Behind the Scenes on 'The Walking Dead'
Some 'walkers' take a break from filming Season 3 of 'The Walking Dead' in the hot Georgia summer and cool down with ice cream. (Gene Page/AMC)
A pit of zombies buried chest-deep in mud. A group of people muddling through the summer heat and humidity trying to survive. The ever-present sweat stains on Rick Grimes and his hearty band of zombie apocalypse survivors. A thunderstorm washes off disguises Rick and Glenn used to try to sneak past a horde of hungry zombies.
Behind the scenes of one of television’s hottest shows, "The Walking Dead," is something that plays as big a role as the zombies: the weather. “The Walking Dead” shoots eight months out of the year in Georgia. Georgia summers are known for their extreme heat and humidity. With temperatures routinely in the mid to high-90s, heat is a problem for the cast and crew.
“Weather’s a big part of our lives, as special effects artists,” said Toby Sells, special effects/makeup artist for KNB EFX Group, who’s worked on “The Walking Dead,” “Zombieland,” “The Crazies,” and more.
“Every single day we’re affected by the weather,” said Eulyn Womble, the shows's costume designer. “Even in terms of what we can shoot this season.“
From extreme heat and humidity to rain and bitter cold, “The Walking Dead” is at the mercy of Mother Nature.
"When that heat hit me, it was like 100 degrees but with the humidity it was like 115 or 120 degrees, so I almost passed out,” said Iron-E Singleton, who played T-Dog. “So I found myself looking at my fellow castmates, and I vividly remember Laurie Holden, who plays Andrea on the show, we're just looking at each other like I'm about to die, are you about to die, I think I'm about to die, too.”
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If the actors, particularly Andrew Lincoln, who plays lead character Rick Grimes, look like they’re sweaty and miserable it’s because they are. Instead of trying to work around the heat, special effects artists incorporate it.
“A lot of the sweat on Andrew Lincoln is real,” said Womble. “But we also use oils to make the color of sweat and to enhance the natural sweat on the actors.”
Weather and Special Effects on “The Walking Dead”
The show's special effects, which are integral to the plot, are even more susceptible than the actors to the heat and humidity.
“Georgia’s just so humid, it’s really hard to use some of the materials we rely on for special effects,” said Sells.
Unlike many TV shows, which are shot on a set or a sound stage nestled inside a climate-controlled building, "The Walking Dead" shoots almost entirely outside. The show is at the mercy of whatever Mother Nature throws its way. Because of that, special effects artists have had to come up with new ways to combat the heat.
“Sunlight even changes the color of the prosthetics, so you have to overcompensate for the way the sunlight reflects off the makeup,” said Greg Nicotero, executive producer/special effects makeup designer. “When people begin perspiring, it's really challenging. We have a team of nine makeup artists that are literally out there, next to the walkers (zombies), between takes, mopping up the sweat, cleaning up, touching up.“
The zombies that take center stage in “The Walking Dead” are wearing heavy prosthetics and makeup. Sometimes, they have to stand outside in the hot sun and humidity for hours, waiting to get the perfect take. It’s a daunting task on a normal day, but even more difficult when you’re wearing heavy makeup, dark clothes, and standing in the blazing Georgia heat.
“Fighting the humidity is the hardest part. We have to keep the zombies hydrated,” said Womble. “We have a medic on staff. If you see somebody who looks dehydrated, you do whatever you have to do to keep them comfortable.”
Even before makeup artist Toby Sells began working on “The Walking Dead,” he learned he had to work around Georgia’s remarkable heat and humidity.
“We used to use gelatin for prosthetic and special effects, but we found it wouldn’t work with the weather,” said Sells of working on the movie “Zombieland,” which also filmed in Georgia. “The heat and humidity here is just terrible in Georgia, and we found it would melt even if we were shooting inside.”
David Morrissey, who plays The Governor, wears a leather jacket in Season 4's midseason finale. To keep him cool in the hot summer temperatures, costume designed sewed cooling packs into the interior of the jacket. (Greg Page/AMC)
The actors sometimes have to suffer for the sake of the show. Womble mentions the midseason finale of “The Walking Dead,” in which 'The Governor’s' character was wearing a heavy leather jacket before a battle at the prison. Though the summer heat and sun was bearing down on the cast, Womble felt the leather jacket was what The Governor’s character would wear before going into battle.
“But in the back of his leather jacket we’d sewn in a bunch of little freezer packs to keep him cool," said Womble. "David Morrissey (who plays The Governor) was a good sport to allow us to do this.”
Zombies Wear Snuggies?
With a production season that runs eight months out of the year, “The Walking Dead” has had to deal with long periods of rain and frigid winter temperatures. This year, Georgia had an unusually early cold snap when temperatures dipped into the 30s in October.
“In winter, we can layer the zombies properly and we have a Snuggie wrangler,” said Womble. “He literally runs out and puts Snuggies on the zombies when it’s cold.”
Sometimes rain is a special effects artist’s biggest enemy.
“During rain, you’ll spend a lot of time tweaking what Mother Nature destroys,” said Sells. “If it’s cold or it rains or it’s really hot, it amplifies the problems. Weather is something we really consider when we design what we’ll put on the actor.”
Rain was a constant companion for “The Walking Dead” crew during the summer of 2013. Rainfall was well above average in many parts of Georgia, according to weather.com meteorologist Nick Wiltgen. That was yet another weather challenge "The Walking Dead" crew and actors had to master.
“Every single day we’re affected by the weather,” said Womble. “In Georgia, this season it has rained so much we had to cover the set on many days. They’ve had to rewrite scenes because of the weather.”
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One of the vivid scenes from Season 4 was a mud pit filled with zombies. We asked Womble if this year's wet summer at the filming location inspired that scene. She said it definitely played a role.
“One weather aspect people don’t consider is the mud,” said Womble. “It’s so hard to shoot in the mud. This year, one of the wrap gifts from the producers was a rain jacket because of how much it rained this year.”
‘We’re always checking the weather’
“I want to know the humidity, the temperature, the barometric pressure,” said Sells. “When I was a kid in school I never thought that would affect making monsters, but it does.”
It didn’t take long before the production crew realized how important up-to-the-minute weather information was on the set of “The Walking Dead.”
“We’re always on our phones checking the weather,” said Sells. “Everybody’s rain ready. There’s always an assistant director or production assistant with their iPod or iPhone with The Weather Channel app pulled up. They’ll tell us we have 20 minutes to get a shot before it rains.”
“They’re glued to their weather apps," said Womble. "My husband’s one of the producers on the show. I don’t even need to check the weather, because he’s already checking it on his phone.”
The Weather Channel producer Lisa Watkins contributed to this report.