The Walking Dead's make-up man on the art of gore

By Will Chalk
Newsbeat reporter

  • Published
Horror make-up artist and director Greg NicoteroImage source, Getty Images

If you've watched a horror film in the past 30 years, there's a good chance Greg Nicotero is the man behind its goriest scenes.

He's produced prosthetic effects for hundreds of movies including Pulp Fiction, Hostel, Kill Bill and Sin City.

Greg's also an integral part of TV show The Walking Dead - working as a producer, director and, of course, make-up artist.

Here's his guide to the fine art of splattering blood on screen.

Warning: This article contains graphic photos of zombie make-up that you may find upsetting.

"It's almost like a magic trick," he tells Newsbeat. "We're using misdirection, we're using slight of hand and different things."

He's describing the moments of extreme gore he's known for - a limb being pulled off, or a zombie being crushed to death - which he calls "gags".

"It's all about the impact that they have and in many instances it's about the impact that particular moment has on the character in the scene.

"So when you see something happen on The Walking Dead - and then we cut to a character's reaction - people very often react to how a character's reacting rather than the thing they've seen."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Greg has a hug with The Walking Dead star Andrew Lincoln at Comic Con in New York

Greg's team creates practical effects - that means they're achieved largely through make-up and other techniques in the 'real world', rather than digital effects added after filming.

Those practical effects make for some interesting behind-the-scenes photos of extras.

A post shared by Greg Nicotero (@gnicotero) on

A post shared by Greg Nicotero (@gnicotero) on

When he started out in the 1980s, Greg worked under George A. Romero - the man behind classic zombie movies like Night of the Living Dead (1968) and Dawn of the Dead (1978).

Those films have influenced modern zombie films and TV shows including Shaun of the Dead and The Walking Dead.

Today. So honored to immortalize my friend and mentor

A post shared by Greg Nicotero (@gnicotero) on

Despite the huge progress made in digital effects and CGI (computer generated imagery) during his career, for a large part Greg has stuck to the practical prosthetic make-up techniques in which he made his trade.

But he says he's not completely stuck in his ways.

"Our job is to provide this blank canvas for the directors and advise them as to which tool will give them the visual that they want.

"And I'll be honest, in the last 15 years my perception of how to do that has changed a lot."

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Greg Nicotero has worked with Quentin Tarantino on films including Pulp Fiction and Kill Bill

"If we wanted a dinosaur to walk through this room, for example, it's probably better that that be a digital effect because otherwise you're augmenting something real.

"So as much as I'm a gigantic fan of practical make-up effects and will support them to the day I die - I appreciate there are instances where it won't be the right tool for a specific choice."

So is the practical effects industry tougher to get into now? According to Greg, not necessarily.

"Well listen, I would've said ten years ago it was harder - but now I don't think it is.

"You can watch any YouTube video or any behind-the-scenes video from The Walking Dead and get tips on how to recreate our zombies.

"And I think it's actually a more interesting time, too.

"With the comeback of genre TV - between Game of Thrones and American Horror Story and The Walking Dead and Black Mirror and all these amazing shows - I think there's (now) more relevance to what we do than ever."

The Walking Dead continues Mondays at 9pm on FOX.

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