If you have been on the internet for at least a few months, you probably came across a version of the animated GIF below (warning: NSFW). You may be wondering a) where the hell does this exploding head come from or b) how the hell did they do it? The answer to a) is David Cronenberg's Scanners — and here's the answer to b.
In a video put together by Criterion for their release of Cronenberg's cult film, photographer Mark Irwin, special effects supervisor Gary Zeller, special makeup artist Stephen Dupuis, and special makeup artist Chris Wallas explain how they had a lot of trouble getting the exploding head right.
They tried different methods to build a reproduction of Louie del Grande's skull and failed. At the end, they settled for one made of gelatine and soft plaster, filled with latex scraps, wax, leftover burgers and all kinds of crap.
The explosion was another problem. They couldn't use explosive because that would release sparks and smoke. The head had to look as it exploded from a pressure build-up. They tried other methods, like blowing air inside the head, but that didn't work either. It looked stupid as the head started to expand.
At the end, a desperate Gary Zeller decided that there was only one solution: To get a shotgun, lie down behind the dummy, put it looking up right below his neck, and blow the hell out of it. This time it all worked fine.