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May 27, 2016
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Zombies, wounds and horror movies;Kelly Smith makes magic out of makeup

Kelly Smith in her zombie makeup.

Zombies recently invaded Eldred Central High School (ECS), not long after a gory car crash and its lacerated victims were treated by emergency personnel in the school parking lot. The zombies never made the news, and the prom crash won’t appear in any police reports. That’s because both were staged events, with ultra-realistic special effects executed by a gifted ECS high school senior who appears to have found her calling.

“My ultimate goal is to become a special effects makeup artist for movies and music videos, preferably anything with horror and gore—that’s my specialty,” said Kelly Smith, who is set to graduate this weekend. “I’ve always felt a strong connection with movies and the way they inspire people. I’ve also always been interested in makeup. One day, I put the two together and realized—that’s what I want to do with my life.”

Kelly discovered there was such a career by watching Face Off, a television show on the Syfy cable network in which prosthetic makeup artists compete to create prostheses for science fiction and horror films.

“I learned what it takes to be one of those makeup artists,” said Kelly. “It’s amazing how much goes into creating characters in movies. You have to be able to sculpt and have a strong imagination. I’m going to have to learn anatomy and bone structure and how an old cut would look compared to a fresh cut.”

In pursuit of those skills, Kelly will attend the Douglass Education Center in Monessen, PA near Pittsburgh, which has a reputation as the Zombie Capital due to the number of zombie movies that have been shot there. “They even have zombie walks there,” said Kelly. “It’s where I belong.”

Kelly is enrolled in the Tom Savini Special Makeup Effects Program. Savini’s credits include “Friday the 13th,” “Dawn of the Dead,” “Day of the Dead,” “Creepshow” and more. She will earn an associates degree and study with professionals in the industry. “You have to have connections; that’s how you get hired,” said Kelly. “That’s going to be hard for me cause I’m kind of quiet. But I’m coming out of my shell now. I’ve found what I want to do and it’s a great feeling.”

Before leaving ECS, Kelly shared her skills one last time to create zombies for the senior prank. Kelly woke at 4 a.m. to do her own makeup, then got to school by 6:30 a.m. to transform other students. After turning off the school lights, the pranksters announced over the PA system that a virus had broken out and zombies had infiltrated the school. “We paraded around and scared a lot of little kids,” said Kelly. “It was all in good fun.”

The mock prom crash was the first time Kelly did prosthetic makeup on anyone other than herself. The inventive 18-year-old hasn’t had access yet to the products used by professionals in the industry, so she has worked primarily with liquid latex combined with toilet paper. To make the rotten skin effect for the zombies, she heats liquid gelatin and glycerin. Foundation and eye shadow are then blended to finalize the effect.

Other than her brother, whom she transformed into a zombie before taking a trip to WalMart with him, Kelly primarily practices her craft on herself, creating burns, wounds, frostbitten skin and more. “I love making wounds. I kind of even gross myself out,” she said.

Not everyone appreciates the work, but Kelly has kept to it. “The first time I did it, I made a long cut down my arm. My mom almost called 911. She’s used to it now, but my dad still can’t look at it.

“When I first started doing this, it wasn’t well accepted,” said Kelly. “I’ve always been the quiet kid that no one talked to. I’ve just been into my art. Eventually people got to know me and now they think it’s cool. I’m grateful that I found my niche, the one thing that I really feel like I’m good at.” See more photos of Kelly’s creations at, and her graduation photo on page 16.