Special Effects Wizard Greg Nicotero on The Walking Dead and Other Projects

Special Effects Wizard Greg Nicotero, appearing at the Walker Stalkers conference, Atlanta, Georgia November 2, 2013

Special effects artist Greg Nicotero, appearing at the Walker Stalkers conference, Atlanta, Georgia November 2, 2013

The Walking Dead producer Greg Nicotero sat for a panel discussion at the Westin Peachtree Plaza in Atlanta, Georgia, November 2, 2013 at Walker Stalkers Con, a gathering of fans of the show The Walking Dead. In addition to convention organizers Eric Nordhoff and James Frazier, hundreds of fans turned out to ask him questions about his work. Following is part of that discussion. Check back for more.

Eric: Is Walking Dead the only thing that’s consuming you, or are you looking forward to something during the hiatus? Is there something that you want to kind of talk about, coming up?

Greg: Well, yeah, it’s a pretty full-time job. And actually after last year, when we went on hiatus, we shot til December 1 last year, and then we edited the rest of season 3, and then we opened the writers’ room in January. So Walking Dead is kind of a full time job, you know, all the guys that work here, we go back to KNB [the special effects company he founded in 1988 — see previous post]. Last year we did Sin City 2 during the hiatus, the year before we did Django Unchained during the hiatus, (shouts) so there’s been a lot of things here and there, but then once I’m here, it’s pretty much we’re here. You know, there’s a guy named Carey Jones who runs KNB when I’m gone, and like this summer we did Spiderman and we did Transformers and we’ve done a couple of things, we did Machete Kills, and I think three people saw it (crowd goes awww) – and two of them are in this room. (laughter) Thanks, I owe you eight bucks. So it, you know, we’re going, Robert is doing a – we’re doing a From Dusk til Dawn TV series. (shouts) And it’s really, the scripts are great. We’re sort of taking the movie and stretching that concept, so they start shooting on Monday so we’re designing stuff for that. So we’ll probably all go in January down to Austin and I’ll direct a couple of those. At least one of those, for now. And then back here again. It was funny when we got renewed for season 5. I sent a note to all the actors saying congratulations, and I said “yeah, who would have thought that 29 years later, zombies are still kickin’ ass,” and I put a photo of me and Bob from Day of the Dead into the email. Just it’s like me, 20 years old, big bushy beard, like “this is great, I’m a zombie,” with Bob {Kurtzman, now a partner at KNB]. And it’s really amazing that all this time and we’re still doing what we love.

Eric: Awesome. I know you’ve brought with you some photos so we’re going to go through those. Are we going to do the webisodes?

Greg: I don’t know. We’ll go through and see –

Eric: How many of you watched the webisodes? (some shouts)

Greg: The webisodes are something that we do in between seasons. It’s like an appetizer, for when the show starts. Season 1, we did the backstory of Bicycle Girl, season 2 we had a standalone story, and then this year we had one that was a little more related to the first episode. We have two days to shoot them. We shoot them for really, virtually no money. We get great actors and it’s stories that I’ve written and they’re really fun to do, and they’re kind of fun, so maybe – they’re like 22 minutes, so we’ll see. If you guys have a lot of questions we can maybe show them later.

Greg cont’d: So what I did put together, though, it’s a little slide show. It’s very challenging in terms of releasing photos on the Internet. You know, I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Facebook. It’s really, we’re very particular about what pictures get released. So one of the things that you guys really don’t often get is a chance to see behind-the-scenes photos. I’m one of the few people that’s allowed to have a camera on set, so I take thousands and thousands of pictures. But for this, what I wanted to do was just show you guys some pictures of some walkers and some of the guys doing the makeups that you really don’t get a chance to see. So we’ll just go and – let’s start with the first picture and then we’ll just skip through.


So of course this was season one, that’s Bicycle Girl, Melissa Cowan, that makeup was sculpted by Jaremy Aiello, I think all four of us worked on this makeup, right, Andy, Jake, and Karen. We had a front prosthetic, a back prosthetic, full arms, it really was, this was an amazing moment. You know, Frank Darabont who directed this episode and literally got the show on its feet, came over to me while we were shooting it and said to me, “this is . . . I’ve never seen anything like this.” So to be able to create this character, it really was a great group effort. And a lot of people, I think one of the biggest compliments, a lot of people said, how did you do it? Did you bury her legs? So the next photo will show you.

Bicycle Girl with blue tarp

Bicycle Girl with blue leggings on

(laughter) So when we shot it on set, that’s what it looked like. She had little blue leggings on, and the visual effects guys went in and erased her legs. Now, originally when we designed it, I wanted to bury her legs in the ground and do it like all practical, but we shot in a park, about 15 minutes from here, and they were like, “no you can’t dig a hole in the park, are you an idiot.” Well, first of all yes, and second of all, can we dig a hole. So this is what we ended up doing, and Stargate ended up erasing her legs, and so we shot elements of the bones and intestines that dragged along, and they put it together. So this was a great example of a great performer that brought the makeup to life, because you know, the guys will tell you that any makeup that you do, it’s only as good as the performer. You know, you get Mickey Rourke in Sin City, when he’s playing Marv, and he has a presence about him, but if you have people that feel inhibited by the makeup, then it doesn’t work. So one of the things that we strive to do during the show is to make sure that people really bring the characters to life.

James: But when you do a zombie like this, maybe not necessarily just Bicycle Girl, but when you’re on set and you’re creating a zombie, do you ever just like go “man, this is gonna be one of those iconic zombies – I know it’s gonna – you just see the uniqueness or something in it and you go, “this is gonna be one people talk about.”

Greg: Yeah, I think so. The interesting part is, a lot of times when the actors come into the makeup trailer, which is a tribute to these guys, it’s kind of like a blank canvas. You know, they walk in they sort of look at the face, and they kind of assess, like, oh I think I want to use this piece, or these dentures. So each zombie really is completely unique. We can bring the same actor in ten times and they will look different every single time because it’s what artist’s chair they sit in and what the artist really is able to do. On days we have 150 zombies, it’s really challenging to do a lot of makeups because we have volume, but on days we have 8, 10, 12 walkers, you can really get in and detail them out. It also has a lot to do with how they’re shot, some directors on the show tend not to shoot closeups of the walkers. Everybody always criticizes me and says well, you always have the best zombies in your episode, and I’m like, well number one, if they gave me shitty zombies then that would be bad. Oh, I just swore, sorry.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s