy,” says Solomon, referring to a corpse required for a recent episode. “Once a body is thawed out, it goes into a decomp mode that’s so much faster than normal. We had to create him looking normal and then in three stages of decomposition.”
And Solomon has learned subtleties about the way a body decays.
“You lose all the elasticity in the skin, and it’ll shrink and gape open, kind of like an orange peel that’s starting to shrivel,” he says. “I know this sounds very horrible, but these are the things that we need to study.”
But curiosity has its limits. Though some of the staff has visited the morgue, Solomon has no desire.
“The opportunity hasn’t come my way yet,” he says. “I’m not sure if I want it to.”