Graveyard Shift

Special Effects Secrets From Behind The Scenes Of 'The Walking Dead'  

Jonathan H. Kantor
1.1k views 12 items

The Walking Dead has been frightening, delighting, and sometimes disappointing fans since the series debuted back in 2010, but what's seen on screen every week is only part of the story. Hundreds of people work behind the scenes to bring the show's zombies to life - or at least back from the grave. All of the makeup and special effects artists work to deliver frightening new creatures in every episode of TWD, and their work is far more complex than you may expect.

Turning a living, breathing actor into a zombie requires more than a little latex - the show's numerous zombie classifications determine the amount of work that goes into making an actor appear undead. For close-up shots, several artists work together to form a living tapestry of undead monsters each and every week.

The Team Covered One Actor's Face In Dirt To Achieve A Twisting Effect
The Team Covered One Act... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list Special Effects Secrets From Behind The Scenes Of 'The Walking Dead'
Photo: AMC

The team behind TWD's special effects uses practical effects and makeup whenever possible. These are not only cheaper - they often look more realistic. But how exactly do you make an actor look like their face is twisted backwards?

In one scene from Season 8, a walker trips when its foot is caught in a steel fence, which sends it toppling over onto its belly. Unfortunately, its head is twisted all the way around to face up. Executive producer and director Greg Nicotero provided insight into the gruesome frame: "We did a full prosthetic makeup on the performer; then, we dug a hole in the ground and [covered] his face, then put an animatronic head on top of his head, so we could turn it all around."

Each Episode Uses 20 To 30 Gallons Of Fake Blood
Each Episode Uses 20 To ... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Special Effects Secrets From Behind The Scenes Of 'The Walking Dead'
Photo:  AMC

Most of the time, the monsters on TWD are a little worse for wear - most have at least one limb missing. When combined with the show's countless onscreen fatalities, some fake blood is going to be inevitable.

Each episode requires massive amounts of red ooze, and it's all made on set by the special effects department. According to Nicotero, "[TWD] probably uses up the most amount of blood that we've ever had on any show. I would say per episode, we're usually somewhere in the 20 to 30 gallons range."

The Crew Uses Different Shades And Textures Of Blood, Depending On The Need
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Photo: AMC

Different situations call for different types of blood: Arterial blood is bright red, while blood from the veins is often a much darker shade. Similarly, dried blood doesn't look much like fresh, dripping blood, and vice versa.

According to Nicotero, the special effects team uses several different recipes to make realistic blood, depending on how it will be used. He explained, "We have dark zombie blood, we have dried blood, we have coagulated blood. If you have a shirt like my shirt which is dark, and you want to see the blood on it, it has to be brighter, otherwise, it would just fade in with the color."

Shiva The Tiger Is Just A Stunt Man In A Blue Body Suit
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Photo: AMC

The CGI tiger used on the show looks exceptionally realistic, and fans could be forgiven for thinking it's real - though it most certainly isn't. While throwing a real animal onto the set would undoubtedly have been cheaper, the rules and regulations surrounding the safety of both the animal and crew necessitated an animated version.

Scott Hunter, a stuntman, threw on a mocap suit to act as the on-set stand-in for Shiva. Every time we see the tiger jump on someone and tear out their jugular, it's actually Hunter decked out in a blue bodysuit.