How 'Walking Dead' Cast Transforms Into Terrifying Zombies

The make-up some characters wear can take hours to apply.

ByABC News
October 10, 2014, 4:01 PM
A "walker" gets ready in the make-up chair on the set of "The Walking Dead."
A "walker" gets ready in the make-up chair on the set of "The Walking Dead."
ABC News

— -- “The Walking Dead,” which is heading into its fifth season, has had legions of fans hooked from the beginning, not just because of the gore and heart-stopping plot lines, but how terrifyingly real the zombies appear to be.

The show has won two Emmys for Outstanding Prosthetic Makeup and a lot of thought goes into the gruesome looks for each “walker,” as zombies on the show are called. Eulyn Womble, the show’s costume stylist, believes the clothes tell a character’s back story.

“The costumes have changed throughout the season,” Womble said. “The first season was in the city so lots of suits and ties and skirts, shorter skirts, and then when we got into the country, longer dresses more bad... patterns, definitely different from the city.”

When the costume stylist and her team get new clothes, they will stretch them out, add rips, dirt, make-up and stain them with fake blood of different colors and thicknesses.

“I do like blood a little bit too much,” Womble said, laughing. “This is my favorite part. Sometimes [executive producer] Greg [Nicotero] is like, ‘that’s enough, why does she have that much blood?’”

If they need more clothes, Womble and her team will buy pieces from whatever local stores are nearby. “We buy everywhere, from Goodwill to Saks, depending on what they’re doing to do,” she said.

But a big challenge for the costume stylist is that the show’s fans “watch everything,” Womble said, so she won’t put anyone in the same outfit twice. Character looks are meticulously tweaked, down to tarnishing buttons that are “too shiny,” to appease “Walking Dead’s” very active fans – the show’s official Instagram account has almost 800,000 followers, and its Twitter account, almost three million followers.

“We get Instagrammed and Twitter questions about the littlest thing,” Womble said. “Our fans are incredible. They keep us on our toes.”

Drawers upon drawers of latex foam and prosthetics add-ons line the make-up area on set. Nicotero said all of the show’s prosthetics – from fake zombie bites and “zombie rot” to fake bullet wounds to “full zombie face” -- are manufactured in Los Angles and shipped to the shooting locations.

“So if you want to do a full face zombie … you have the bone structure, you have the small rotted nose, you have bits of decomposition, there’s a jaw bone sticking out,” Nicotero said, pointing to various pieces laid out in one of the drawers.

And all those wounds? Those are applied like temporary tattoos.

“These are like those tattoos you just wet, you put it on transfer paper and spritz it and peel the paper off and it transfers,” Nicotero said.

“We’ve spent five years acquiring different sculptures and different molds,” he added. “And you know the exciting thing about what we do is every person that comes in the trailer, it’s a new canvas.”

Although the number of zombies the make-up and costume teams work on every day varies depending on what the script calls for, how elaborate a character’s look has to be depends on their camera time, said make-up artist Jake Garber. So, for example, so-called “hero make-up” means the character will have a lot of close shots and needs lots of detailed features.

“We’ll give it an hour and a half and this character will eventually have teeth, contacts and styled hair,” he said.