The Walking Dead zombie visual effects

Easily one of the coolest things about The Walking Dead, besides Daryl Dixon, is the extraordinary make-up effects used to make the zombies look that much more horrifying. The AMC series has the best make-up effects you’ll see on television, and it even rivals some work being done on the big screen, despite having a lower TV budget at its disposal.

However, when it comes to showing the continued decay of zombie bodies as time goes on, there’s only so much that make-up can do to make it look like a real body is falling apart. And that’s why we’ll see some The Walking Dead zombie visual effects being used in conjunction with the practical make-up effects.

THR (via ScreenCrush) recently sat down with make-up effects artist and executive producer Greg Nicotero, and he revealed their adoption of digital effects to be used in the upcoming sixth season:

“We’re doing a few things we haven’t done before, which is digital augmentation of couple of walkers. We’re moving noses and putting a cavity there. Taking the area underneath the ribcage and shrinking it down. Kind of Bernie Wrightson style. That stuff is what makes it more exciting because it gives us more opportunities.”

For those who don’t know, Bernie Wrightson is a celebrated comic artist and illustrator. Here’s some of his work:

As you can see, covering a real human body with make-up and prosthetic pieces can only go so far to show skin decaying. That’s why digital effects will be used in the new season, but will not be replacing practical make-up. In fact, as we learned at Comic-Con, production on this season had a single day where 300 walkers were used, all with zombie make-up. So the use of tangible zombies isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

And if there are fans out there who are already thinking logistically about the increase in decay on zombie bodies eventually leading to just zombie skeletons, that’s something that won’t ever happen on the show. Nicotero noted:

“Every season we sort of refine [the walkers]. We refine the teeth even more and we just keep changing it up, and every season it’s been different and we just keep pushing it a little bit more. It’s been really fun. We sculpted full muscle arms and then we added sagging flesh off of them as everything is about to drip off. [Showrunner] Scott [M. Gimple] has one very specific thing that he is conscious of, which is that it can’t be a Ray Harryhausen. It can’t be a walking skeleton. It always has to be muscles. It always has to be something that is motivating the movement.”

The Ray Harryhausen remark is a reference to the innovative special effects used in Jason and the Argonauts in 1963 to make it look like skeletons were alive, fighting with shields and swords. So it sounds like not only will the decay only go so far, but there will always be an actor used to bring the zombies to life with a combination of make-up and digital effects. That sounds like the best way to keep making terrifying, lifelike zombies without losing what made them so horrifying to begin with.

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