Fresh Kill: Greg Nicotero

Special effects legend and executive producer of The Walking Dead, Greg Nicotero discusses his work with Robert Rodriguez on From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series.

Greg Nicotero started his film career on set with iconic horror director George Romero, so it’s perhaps destiny that 30 years after breaking into Hollywood with Day of the Dead, he’s still in the business of keeping the undead looking fresh. Nicotero’s intimidatingly long roster of makeup and special effects credits reads like a must-watch film list for horror fans—Evil Dead II, The People Under the Stairs, Army of Darkness, Scream (1 and 2), The Amityville Horror (2005), These Hills Have Eyes, Hostel, Planet Terror, Drag Me to Hell, and many of the decidedly non-horror films of Quentin Tarantino.

Nicotero’s relationship with director Robert Rodriguez is nearly as long, dating back to the pair’s collaboration on the ‘90s vampire flick From Dusk Till Dawn, a film trilogy Rodriguez recently rebooted as a television series airing on his own El Rey Network. Nicotero already has his hands full, currently serving as executive producer on AMC’s mega hit The Walking Dead, but he’s teaming up with Rodriguez yet again to bring Santanico Pandemonium and her band of snake dancing vamps back for more blood. Fresh off of the announcement that the series has been picked up for a second season, Nicotero chatted with Get In Media about how to resurrect the undead.

Get In Media: How did you construct the perfect vampire for this particular show?

Greg Nicotero: Well, you know, they wanted to do something different, and taking into account a lot of the other shows that are on television, we wanted it to feel fresh. The original From Dusk Till Dawn, we really didn’t have a lot of story for the vampires, so Robert Rodriguez and I discussed this snake motif that they wanted to utilize throughout the series. … Traditional vampire fangs usually are just caps, kind of like the Christopher Lee vampire look where you just add caps to the actor’s teeth, but what we did is we created complete gums with the two rattlesnake fangs sticking out. We really were trying to stick with the snake motif and give us a different look. Something that’s unlike anything we had seen on a lot of the other shows that are on TV right now.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series

GIM: For a series like this where you are making many of the same monsters over and over, how do you keep it fresh?

GN: I use the same makeup effects team that works with me on Walking Dead and, you know, it’s the same challenge. On Walking Dead the challenge is how do we make every zombie look a little bit different? I took that same approach on From Dusk Till Dawn. We created a variety of prosthetic pieces, some that were just the forehead, some that were the full face. Even just mixing up the scale texture, whereas some sculptures had larger snake scales and some sculptures had smaller snake scales. We sculpted full chest prosthetics. We created a variety of different sculptures and then each time a prosthetic is glued on, that particular makeup artist will paint it differently every time. Using reference of real snakes and some of the bold patterning and the bold coloration, we really were able to make them all feel a little bit different.

GIM: How big is the effects team on From Dusk Till Dawn?

GN: We had six makeup effects artists on set and a good portion of the hero gags were relegated to second unit. Sometimes gags take a little bit longer because you have to hook up blood tubes and you’ve got to sort of choreograph the shots, but we kept those as a splinter unit that we went and shot. We have probably 12 people working in Los Angeles and then six people on location in Texas. 

REALTED: Special effects makeup and prosthetics designer Paul Jones has brought the terrifying creatures of Silent Hill and Resident Evil to the big screen. 

GIM: You’ve spoken in previous interviews about the importance of refining and testing your effects. Would you mind speaking a little bit about what goes into that?

GN: What’s always fascinating when you’re designing characters and creatures is you know you can start with Photoshop artwork and then you can go from there to a sculpture and then you can go from there to a test, but each stage you need input with your collaborator. It was very important to me that we got those tests in front of Robert early enough that he could then look at them, comment on them, and give us notes so that we could then refine them. On a movie schedule, it’s much easier because you have four months to build something, but on a television show, where you have an eight day prep and an eight day shoot, it’s much, much, much more difficult. The goal for us was to get concept art and to get makeup effects tests in front of Robert as early as we could so that then we could take his notes and refine everything. I think we did preliminary makeup tests in the beginning of December for Robert to look at and then he gave us notes and then we continued modifying them. We shot that episode at the end of January and the beginning of February, so we had four weeks after the initial test to go back in and not only manufacture the volume we needed, but also to make some changes based on the things that he wanted to see.

GIM: Special effects moves so quickly. How do you stay on top of new techniques that are coming out?

GN: Yeah, that’s really challenging, staying on top. The beauty of The Walking Dead is that because I’m an executive producer on the show, I have a lot of creative input in terms of what the walkers look like. So taking that into consideration, I’m constantly trying to put things out there that are fresh and haven’t been seen before. I love movies and I’ve seen pretty much everything that’s out there, so my goal always is to give the audience something new. With these makeups that we designed for From Dusk Till Dawn, that was the goal. The goal was to give them something new and original that they hadn’t seen on television before, between that and all the mayhem, all those different gags. We have a lot of freedom on El Rey, because it’s Robert’s network, to be able to push things to the limit. The intent of the show of Dusk Till Dawn is that it’s supposed to be a little bit over the top and a little bit outrageous, so we’re able to have a lot of fun with it.

From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series airs on El Rey Network Tuesdays at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Related Content

Have some feedback for our editors? Contact Us