Monday, November 2, 2015

The Importance of Practical Effects

Some people call me a grandpa. I like to fish, I like classic rock, and I'm pretty much ready to retire. My old school ways carry over into my production tastes; I prefer to do things practically, not relying on all this new-fangled digital nonsense that the kids are using these days. We've all heard the age-old adage "fix it in post." I hate that. For me, whether it is lighting, special effects, makeup, or sound design there is no better way to accurately depict it than to actually create it. Don't get me wrong. CGI and the like have the potential to create some  truly amazing things that would be entirely impossible to recreate practically, but I don't the current trend that seems to be relying on digital effects almost exclusively. 

One show that has received a lot of praise for its use of special effects is The Walking Dead. Executive-producer and special-effects expert Greg Nicotero is the man behind the terrifying zombies, all created almost exclusively with practical effects. Nicotero has worked as a makeup artist on many films, including the third installment of the holy grail of zombie movies,  George Romero's Day of the Dead.  The zombies of TWD are given an immense amount of individual attention; to even appear on the show all of the actors must graduate from "Zombie School" which teaches them the correct way to move, gesture, and interact within the narrative world.  Each zombie is hand crafted, with makeup applied that accents and hyperbolizes the individual features of the actor, making each zombie unique. The zombies have evolved as the show has progressed, becoming more decayed and grotesque with the passage of time in the story world. Here are some examples: 

The results of this individual attention is incredible.  Most of the effects on TWD are practical; there's nothing a hate more than CGI blood-splatter or animated gore. I want the real stuff. 

This is actually Greg Nicotero as an extra on TWD. He has made several cameo appearances.

Nicotero doing his thing

 This show isn't filmed with a bunch of extras wearing chroma-key green suits with motion tracking dots all over their face. The Walking Dead has real zombies. Well, as close to real as you can physically get.  The results are terrifying and certainly take the show to the next level. TWD does use some digital effects for exotic backdrops and more involved zombie kills; in fact I read an article that revealed that season six of the show will use more digital effects than any previous season. Call me old school, but I just love the use of practical makeup and other effects. Digital effects certainly have their place, but there are just some things that can only be created, not recreated on a screen. 

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