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'Walking Dead' makeup guru on transforming stars for blood drive, more zombies in season 3

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Image Credit: AMC

What exactly would Hollywood look like in the wake of a zombie apocalypse?

Walking Dead special makeup effects artist Greg Nicotero imagined ghoulish looks to die for straight from the show when he was tapped to bring Joel Madden, Extra’s Maria Menounos and The Black Keys and more over to the dark side for a Red Cross “zombie blood drive” campaign.

And no one had to spend hours in a makeup chair since Nicotero used the magic of PhotoShop to create the haunting images. “We used photos of the Walkers, and then sampled bits and pieces of that stuff on [stars like] Jimmy Smits, Meena Suvari, Aisha Tyler. It was pretty wild.” Nicotero told EW.com of giving celebrities the Walking Dead treatment.

As for creating zombie looks for the show, Nicotero says that involves is completly different — and much more time-consuming — process that requires two and a half months of prep work before filming begins. Nicotero told us what we can expect to see in season three. 

What has it been like working on season 3?
Greg Nicotero: We’ve been shooting for almost 20 weeks. Aside from maybe Inglorious Bastards or Kill Bill, I can’t think of another project that’s [taken that long]. It’s pretty labor intensive.

Does that mean we’ll be seeing even more zombies this season? 
You know, we’re trying to raise the bar on how much we do on the show in regards to number of zombies and we always want to make sure that their presence is felt. Last season there were probably five episodes that had five or less walkers. I don’t think we’ve ever had less than 30-40 in a day this time. There are always zombies floating around.

Walk us through the process of transfroming an actor into a Walker.
I work very closely with the Atlanta Extras Casting Company here in Georgia because I go through and hand pick the performers. We look for certain attributes that we feel make good Walkers, like big eyes and good bone structure and a long neck. The whole point, the whole look that was established in the graphic novel was that these things are emaciated and starving and very thin and gaunt looking so we try to stick to that visual aesthetic and I think that’s been tremendously successful for us. Our zombies look unlike any other zombies because of that. Aside from the specific Walkers that are scripted, when somebody walks into our trailer we really don’t know what we’re going to do with them until they walk in and we look at them.

Once you see an actor, how do you decide what zombie features to give them?
That’s one of the most exciting things, because someone walks in and it’s like a blank canvas. You get to create a new painting. Some people, if they’re bald we’ll glue long wispy hair on them or if someone’s got a great shape to their face then we’ll put bald caps on them or lay beards. One guy came in and was really thin, he could literally almost turn his stomach inside out, it was really cool looking. We convinced him there was this great scene and he should do it shirtless so that we can do makeup on his entire torso and we could accentuate his rib cage, the shoulder blades, collar bone and everything.

What new effects and techniques are you using for Season 3?
You know we’re constantly refining the prosthetics to the looks that we like that we feel are true to the show, but we’ve done some puppets this season, we’ve done some animatronics. We’ve been able to embrace a lot more practical effects in regards to bashing in zombie heads and crushing in their heads and blood spray and all that kind of stuff. My experience always is you always want to keep the audience guessing. As soon as the audience figures out how you did it, then they disengage. What we really love to do on this show is to keep them guessing, right when they think they know what technique we’re going to use then we switch it up a little bit.

The Red Cross blood drive campaign runs through Oct. 22. and includes a sweepstakes that will give one lucky winner a chance to visit the set of The Walking Dead. Visit amcgiveblood.com for details.

Follow Nakisha on Twitter: @Nakisha.

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