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How did they do that? 'Walking Dead' makeup artist on how to win at Halloween

by Kristen Lepore and Michelle Lanz | The Frame

"The Walking Dead''s Greg Nicotero directing his horde of walkers. AMC

How did they do that? If you watch "The Walking Dead," you've probably asked that at least once.

The hit AMC show about surviving after a zombie apocalypse brings viewers a heaping helping of blood, guts and gore every Sunday night. And the show's creators do most of it with actual make-up effects, without the help of computer graphics.

"'The Walking Dead' celebrates the practical aspect of makeup effects and has put it in the forefront of today's pop culture," said Greg Nicotero, who's the head of special effects makeup on the series. "We have always kept it practical because we feel that it's more realistic." 

As an executive producer on "The Walking Dead," Nicotero has found success in scaring the heck out of a record number of TV viewers every week. The fifth season premiere beat all other shows, including Sunday Night Football.

 "Being able to transform people into walking corpses every Sunday night just continues to perpetuate that desire to learn about our business," he said. 

Nicotero joined The Frame to share insider tips on how to be the best at Halloween and really rock your zombie getup. 

Practice makes perfect — even when you're dead

It's not that easy being dead. But there are ways to perfect the moves of an animated corpse. 

Most importantly, don't walk like Frankenstein. That's just one of the "rules of the show" that you'll learn when vying for a spot as a future walker.

"The Walking Dead" holds auditions for wannabe zombies every season, "and we have affectionately named it 'Zombie School,'" said Nicotero. 

"I spend an entire day auditioning people, putting them through some exercises in terms of how fast they walk, what their character is, what their personality is — explaining to them that in many instances their performance can make or break a scene."  

Zombies have feelings, too

You must possess sympathy, anger and pathos in order to be really convincing.

"A winner is somebody who brings a lot of performance," Nicotero said. 

He explains: 

When we shot season one and Rock goes into the park and finds the half-walker girl crawling along the ground, and he kneels next to her, and he pulls the gun out, and he says, 'I'm sorry this happened to you,' — there is emotion; it's not just a monster; but he looks at her and he feels sympathy. We feel a sense of loss, we feel emotion — we also have to feel terror and a threat.

Keep it visually exciting

Video: How it's done

It's Halloween, after all. 

Nicotero said each season of "The Walking Dead" gets a little more gruesome, making the walkers look visually different over time.

"More and more skin decomposes, more and more bone structure and skeletal traits are visible; sometimes the teeth are broken out; sometimes their beards and their hair grows a little bit longer; sometimes their limbs are missing."

A bloody mess (that doesn't stain)

All of the blood used on "The Walking Dead" is created in-house; Nicotero said the series goes through hundreds of gallons of it every season. That means lots of clean-up. 

So what's the secret to creating stain-free blood? Powdered food coloring.

"You can go to the supermarket and buy red and yellow and green liquid coloring — when I was a little kid that's what I made fake blood out of because that's all that there was," Nicotero said. 

But, he added, "If you use powdered food coloring that you can get at a bakery or a shop that provides bakery supplies, you can use red and yellow powdered food coloring and put a little bit of soap in it and the soap will keep the blood from staining your hands."

The last-minute check-list 

Nicotero said all you really need to turn yourself into a decomposing corpse is liquid latex, a sponge, tissue paper and a hair dryer.

"You can turn yourself into a decomposing corpse by just using the tissue paper to get a little bit of mummified looking skin and stipple a little bit of latex on top of that," he said. "You dry it in front of a hair dryer, and your skin is going to look like it's shriveling."

Plus, you can always use regular pancake makeup to pale people out, he said, "And then follow the contours of your bone structure — darker colors around eyes, darker colors in the contours of your checks. It will make the person look more gaunt."

Are you dressing as a zombie for Halloween? Send us pics on Twitter @theframe.

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