The wait between seasons is always a struggle for fans of The Walking Dead, but since the last episode dropped that excruciatingly tense cliffhanger at the end, anticipation has built to a fever pitch for the premiere of Season 7.
While we continue to shuffle slowly towards that October 23 premiere, chowing down on all the zombie shows we can find, the folks at AMC kindly threw us a bloody bone last weekend with the release of a brand new trailer at SDCC.
As expected, Negan features heavily in the Season Seven promo, teasing fans by raising more questions than answers regarding the fate of Rick and the gang. But one particular moment — that didn't involve either Negan or his best friend Lucille— stood head and shoulders above the rest.
That's right — fans of the comics were finally granted their wish with the big reveal of King Ezekiel and his tiger Shiva, whose debut on the show will take Grimes and co in a bold new direction. Forget who Negan might have killed at the end of Season Six. What we want to know is how the hell did The Walking Dead bring Shiva to life?
Is That A Real Tiger?
During a recent press conference, creator Robert Kirkman revealed that everything we've seen of Shiva so far was created through CGI, although there will also be animatronics used to bring the tiger to life on set.
This comes as good news for both animal rights activists and Kirkman himself, who expressed concern at the idea of using an actual tiger on set. After all, there's already enough injuries that occur behind the scenes. We can't imagine what would happen if there was a real tiger hanging out between takes on set.
"I was asking Scott, 'How are we doing this thing?' He pointed out that it's not very humane to have a live tiger on set. And it's also very dangerous for the actors. . . . So I was like, 'Great, no real tiger, I can still come to set! That sounds awesome.' Because I would not have gone to set if there had been a tiger anywhere near the set. So there's no real tiger involved. It's all magic."
While we haven't seen Ezekiel's pet in action much yet, our brief glimpse of Shiva is undoubtedly impressive, considering that the special effects team are working with a TV budget that pales in comparison to typical Hollywood funding.
However, to compensate for this, it's likely that Shiva will only appear sporadically in order to save money, throwing out the occasional roar before slinking back to her over-sized scratching post. Think the dragons in Game of Thrones, but furrier.
How Often Does The Walking Dead Use CGI?
In the past, the special effects team who design the zombies have primarily used practical effects to bring the undead to life, as can be seen here in this frankly awesome video of a fake head exploding.
However, as the technology developed further, The Walking Dead began to incorporate visual effects alongside the practical make-up in order to enhance the putrified look of the grisly zombies on screen.
During a recent interview, make-up effects artist and executive producer Greg Nicotero revealed that digital effects were used more prominently in Season Six to create a wider variety of zombies in different states of decay:
“We’re doing a few things we haven’t done before, which is digital augmentation of couple of walkers. We’re moving noses and putting a cavity there. Taking the area underneath the ribcage and shrinking it down. Kind of Bernie Wrightson style. That stuff is what makes it more exciting because it gives us more opportunities.”
Does This Mean That CGI Will Replace Make-Up On Set?
When it comes to the average zombie, make-up and prosthetic pieces usually do the trick, but every now and again, CGI becomes necessary in order to achieve a particularly grotesque look where more decay is required than usual.
However, extras are still regularly used on set. Depending on the scene, there can sometimes be up to 300 walkers physically roaming around during takes, complete with zombie make-up, so CGI won't replace the practical effects any time soon.
Nicotero discussed the evolution of the walkers and their look in more detail, explaining that:
“Every season we sort of refine [the walkers]. We refine the teeth even more and we just keep changing it up, and every season it’s been different and we just keep pushing it a little bit more. It’s been really fun. We sculpted full muscle arms and then we added sagging flesh off of them as everything is about to drip off. [Showrunner] Scott [M. Gimple] has one very specific thing that he is conscious of, which is that it can’t be a Ray Harryhausen. It can’t be a walking skeleton. It always has to be muscles. It always has to be something that is motivating the movement.”
CGI can be extremely impressive when used well, but make-up naturally lends itself to this kind of horror aesthetic, making the zombie threat feel far more tangible than just visual effects ever could. While the debate between practical vs special effects isn't going to end anytime soon, The Walking Dead seems to have struck a fine balance between the two, which is currently working in the show's favor.