Making zombies for the series was no easy task. Greg Nicotero had a team of four full-time makeup artists who dedicated themselves to bringing the undead to life. It took each walker between an hour and an hour and a half to set up the camera. With some of the shots on the show, that’s a lot of work. That’s why this school was so important: they can’t worry about someone making a mistake when it’s time to get vaccinated. Speaking to 89.3 FM in 2014, Nicotero explained what it takes to “win” during school:
“A winner is someone who brings a lot of character to their performance. This goes back to Boris Karloff and Frankenstein. You feel the character under the makeup and in the makeup. That made Lon Chaney, Boris Karloff and Bela Lugosi famous, because they were able to portray to those characters with sympathy and anger and pathos. When we film Season 1 and Rick goes to the park and finds the half-walking girl crawling on the ground, he kneels down next to her and pulls out the gun and says, ‘I’m sorry I hurt you.’ past this,’ there’s emotion. He’s not just a monster, but he looks at her and we feel sympathy, we feel a sense of loss, we feel emotion.”
In fact, the example cited by Nicotero is key, as that first encounter with a walker in the pilot episode (titled “Days Gone By”) had a real impact on the audience. That’s not just makeup, it’s acting too. Nailing that, of course, takes a lot of work.