"The Walking Dead" is quickly establishing itself as one of the most popular original television series to premiere this year, but just as with any other program, the recipe for success requires more than just the right people in front of the camera and behind it. It also requires the right type of preparation from its cast and creative team.
Case in point: The "zombie school" created by makeup effects supervisor Greg Nicotero to train "The Walking Dead" actors in the finer points of becoming a shambling, flesh-hungry corpse.
"One thing I learned from George Romero years ago was, if you ever demonstrate something to a group of people, all 50 people will do the exact same thing," Nicotero told MTV News of the theory behind his three-day "zombie school" seminar.
"We were very specific about not demonstrating zombie walks to them, but we lined up groups of 20 and said, 'Let's see what your zombie walk looks like,'" he added. "They would shamble across the room, and we would say, 'Okay, that looks pretty good — but try this or try that [next time]."
Nicotero said he also assembled a clip reel to showcase exemplary zombie performances in films past, collected from some of his favorite zombie movies.
"I cut together a littler reel that had clips from the original 'Night Of The Living Dead,' it had clips from 'Dawn Of The Dead,' it had clips from 'Shaun Of The Dead,'" revealed Nicotero. "There's a great scene [in 'Shaun of the Dead'] where Simon [Pegg] and Nick [Frost] are pretending to be zombies, walking through a crowd of zombies. Frank [Darabont] thought it was a stroke of genius to put that clip in there. 'Shaun Of The Dead' is a great zombie movie — it just happens to be very funny."
However, the noted effects guru said zombie school had less to do with training actors how to walk like zombies, but rather how not to act if you're playing a zombie.
"It's not really rocket science to be trained how to walk like a zombie," he explained. "But you also have a lot of people who work at Halloween events or in October they do a lot of haunted attractions. With that kind of stuff, their movements are pretty over the top, because it's very exaggerated. So you have to tone them down a little bit."
As Nicotero explains it, the ability to creep you out on command is one of many skills shared by graduates of the "Walking Dead" zombie school.
"We've had some great performers," he said of the series' zombie extras. "They bring the makeups to life."
"It's always interesting when you see someone who has a really great zombie walk, and then we put the contact lenses in and the dentures, and get that final look, and then you kind of go, 'Wow. It doesn't like a person any more,'" laughed Nicotero. "It looks kind of creepy."
"The Walking Dead" airs Sundays at 10 PM Eastern on AMC.