Meet the Yagher Brothers—The Crafty Corpse Creators Behind 'Bones'
On Bones, the discovery of each episode’s corpse is often squirm-inducing. Brothers Kevin and Chris Yagher, who have worked together for three decades, are the men responsible for creating the Fox drama’s 12 seasons of unforgettable dead bodies. Though the duo previously worked in films (the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, Mission: Impossible II), television prompted them to step up their game. Says Chris, “We’ve had to come up with new and quick techniques—I learned a lot!”
How did you guys actually break into this industry?
Kevin Yagher: I started the business back in 1985 and the first film I did was Nightmare on Elm Street 2. I did Freddy’s makeup. I started working on things like Michael Jackson’s Thriller for a makeup artist named Rick Baker, who just recently retired and was like an seven-time Academy Award winner. I started the business back then with Nightmare and Cocoon. I just started doing small things. Nightmare on Elm Street, I did three or four of those films. And then I did, I got into Child’s Play—I did four of those films. So doing animatronics, makeup and then makeup artist at the beginning. Then got into puppets and animatronics and stuff like that. And I did a character called The Crypt Keeper from Tales From the Crypt it was on HBO, and that’s where I met Barry Josephson who went on to become the executive producer of Bones. And he and I hit it off really well and as we got to know each other, became friendly and just on. We’ve been working together over the years and he’s the one who actually called me on Bones when this came up 12 years ago and that’s how I got the job. And Chris started working with me right out of college, basically.
Chris Yagher: The thing about TV obviously is that the time frame to build whatever it is, whether it’s the dead bodies or makeup effects, is shortened. I mean, sometimes less than a week to build something for every show and then you have to do it the next week and the next week and the next week. So you have a lot less time and you have to produce it and get it to the set as quickly as possible so it’s much more difficult. In movies, you have a lot more time and you can spend your time designing the best effect possible and it’s just a lot of more time to be creative.
What is the process like once you get a Bones script?
Kevin: On a film you’d have weeks of meetings. In TV, it’s one production meeting and a follow-up. We have 12 days to bang this stuff out.
Chris: On a movie, you have time to take casts of actors. Here, you don’t have time, so we may take parts from old molds [and reuse them].
Kevin: Yeah, a lot of the times we tell them what we have. So if they’re looking for a dead body or something, and say, "I’ve got a half of a dead body, and the waist on that." Or, "I have the leg or an arm,” they would actually go cast an extra or whomever to kind of match what we have. So it’s kind of a give and take on both sides so we could come up with the best thing, the quickest thing we could.
What other shortcuts do you have?
Kevin: Most body parts are made from silicone; it creates a much more realistic, translucent-looking skin. I’ll take silicone, put it in a sheet of cellophane and wrap it around a piece of foam to fabricate a leg. It’s a technique I now use in everything.
Is there a particular material that you find most essential?
Kevin: Actually, that is silicone. I mean we started, [producer] Steve Beers he came in and said "It's just skeletons with latex." Think of a Halloween mask; that’s latex basically. And, you know, just put little straps of flesh on and I go, "Okay, well that sounds easy." And it just developed into, "No, no, now we want a full leg or a full hand." Then the next thing, "We want a full body." In a show like Bones, we had to make it, basically make it on an autopsy table, and so we had to create that kind of stuff. So most of the bodies are made from silicone. And it’s pretty much just the norm now for this kind of stuff.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve been asked to make?
Kevin: I remember one episode where Emily [Deschanel] had to put her tongue to a bone and if it stuck to her tongue it was meant that it was, what, a prehistoric bone or something.
Chris: I had to make it out of paper.
Kevin: Yeah, it was actually because anything that we had—even the lightest type of material—wasn’t light enough to be able to hold on to her tongue. And, also, it had to be safe, so the paint that was used was non-toxic paint. And we literally made it out of paper and it was almost like you sink in your feet into. We had to make a bunch of cat turds out of papier-mâché one time. We had to make testicles one time—so it’s just a bunch of weird things. But the cat turd, again, we made out of papier-mâché, they were quick and, no pun intended, but they were dirty and we made hundreds of them actually. Honestly, it made me think about when I was back in Ohio and I had no money. When Halloween came around, I'd make things out of papier-mâché and came up with techniques, simple techniques that I used to do when I first started out.
Chris: We were trying to figure out a way for an organ to land on Aubrey’s [John Boyd] shoulder. Silicone has a tendency to bounce, so instead we used colored wet paper towels, and we were able to drop the simulated intestine.
Kevin: And we’ve even done things like something comes up and the director asks for a little brains or something and you have nothing in the kit so you go over to the crafts service table—literally I’ve done this several times and in moves too—and take a banana. And you just mash up a banana and add a little [fake] blood to it and suddenly you got brains. So its funny how you could come up things in a panic but they actually look almost better than what you could come up with in the lab.
Do you have a favorite corpse?
Chris: Andrew Leeds played Christopher Pelant and there’s some people he murdered and defleshed. And the first one that one that we did, it was this body that Pelant had taken the skin off of and put upon on the bed canopy of Angela [Michaela Conlin] and Hodgins [TJ Thyne]. And then they wake up, they discover it, and they, of course, are horrified.
Kevin: Hodgins wakes up with blood on his forehead.
Chris: And then a couple of seasons later the same type of thing happens on an obelisk in episode 10x22, “The Next in the Last.” Again, those for some reason, you get to see the muscles and just the lay of the body, is quite fascinating to me. I like those two corpses. Kevin did a great job on them.
Kevin: I did not talk to Chris before this but I was going to mention the canopy, too, as my favorite 'cause of the muscle one; it was fun to construct. We again had to use the technique of cellophane and silicone cause we basically had to build it and sculpt it with the actual materials. You start with a skeleton that we get from a company called Bone Clones—they replicate all kinds of different skeletons from elephants to any human you can possibly imagine. And then we start building on top of that. So we started with that and then I was able to build in sections, basically, looking at anatomy reference pictures building up muscles, tendons, and kneecaps and all that kind of stuff and build that thing from the ground up. That one we had a little bit more time with, I think maybe a week and a half on that one, and that one was quite fulfilling. But also a couple of others: this guy got into an outhouse and he falls face first, so his body is basically sitting in feces and rot his waist up and so when you pull into the autopsy table, he’s got a leg and partial stomach with full flesh and the rest of him; he’s nothing by skeleton and a lot of poop all over. And then there was another one that we did with the weasels, and that also again a half corpse, half body. Those are kind of fun cause you can see the contrast between their skeleton on one half of it and the flash on the other so it’s kind of fun.
Which episode proved particularly challenging?
Kevin: Season 5’s “The Gamer in the Grease.” The body’s already decomposing and had to be puppeteered by Chris; on cue, the skin had to come off. It was a series of hooks and Velcro.
Chris: We’re normal guys. We have wives, kids. We just do an odd thing during the day.
Bones, Tuesdays, 9/8c, Fox