How The X-Files Simplest Special Effect Became Insanely Complex

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

The X-Files is a show that had some very complex special effects over the years for scenes including everything from invading UFOs to melting aliens. Things were a lot simpler in the show’s pilot episode, but the crew quickly found out how complex “simple” could get. In that first X-Files episode, an effect involving a character’s nosebleed proved insanely difficult and kept going wrong in the messiest possible way.

A Simple Shot

The X-Files is a show where fans “want to believe,” but you might be understandably skeptical about why a nosebleed would be such a difficult effect. Later episodes of the show would prove much bloodier and have special effects much flashier than this.

However, as show creator Chris Carter later clarified, what made this effect so difficult to pull off was that they had to have the actor’s nose start bleeding on camera as opposed to suddenly cutting to a character with blood coming out of her nose.

The First Attempt Failed


Carter and the crew found out how difficult this X-Files special effect was going to be after their first attempt was a bust. Originally, makeup guru Toby Lindala ended up filling some gelatin capsules with fake blood and planned to insert the capsules into actor Sarah Koskoff’s nose. The idea was that once the capsules reached a certain temperature, blood would trickle out.

A Custom Built Headset

This X-Files effects guru later said that he could get the blood to trickle out within a 15-second window, but this was still too unpredictable to film. He decided to build a special appliance to pull off the desired effect. However, getting that appliance to deliver the desired effect proved to be a special challenge in and of itself.

Only Possible Through The Work Of Talented Artists

Chris Carter later said the solution was “to run a tube up through the girl’s hair, down her forehead, along one side of her nostril, and shoot her in profile.” You can’t see the appliance because “That tube was covered up by thick, flesh-colored makeup.”

It was easy enough for the X-Files crew to hide the appliance, creating the effect (well, if you call two full inches of makeup “easy”), but making everything work was surprisingly difficult.

Thought The Show Was Doomed

When they tried to remove the effect, the set turned into a horror movie as blood started coming out of the actor’s hair. This occurred because the fake blood exploded in the tube. Chris Carter later admitted, “I thought we were goners” after seeing the spectacular new failure of this effect. That worry continued until the day they shot the scene you see in the finished episode.

No One Knew If It Would Work

bryan cranston x-files

Before that scene, X-Files pilot producer Daniel Sackheim turned to Toby Lindala and asked him a pointed question about the effect. “It’s not gonna come from up here this time, is it,” he asked, pointing to his upper forehead. A very honest Lindala replied with a simple “I hope not!”

A Quick Shot With Days Of Work

Fortunately for the X-Files cast, crew, and fandom, the effect went off without a hitch this time around, leading to an appropriately gross moment in the episode.

The actual nosebleed doesn’t last that long onscreen, and most fans didn’t think about this moment after the scene was over. As this story proves, though, The X-Files is one show where even the simplest special effects can be as complex and difficult as anything in a sci-fi franchise such as Star Trek.