Greg Nicotero has seen his fair share of challenges working on AMC's The Walking Dead as the show's special effects makeup coordinator. Nicotero, who worked under the likes of George Romero and Tom Savini, has always ensured that The Walking Dead focuses more on cinematic realism than the gorehound movies that popularized the zombie genre. In doing so, he has struck a balance between disturbing, post-apocalyptic decay and the gore you can literally taste as the skin stretches.
However, Season 9 presented a new challenge for the veteran artist in the form of the Whisperers -- a cult of people who emulate the zombified walkers by wearing their skin as masks. Their practices sound Arkham crazy, but it turns out walker camouflage comes with its fair share of advantages. Because the Whisperers can move among the walkers undetected, they can use the creatures as cover and mount attacks unlike anything the show's survivors have ever faced.
Last fall, CBR got the chance to hear Nicotero speak at length about designing the weird blend between walker and human that the Whisperers represent, revealing details about the makeup effects that invoke the specific type of fear Alpha and her group inspire. The fact that the actors are wearing masks as opposed to prosthetics was a major difference:
It’s probably the closest we’ll ever come to a John Carpenter Halloween movie. Because Walkers, their faces move. The idea that we’ve spent decades watching Texas chainsaw massacre, Halloween where it’s this faceless killer and the face doesn’t move, so you can not judge any kind of emotion. So every time we shoot with a group of them, it's like, I look at them -- 'this is f---ing weird, man,' they're just looking at you and their faces aren’t moving and their eyes aren’t moving.
It’s tricky because the way they were drawn in the comic books, they were trying to emulate that sort of sagging skin. So they all looked melting ... And I was like, I don’t want them to look melted and I don’t want them to look like Leatherface either, so the trick is you gotta preserve kinda the bone structure of the skull. Even though, theoretically, the bone structure wouldn’t be there because they’re flaying the skin off. But when you look at the masks, you can see that we maintain that kinda deep eye socket because I wanted … the brow to stick out enough to put a shadow over the eyes. So, when you look at the faces, everything’s in shadow, so you get nothing there.