Monday, October 20, 2014

Two Tickets For… Visits the 2014 Atlanta Walker Stalker Con: Greg Nicotero (Part 1)

Andrew: Hello dear readers! As we mentioned in our Introduction post, Sarah and I attended the 2014 Atlanta Walker Stalker Con here in downtown Atlanta this past Saturday. If you were unable to read our intro or just opted to skip it, Walker Stalker Con is a horror/sci-fi convention particularly focused on the hit AMC show The Walking Dead. We were only able to attend the main day on Saturday, and of the number of panels that were held, we were able to catch three of them, including the first one of the day - legendary makeup and special effects artist Greg Nicotero! 

Along with being in charge of all the fantastic zombie makeup and special effects on the show, Nicotero doubles as an executive producer and even triples as an occasional director. In fact, Nicotero had the honor of directing the outstanding Season 5 premiere that aired just last week.

Of the three panels we sat in on, Nicotero's was the least attended, which was a shame because his ended up being the most informative of the day. In fact, it was SO informative that we needed to split up his panel into two separate posts to cut down on reader fatigue 

We took the effort (oh who are we kidding, it was a downright pleasure) of jotting down Nicotero's talking points and taking some photos of the proceedings. Below here you'll find what we believe to be a fine summary of Nicotero's panel. Enjoy!


- Nicotero walked on stage through a nice mock-up of the "A" train car from the Season 4 finale/Season 5 premiere the show's protagonists were locked up in a Terminus, greeting the 50 or so attendees with a jovial, "You're all the people who don't want Andy or Norman's autograph!"

The Walking Dead executive producer/director/special makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero walks onstage through a mockup of the Terminus "A" train from the Season 4 finale/Season 5 premiere.
Photo by Sarah Keck/Two Tickets For...

- Nicotero, who directed the season premiere, is asked about the train car set. He explains how they modified the car a bit from an actual train car by building the wooden frames that allowed Andrew Lincoln's Rick to saw a shiv off of it. More of note, Nicotero points out that Rick is using Hershel's watch chain to saw off the wood, which I didn't notice while watching the show, and how Hershel's watch read 5:01 - as in Season 5, Episode 1. Apparently every clock or watch in a respective episode reads whatever episode number of the show it's in. Little details like that are pretty neat.
- At this point the floor was opened to convention guests to ask questions at microphones placed throughout the aisles. The first question pertained to Zombie Pete, the member of Caesar's group whom took leadership of the group after The Governor killed Caesar, and was then himself killed by The Governor and unceremoniously dropped in a lake with cement shoes.

Nicotero explains that they shot Zombie Pete's scenes in a pool in Senoia, Georgia, about an hour south of Atlanta. Senoia is the town that stands in as Woodbury and apparently is also a home base of sorts for the show. Nicotero humorously explained that since they were shooting in water, Enver Gjokaj (the actor who played Pete), wasn't able to wear the usual contact lenses that zombie actors wear, saying "If he had worn the contacts they would've floated away in the water!" Instead they had digital effects artists draw in Zombie Pete's eyes.

- Nicotero is asked about the explosion of the propane tank in the season premiere. He mentions that the Terminus set is located at Conyer's Metals just 15 minutes outside of Atlanta, which Sarah and I found to be neat. More of note, Nicotero said they had six different cameras filming the explosion since they could only do it once, and in his original cut of the episode he used five of those angles to make the explosion look bigger. However, Walking Dead executive producer Scott M. Gimple saw the cut and pointed out how the scene is really from Carol's perspective and asked to see it from only her angles, a switch Nicotero made and everyone agreed worked better for the story.

- A fan asked Nicotero about the now famous flaming zombie from the season premiere and the pathetic Terminus guy who tries to crawl away but gets his face eaten instead. When the fan mentions that the Terminus guy didn't seem to be acting particularly well, Nicotero points out that it was in fact a stunt man, saying "If there's any stunt guys here, I'm sorry, you can't act!"

Nicotero then explained that to create the flaming zombie and yet not burn off the stunt guy's face, they employed a silicone face mask that Nicotero had originally created for Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds for the intense bar scene. The face mask was created to protect the bartender's face from the exploding squibs coming off the wooden bar. Also of note, when the flaming zombie is biting the Terminus guy's face off, that's actually a puppet, which wasn't originally in the script. When the cut was sent to Gimple, the exec producer simply replied, "Holy sh*t."

- A fan asked Nicotero if he feels like saving his best zombie effects for the episodes he directs. "Nooo…" he responds while vigorously nodding his head. Many laughs from the crowd.

- A fan and aspiring makeup effects artist asked for any tips for going into the profession. "Take pictures of everything you do," Nicotero responded, telling of how early in his career he didn't take pictures of his works and therefore didn't have a portfolio early on. "Even if you don't love (your work), it'll show the progression of how you've improved."

- A pair of children asked Nicotero how many CGI shots were used in the premiere. When Nicotero asks the kids their ages, he's amused to hear they're 8 and 10 years old. "I'm corrupting the youth," he jokes. Then he goes in-depth on his true answer, repeating some info he originally shared on AMC's post-Walking Dead discussion show, Talking Dead, about how they filmed the visceral throat-cutting/trough scene without any prosthetics:

"We put tubes around the actors' necks that would spurt out the blood, but we didn't want to put prosthetics around the tubes. We didn't want to have to deal with that. So we shot the whole scene with the tubes and then had the digital effects artists erase it!"

For the graphic "trough scene" from the Season 5 premiere, Nicotero and his crew had tubes spurting fake blood around the actors' necks, which were later digitally erased, as you no longer see them in the final shot.

Nicotero also pointed out how they used a rubber bat, a rubber knife, but "real" fake blood for the scene; and lots of it, saying "We maybe went a little too far here," while filming. He even mentioned how Standards & Practices saw his first cuts and would say the first blood spurts were fine but the second spurts needed to be cut, much to Nicotero's delight. "They said, 'The first spurt is okay, but the second spurt needs to be cut.' And I went, 'Great!'"

- Nicotero starts talking about the Terminus goon who was using the baseball bat and practicing his swing. First he spilled a spoiler from the comic book regarding the fate of a particular character who dies at the hands of a baseball bat (which I won't spoil here) and how having the Terminus guy use a baseball bat was Nicotero's homage to the comics. Then he repeated another bit from Talking Dead joking about how the seemingly mundane aspects of the Terminus guys going about killing their victims was "Our version of The Office. Dwight and Jim but with machetes."

- A fan asked Nicotero about the rumor that for scenes with walkers biting human flesh they use raw chicken. Nicotero corrects the woman by saying it's not raw chicken but raw steak that they use. He specifically talks about the famous scene in the season 4 finale of Rick ripping out the throat of Joe, the leader of The Claimers. "We soaked it in blood, stuck it in the prosthetic for maximum effect, and Andy (Lincoln) kept saying to put more in there. I think he was hoping for a three-course meal out of the thing!" He also notes the obvious that using raw chicken would be bad because you could get ill, whereas people eat raw steak all the time.


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