Movie Talk

Get Your Last-Minute Zombie Tips From the ‘World War Z’ Makeup Designer

Movie Talk

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(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

It's Halloween. You put off getting a costume. You need something fast. So you could either cut some eye holes in a bed sheet and be the world's lamest ghost, or you can give yourself a quick zombie makeover. And here to help you is the woman who turned scores of people into the walking — or, in this case, running — dead.

Frances Hannon is a veteran makeup artist and hair designer, having worked with such esteemed filmmakers as Wes Anderson (on "Rushmore," "The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou," "The Darjeeling Limited" and the upcoming "The Grand Budapest Hotel"), Jim Jarmusch (on "Broken Flowers"), Paul Greengrass (on "Captain Phillips") and Matthew Vaughn (on "X-Men: First Class"). However, her biggest — and most challenging — project to date has been "World War Z," a monstrous production on which she had to create a world almost completely overrun by the undead.

In celebration of Halloween season, we spoke with Frances on how she took to the task, her favorite "WWZ" zombie creations and how to best create your own last-minute zombie makeup on the cheap.

Any pointers for doing last-minute zombie makeup for Halloween?

FRANCES HANNON: [laughs] Well, our zombies, for reasons of the film rating, could never have any red blood — so our zombies, as soon as they were bitten, their blood was very dark, almost black. So that might be quite nice for zombies for Halloween for a change — instead of red blood dripping out of their mouth or their eyeballs, they might go for the "World War Z" zombie blood, which was black.

We've tried using eggs to create a zombie look, but it didn't work too well, as it made our skin look a little unhealthy and that's about it.

FH: Well, if you take away the yolk, mix up some egg whites and put it on your face, it dries and cracks — just put some powder on top and you've got a nice cracked effect. And then add the black blood and dark eyes and I think they'd be there! And it wouldn't cost very much.

Watch an Exclusive Look Behind-the-Scenes with the Zombies of 'World War Z':

How did you come to be involved in "World War Z"?

FH: Colin Wilson, who was the producer then, called me in because this was going back to October 2010 — the idea was already underway and they just wanted somebody to put it all together in England.

"World War Z" is gargantuan. How do you prepare for such a huge project?

FH: I always think the best way to prepare for anything is to do so much research, to the point where you nearly absorb it and don't need to keep looking at it any more. [laughs] I started by researching every zombie film ever made, researching everything Brad [Pitt] had been doing, and of course talking to your director [Marc Forster] to absorb all of their ideas as well. Then you put everything into a picture reference so that people have something to discuss.

Were you given any specific directives in terms of how the zombies looked and acted in this film?

FH: Yes, there was a lot of stuff, again, going back to October 2010, which was six or maybe even nine months before the film even started. They had already spoken to another company called Legacy in L.A. and they came over with some heads and we started very early in terms of what could our zombies be that would be different than everything else. And of course, with everything, along with Marc, Brad had a very huge input into it.

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(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

What was the procedure in bringing those directives to life? What kind of crew did you have on this?

FH: We had one of the biggest crews I think I've ever worked with — total I believe I had at one stage 156 people around, and that doesn't include the behind-the-scenes makers. As you can imagine, it was a huge machine to "run," I would say, rather than "control." [laughs] But it went over very well. And with every day of filming, we would look at where it was at and see if it could be improved or changed — and then, of course, our whole storyline changed [the third act was completely rewritten and reshot] so we had to adjust the aging or progression of the zombies to go with the new storyline.

What was the total number of zombies you had to do makeup for?

FH: I believe we averaged around 50 in a day and the average makeup took about three hours, so it was a pretty remarkable feat to achieve. We had the 50 that were going to be seen for the camera and then the [CGI] replicas were done later on. But we had the 50 who were in the worst level of deterioration, the "third stage" of the zombie look, but we would do half them to look perfect for closeup camera and the other half to be used only for mid- or background shots to give depth to the thing — still fully made up, but not with the finesse of the front row.

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(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Who had the most extreme makeup job and how long did it take?

FH: The ones that were the most concentrated were our principal zombies who of course were in the final cut — the one who played to camera when Brad was in the lab [Michael Jenn, credited as 'W.H.O. Vault Zombie'], and our lovely zombie who was in the glass case [Sarah Amankwah, credited as 'W.H.O. Lab Zombie']. Our zombies were chosen for what we could achieve with their own faces because they CGI'd when they wanted the masses but they never CGI'd at all on the actual work we did — so the work had to be fantastic for close-up, no matter what, because you weren't going to then have CGI work on top, which is often done these days. But those two might have taken four, four and a half hours.

With the film's original ending in Russia, we did a huge amount of work where the zombies had a very different look for Stage 3, which is our final stage. We were in the frozen parts of Russia so their whole bodies crumbled and cracked and reacted differently. But when we rewrote the story with the new ending, we had to rethink how our zombies deteriorated so we went into a completely different design look and ended up with what you saw in the lab.

Do you have a favorite zombie from the production — one particular makeup that you're especially fond of?

FH: I love the lab zombie, the man who was there at the door when Brad was injecting himself [Michael Jenn]. He was a wonderful actor as well — our zombies were chosen not just for their facial look but for their way of moving because in the original concept it was very important that our zombies move differently as compared to previous films. So they chose very much to go with dancers ... obviously we had some stunt people in there as well but they chose dancers wherever they could for their speed and body movement.

Some of my favorite zombies were some of the dancers in the Israel part of the film, but sadly you didn't see the work up close enough, I don't think.

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(Photo: Paramount Pictures)

Do you have a particular fond memory from the production — was there a day where everything seemed to be going right or something funny happened?

FH: I particularly remember one day when we were filming in Malta, which was our stand-in for Israel, where we were trying to lock down the second stage of our zombies. With Brad and Marc, we came up with some great ideas and I think it kind of locked in the future of the zombies from there on, and it always stayed in my mind. It was actually something Brad said that I liked — he said "I'd like the skin stretched so tight, Frances, that it looks like a person in L.A. who's had that one facelift too many." [laughs] Once you take that as a reference for Stage 2 and 3 and put that to dead skin and everything, you can really find something special visually.

Do you have a dream project? Is there any kind of specific makeup design or effects that you'd like to do that you haven't done yet?

FH: I don't think there's anything I haven't done. [laughs] I'm working on "Frankenstein" now and I have to say it's pretty much a dream project, it's exceptionally good — it's got everything, it's got all of the creatures they create throughout the storyline, without me giving too much away about the story, and it's got great actors that look different from anything they've ever done before. That's always a pleasure, trying to find something new for people — it's got Daniel Radcliffe and James McAvoy in it, who have both done a lot of stuff already, so I was trying to find something new for them.

Beyond that, I'm looking forward to doing the follow-up to "World War Z" with Brad.

"World War Z" is available on Blu-ray, DVD, digital download and on demand now.

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