Ezekiel has a tiger. That simple, matter-of-fact statement was how the ruler of the Kingdom and his feline friend Shiva were first introduced to readers in “The Walking Dead” #108, and the line was repeated for their season 7 debut this past Sunday on the AMC TV series. But how did the TV crew get their tiger on the screen?
No matter how well trained they are, real tigers can be dangerous -– just ask Roy Horn of Siegfried and Roy –- so instead of using a live animal, the “Walking Dead” gang opted instead for a computer-generated beast, as the show’s executive producer and makeup supervisor Greg Nicotero revealed in a special being-the-scenes video on the official AMC website.
According to Nicotero, it took about four months to develop Shiva to the point they were ready to block off the sets and capture the human reaction performances to the space where she would eventually be. Then the show’s visual effects crew had to get the virtual tiger to look right on their computers before compositing her back into those scenes.
As Nicotero notes, while there aren’t any zombies around for people to compare, “Everyone thinks they know what tigers look like, so that makes things harder,” particularly when it comes to the details of fur, muscles and bone structure, and how they work together in a real, moving, breathing creature.
The final finished composite shots have many convinced that they seeing the real deal, a perception that Ezekiel actor Khary Payton is only too happy to reinforce, saying, “If you are wondering if the tiger is real — yes, it’s real. Of course its real. Everything is real. A third of the zombies are actually real. So, take that home and tell your momma.”
The video also shows how the “Walking Dead” crew used sets of identical twins to achieve Carol’s (Melissa McBride) fever dream sequence in the same episode, as her character, delirious from her injuries, repeatedly mistakes zombies for human survivors.
Airing Sundays at 9 p.m. ET/PT on AMC, “The Walking Dead” stars Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Lauren Cohan, Chandler Riggs, Danai Gurira, Melissa McBride, Lennie James, Sonequa Martin-Green and Jeffrey Dean Morgan.
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