Monday, March 21, 2011

By "George" - It's Zombies, but not Zombies

My most recent film experience took me to the zombie short film "George", directed by Gabriel Rosenstein for The Spitting Image. He had a very specific idea in mind for his zombie story. His tale was one of a man's survival in the midst of the ruins of society. Gabe wanted zombies, but not zombies; to impart the feel and atmosphere of a world over run with despair, but without tipping the hat to the walking dead we've all come to instantly recognize. Gabe didn't want any facial appliances, or any effects that would detract from the humanistic look of his actors. He was insistent on the visual interpretation that any one other than his title character could or could not be a zombie. This would prove to be quite a challenge. What was asked was to not go overboard with gore either, that the story was to drive the visuals and I could certain respect that. I knew that this would be an out-of-kit build for effects and one of open interpretation. I regarded it as "paint me a picture, but only use these colors" kind of project, which I could definitely dig, especially in only 2 days of shooting. A couple of things to factor in were a bite mark on the main character's leg as well as a bullet hole in another's head. I was definitely up for the challenge.

Upon arriving to our holding, I met Mary Czech who would be doing hair and make-up as well. She's a very funny woman, and a lot of fun to work with as we shared similar tastes in films, comic books, and make up style. This is more important than you can imagine when working with someone in such an enclosed space for hours on end. Mary is quite the professional and a treat to work with, especially when referencing Midnight Movies. You can check her out on Twitter @ rockindaspandex and see her talent at Glam Dammit.

In preparation for the bite mark I took some oil based clay and bit into it, making an impression of my top teeth and my bottom teeth. I then mixed up some Ultracal to pour into these small molds to pull out my solid positive. Once I had those two pieces I gave it a couple coats of liquid latex and had my very own custom appliances for the zombie bite. I even made an extra set of bite marks just in case. I was a Boy Scout once upon a time, and their motto is one of the best in terms of zombies; Be Prepared.

DAY ONE: Here's one of the pseudo-zombies. My idea was to make him dirty looking, with brown and darker cream colors. I imagined that these characters would be left to the natural elements, baking in the sun, and left to rot. A key element to remember is that in terms of the script it was meant to remain unclear how our zombies came to be the way they were; from radiation, a virus, space aliens, whatever. Any effects would have to be perceived as either being from their existence AND from their condition.

I thought a two tone color would visually suggest that there was something initially "off" about this individual, and yet they still look feasibly normal. I like to think that something is wrong on the inside first, before it appears on the outside. This idea was accomplished by usually augmenting one feature of each actor we would encounter.

Mary took on this actress utilizing "Scarlett Red" for the eyes and blending out the skin to a deathly pale. It helped that the actress had been locked away for most of the Winter and hadn't seen any sun. I used a blue eyeliner to pull out some of her veins in her arms as we applied white cream to take the color down (though it's probably too faint to see in this photograph alone). The idea that I enjoyed was that whatever had created these zombies, that they might have a different affecting look between the sexes.

A closer look shows how the make up extends even to her chest, drawing the eyes into the arms and continuing the illusion.

Mary worked on the make-up of one of George's encounters, another human trying to survive as well.

His look is straight forward and gritty; meant to be as natural as his environment. Notice the similar make-up application between his face and his hands.

Our friend has an encounter that ends poorly, with him gun shot to the head. In approaching this my idea was that all of the trauma should be on one side of the face so that when the actor looks from left to right (or vice versa) that it would be a reveal of his injury encompassed in the look giving much more options in terms of camera angles. The bullet wound is sculpted from scar wax and coated in liquid latex. Once that was dry it was layered with some color, a dab of bloody scab and some blood though not too much. The other abrasions are meant to look like scrapes from his fall. It's a combination of liquid latex, some color, and bloody scab.

Here's a closer look. He's slightly dirtier, which was something that we played with in terms of colors to invoke a visual understanding of death in the film.

DAY TWO: For an insert shot, Gabriel wanted a set of zombie hands to reach in front of camera. He said he just needed one so Mary and I each took a hand of an actor and decided to do two versions to give the director a choice. An effective make-up artist gives the director as many options as they can deliver within time and budget, something we had limited amounts of with this. The one thing that we had to consider between each of our artistry was to have a somewhat similar look between both hands in case Gabe wanted to use both in the scene. You don't want one person with two radically different hands and kill the flow on set by sending the actor back to fix a mistake.

Here's my version of the hand. This actor had some crazy veins in his hands so I decided to play with those by incorporating them into the paint up. I used some liquid latex, and cream paint and some bloody scab. I think it looks disturbing without being too out and out gross; a nice happy medium.

