Towards the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, the first movie in the Indiana Jones series, viewers are treated to the unforgettable face melt scene, killing the two main Nazi villains. This was an effect that was impressively achieved without CGI. Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) was the team behind the effect, and the visual effects masters have spoken about how they did it in great detail. Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark is the classic 1981 adventure film that follows archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) in his pursuit of the Ark of the Covenant, a treasure chest of Biblical artifacts.


Also in pursuit was Jones’ Nazi archaeologist counterpart, Dr. René Belloq (Paul Freeman), and Major Arnold Toht (Ronald Lacey), a Gestapo agent, who aim to weaponize the ark. They met their gruesome ends during the Raiders of the Lost Ark ending. Without CGI in popular use, nothing like the Indiana Jones face melt scene had ever been attempted before. It was a challenge that director Steven Spielberg accomplished by shooting footage of actor Ronald Lacey screaming and then trusting ILM to make the rest a reality. A behind-the-scenes video excerpt from Laurent Bouzereau’s Raiders of the Lost Ark making of documentary explains the process.

The Indiana Jones Face Melt Scene Was Filmed Using A Gelatin Mold Under Heat Lamps

Creating the Indiana Jones face melt effect.

The Raiders of the Lost Ark effects crew revealed that the first step in creating the Indiana Jones face melt was making a mold of Lacey’s head using alginate, which is the same rubbery substance dentists use to make molds of teeth. That mold was then cleaned and sculpted, and eyes were added. A skull, carved from stone in order to withstand face-melting heat, was constructed to support the mold. But to get all of those dripping layers of flesh and muscle, the secret, according to ILM’s Chris Walas, was gelatin.

After coming up with a gelatin formula that would melt relatively quickly at low heat, layers upon layers of the substance were molded and placed under the prosthetic face. To get the shot for Raiders of the Lost Ark, the fake head was put between two propane heaters. Walas aimed a handheld heat gun from underneath, moving it as necessary to even out the melting process. As he recalls, it took about ten minutes for the face to melt completely in the take that was used in the film, and the effect was sped up in the lab. It takes just a few seconds in the final cut of Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Paul Freeman Said Filming The Indiana Jones Face Melt Scene Was “Bizarre”

The Indiana Jones face melt scene

In Raiders of the Lost Ark, the Nazi villains had Indiana Jones and Marion tied up to a large stake. The Nazis planned to open the Ark of the Covenant to gain the powers that they believed would lead them to immortality in World War II. However, that isn’t what they received. Instead, they only found sand in the Ark before suddenly apparitions began flying out of the structure. Indy told Marion to keep her eyes closed and not look at anything that came out of the artifact. An angelic figure turned into a monster and then the horrors began. The monstrous figure sent lightning through the soldiers, and they began to die horribly.

The worst moment came when Toht screamed out as his face melted while Belloq’s head exploded. Paul Freeman, who played Belloq in Raiders of the Lost Ark, said the entire scene was bizarre (via Yahoo! Movies). “Steven was just yelling at us: ‘Look this way! Look up! Look down! It’s horrible! It’s coming at you! It’s moved away! It’s coming over to the left! Keep looking!’ We were just reacting like that instantly, with no idea what we were looking at.” He said that the instructions went from seeing something he always wanted to see to something that was going to eat him. Spielberg referred to it as “one of the most amazing things I’d ever seen.”

The stunning Indiana Jones face melt scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark remains one of Hollywood’s greatest depictions of God’s wrath. The opening of the Ark of the Covenant causes all hell to break loose, and the Nazis present meet their doom by looking at the released spirits while Indiana Jones closes his eyes. And so, a face melts, and heads cave in or explode, in the terrifying climax of one of cinema’s best adventure films.


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