Interview: Greg Nicotero Reflects on 8 Years of The Walking Dead

FX legend and director Greg Nicotero reflects on making the hit zombie series The Walking Dead

Whether you’re one of the millions of people all over the world who worship AMC’s juggernaut cannibal corpse series The Walking Dead or not, there’s no disputing the wizardry of its primarily practical special FX, make-up designs that have revolutionized an art form that, with the advent and saturation of state-of-the-art digital trickery, has been somewhat pushed to the fringe. Credit the vision of veteran special effects legend Greg Nicotero, who co-executive produces the show, has directed a plethora of episodes, and serves as the special make-up effects supervisor on this and TWD’s sister show Fear the Walking Dead. Week after week, season after season, Nicotero steers an army of arresting zombies and stomach-churning gore gags that have captured the planet’s need for dark fantasy and freakish, revolting visceral jolts.

The Walking Dead will endure, as will Nicotero’s bold, trailblazing work.

With TWD returning to the airwaves for its 8th season this October, we caught up with Nicotero in LA, ostensibly to discuss the life and work of his mentor and zombie cinema architect George A. Romero (Nicotero’s first credited gig was working on Romero’s 1985 shocker Day of the Dead), a chat which will be featured in an upcoming magazine, but also to touch on his work on the series that has kept horror alive for almost a decade.

Here’s Greg. Enjoy. What are you working on right now…

Greg Nicotero: Well, we have Baby Driver, which is coming out soon, we did Twin Peaks, we are working on a bunch of TV shows… it’s a busy, busy time. And I just flew to LA to edit the premiere of Season 8 of The Walking Dead, our 100th episode.

CS: 100 episodes. How does that feel when you articulate that?

Nicotero: I don’t even know… it’s so weird… it’s… you know, it’s like when you put on a record album or you play a piece of music and everybody else responds so positively to that piece of music? Like, you’re at a party and everyone’s like “Yeah, man!” That’s kind of what it feels like. Kind of.

CS: It’s been a life-changing experience for you, no doubt.

Nicotero: Yeah, I mean the show has evolved and mutated in so many fascinating ways that, for a person that for up until the last eight years had been doing primarily movies, to be able to be involved in something long form like this has completely changed the way I design make-up FX, the way I approach production and it has given me an incredible understanding of how critical character and story is. There’s a lot of make-up FX people who are holding the torches for practical FX and God love them, because that’s what we love and that’s what we do. But you have to understand that those practical FX, if played out in a scenario that has some significant story behind it is what you want. There’s much more impact in something you have dedicated and devoted to these people. It’s not just a showcase for FX. It’s about a great story that when something visually arresting happens, you’re much more invested in it. So yeah, for me, it’s been a complete eye opener on how to create these FX and integrate them into what I direct and into the show itself.

CS: Developing this family and these deep character drawers, has it spoiled you? Has it affected the way you work on features?

Nicotero: No, but anytime you work on a project, you compare it to other experiences. It’s like an old girlfriend, you cannot not compare new ones to her. But yeah, I mean working on other movies and comparing it to how dialed-in the crew on The Walking Dead is, it’s challenging sometimes to jump onto other projects. But everyone works differently. I worked on a movie called Captive State during The Walking Dead‘s hiatus that Rupert Wyatt directed and had a great experience with him designing FX and suits and it was super rewarding. I think that The Walking Dead kind of keeps all those muscles toned. So being able to offer all the things I’m learning on The Walking Dead to other filmmakers has been amazing.

CS: Many artists, as they progress, go back and reflect on previous work. Do you?

Nicotero: I always say having the opportunity to revisit anything that you do, any artist will tell you that this is a chance to just make it better. That’s kind of what we do on The Walking Dead, season after season. You know, we have this genre and we have to keep it fresh. We have to change what the zombies look like to keep it fresh, we have to make sure we’re not repeating ourselves. I love that challenge to go back and then decide to change the color of the blood or do better zombie bites and it’s continued to make us better learn how to refine our craft.

Stay tuned to for more on The Walking Dead’s 8th season return… 


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