Mary did a great job with her hand adding a bit more color and giving a real sense of shadow.

So my actor from the previous day returned and I had to match his make-up from before. Gabriel said that the actors for the day would be for his "zombie horde", though they would be seen largely from a distance. To compensate for distance I amped up the browns and creams in his make-up to deliver a look I wish would have pushed forward earlier. It's a bit more powerful and distinctive without being too radical from what had already been captured on camera if any matching were to be done in post-production.

This look I needed to do super quick and dirty. I gave my actor the Freddy Krueger treatment in some picked over liquid latex skin abrasions on the cheeks and forehead. I went with a more purple-ish/brown hue that I also used to accent his eyes rather than blood and other reds.

Since he was so fair skinned I extended some of the brown to his jaw and neck to connect the dirty sunburn kinda look we were working with. The purple-ish hue would also compliment the colors used with our female zombies.

Here's his complete look DONE in under 10 minutes. He still looks kinda normal, but there's something certainly off going on here.

We had another actress for our second day and I wanted Mary to recreate the Scarlet Red eyes of our female zombie the day before. Again Mary worked on the skin tone as I added a latex abrasion/giant popped blister to our actress's cheek. She had crazy long cheeks that really made this effect stand out. The goal was to not make anything too involved or particularly recognizable, but definitely distinct.

Mary did a great job shadowing along the clavicles giving a nice sunken look with the same skin tone as our other actress. This was important in creating a continuous color palette throughout. I particularly enjoy the runny mascara as well to balance the abrasion on the other side of her face.

Some of the other actors arrived all at once and a bit later than expected. We dug in and pushed through. Here's Mary's take on of the zombies. Bruised and discolored, he looks to be a zombie, but also just to have had one bad night out.

Here's another actor I took on giving him the same treatment as my first actor to match. I kinda like the dirty Jersey Shore look he's got going on, but you have to admit; while you might not imagine zombie right away, you're definitely creeped out.

 Here's the bite mark applied and colored. Gabriel wanted it kind of green, but still somewhat bloody. This was the latex piece I made, some cream and some bloody scab. The secret is all in knowing how to blend, but still make it stand out. His specifics were that he wanted it to look as if it could have occurred that day or 2 weeks ago. This was the two separate pieces applied with Pros Aide. I wanted to make sure that it would stick in place and not shift or fall off as it rubbed against the actor's pants, ESPECIALLY since he would be falling and crawling around leading up to the scene that reveals this wound.

I was really really happy with the placement of this piece. It was like a perfectly positioned tattoo. It bent with the curvature of his body and was easily seen if he was sitting feet up or when he slouches into a butterflied position. I also like the slightly upward turned angle that makes one envision that some may have grabbed his leg from the ground and bitten out a chunk. When they were ready to begin filming I added a small bit of liquid blood to the center of the wound, which was just enough to accentuate the effect as it dripped out from a seated position. Also on set I was asked to place 4 bright green dots surrounding the wound so that in post-production they could digitally alter the effect as well.

Here's my spin on Mary's make-up of the lead character, George. She had made his hair greasy and given him a splashing of blood with dried really, really nicely. For my part I went in and gave him a bit of the darker brown and cremes around the edges as well as a subtle blend of purples around the eyes. Basically I wanted to combine the two looks of the male and female zombies we had done earlier into one cohesive look. The challenge was to not overpower Mary's previous work, especially by not upsetting the blood work. It's subtle, but you can see that something is definitely amiss.

All in all the actors all sat like champs and the collected group of filmmakers were really fun to work with and very professional. They stayed on time and definitely rolled with the punches of a tightly scheduled production. I think the looks are dynamic without being overpowering, giving a colorful look that's unique and distinctive. I really liked how the gore wasn't overboard, but more reserved for the more dramatic moments of the story. I hope for my next round of zombies I can deliver something a bit more visceral in terms of gore and carnage, but it was really nice to realize that sometimes it's not how fast or hard you swing your sword, but rather just how you swing it. It was a very enjoyable exercise in restraint and I feel I was able to help deliver the look Gabriel had in his mind to film.

I'll be sure to share more details of "George" as it comes out of edit and available to the world.


  1. Now that's some good make-up .
    Is it by Maybelline ?
    Good post.

  2. Thanks!

    The make-up is mostly Ben Nye stuff with some other brands tossed in. It was fun to create these looks with only the standard materials in our kits.