EMMYS: Greg Nicotero Of 'Walking Dead'

Deadline contributor Elizabeth Snead files this Emmy report:

Greg Nicotero is the go-to special effects makeup artist for gore and 3-time Emmy winner who got his start with the Godfather of Zombies, George Romero, on Day Of The Dead (1985). Now he’s part of the team nominated for AMC/AMC Productions’ zombie-palooza The Walking Dead in the 2011 Emmy categories Outstanding Special Visual Effects For A Series as well in his capacity as Special Makeup Effects department head for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup For A Series. But unlike many contenders he had no trouble choosing his prosthetic makeup submission episode: he picked the season premiere. Because there are lots of goodies in the opening episode — like zombies devouring a live horse and a shocking scene in which the sheriff shoots a little zombie girl still clutching her teddy bear. The premiere also features the infamous Bicycle Girl, a half body FX so realistic that it sparked an Internet controversy over how it was achieved.

Nicotero explains: “We did a whole life casting on Melissa Cowan, who has a great face for zombie makeup. We took our guide from the graphic novel to simulate that classic walking dead desiccated and rotting look. She just looked like she was whittling away. We did a one-piece foam latex face and neck, two more for chest and back. We put the custom dentures in first and then applied the latex over it so you could see her rotting gums and part of her skull. Her makeup application took a little over 3 hours.”

Nicotero explains that the “gag” was that when the sheriff (Andrew Lincoln) rolls her over, he sees her bottom half is, well, gone. How to shoot this? There were hole-digging discussions but that wasn’t possible because they were shooting in a real park. They also thought about building a platform and hiding her legs that way. “We ended up putting her in blue leggings so that visual effects guys could remove the bottom half. So the top was all prosthetics. People could not figure out how we did it. There was a big Internet debate and some fans said it was a puppet. Others insisted that she was full CGI.”

Nicotero says that keeping the latex appliances so thin was possible because the actress they cast naturally had a zombie-friendly face; large eyes, a long face, high cheekbones and a small nose. The milky contact lenses lent a vague cataract look. Nicotero said wanted her to look leathery, dry and burnt, like she’d been laying in the sun for three weeks. “You wouldn’t believe the discussions we have about this stuff.”

Nicotero on Walking Dead worked with over 150 actors in prosthetic zombie makeup – foam, latex, prosthetic transfers, silicone pieces, you name it — in this opening episode. Even some of the dead bodies are real people in full-on zombie makeup. The first episode leads up to the zombie extras’ horse-feeding frenzy. Greg packed a fake horse carcass with fake guts, organs, blood, much of it made out of gelatin so the zombie extras could actually chew and swallow the stuff.

“The zombie extras were literally whipped into a frenzy because this was the first chance they’d gotten to eat somebody,” Greg recalls. “When they yelled action, all the zombies dove in and were actually fighting over the guts. And when we were done rolling, it was like a badge of honor. None of them wanted to clean off the blood and guts. If you’re a zombie extra, that is what you live for.”

  1. Watching Nicotero’s work in The Walking Dead is like watching Lon Chaney act or Roy Halladay pitch. It’s a pleasure watching a master at work.

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