It’s that time of the year when everyone becomes an amateur makeup artist, but for KNB EFX co-founder Howard Berger it’s Halloween all year round.
Berger and Greg Nicotero (you might recognize his credits as a special-effects supervisor, director and executive producer on “The Walking Dead”) teamed up in 1988 with Bob Kurtzman to form KNB, a special-effects studio. The behind-the-scenes go-to guys for makeup and visual effects, you may not recognize them in person -- but you’ll certainly recognize their work. From “Kill Bill” to “Hitchcock,” KNB has worked on hundreds of films. After winning an Academy Award for “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” in 2005, KNB is now making headlines for its terrifyingly terrific work on AMC’s hit series, “The Walking Dead.”
With the Epix premiere of a documentary on KNB set to be shown on Oct. 30 and “The Walking Dead” returning for its fourth season this Sunday, Berger took the time to talk to the International Business Times about KNB’s work in the entertainment industry.
“This is the first documentary done on KNB,” Berger said of “Nightmare Factory.” ”I don’t think there has ever been a really successful documentary like this that has been done on the world of special makeup … which is of course what we do for a living.”
While the 90-minute film is about the award-winning special-effects house, Berger likes the film for its personal aspect.
“You know we’ve seen a bunch of behind-the-scenes stuff where you know, this is how we do a zombie or this is how we make a witch, this is how we make a head explode,” he dished. “But I like the fact that the filmmakers kind of dove into our personal lives and showed that we’re more than that. It’s a passion. It’s not about fame or money. It’s about hard work, diligence and being committed to having a lot of fun.”
Working in the industry since he was 18, Berger has had the opportunity to team with many famed directors and get his hands dirty on some interesting projects. Since KNB is a giant special-effects machine, it is never working on just one project. For instance, it currently has it work cut out for it doing four projects -- one of them being Nicotero’s “baby,” “The Walking Dead.”
“I think Greg has amazing ideas,” Berger said of his KNB co-founder’s work on the AMC series. “There’s zombie gags that we’ve always wanted to do but never had the opportunity, and AMC allows us to run with it. I don’t think there has ever been a point where it’s been too much. Like, ‘Oh, that’s horrible, we can’t show that.’ But I’m always shocked about the stuff that’s coming out of the shop for ‘The Walking Dead.’”
Laughing, Berger added: “I see it in the final episode and I’m like, ‘Oh man, how did we get away with that?’ It’s so hideously horrible. It’s great, I love it, and again I think that’s why people love it. The show stands on its own -- its writing, directing and actors are so spectacular, and the zombies are the frosting on the cake. I think it works as a whole. You get invested in the characters, and obviously no one is ever really safe.”
With season four of “The Walking Dead” set to be shown this Sunday, we tried to get Berger to divulge some of the creatures that might jeopardize the safety of Rick’s group -- but he was tight-lipped. “I just saw the season opener,” he did reveal, using the words “utterly disgusting” to describe it.
The season premiere was directed by Nicotero, and, according to Berger, his shop’s co-founder “really raised the bar on the look of the zombies -- and things are changing.”
He continued: “There’s not ever going to be the same old zombies. It just goes beyond what I ever imagined it would be. They let Greg go with it -- people are going to get super grouped out this year.”
Citing his favorite “Walking Dead” zombies as the “Bicycle Girl” in season one and the “Well Zombie” in season two, Berger told us that one of the reasons why KNB works so well is because he and Nicotero have different passions.
While Nicotero is “king of the zombies,” Berger prefers to work on fantasy and character makeup. “I’m OK not getting blood all over me,” he said, laughing again. “When we did ‘Hitchcock,’ I got to do this really great portrait makeup on Anthony Hopkins and transform him into Alfred Hitchcock. Things like that really interest me.”
Currently the special-effects artist is working on “Dolphin Tale 2,” the sequel to the “Dolphin Tale” film his shop worked on in 2011. For the new movie, Berger will be working with his KNB team to create mechanical dolphins, sea turtles and other sea life -- something that is a little unusual for him.
“We’re reinventing the wheel because there’s so many specifics about dolphins and the quality of their skin. Trying to find the best solution has been very, very difficult,” he said of the work they put into the project. “We didn’t hit a home run on the first movie skin, but this time it looks just like dolphin skin. It’s pretty spectacular, but it took a lot of research and development.”
For Berger, KNB’s work is more than just makeup and special effects. “We’re inventors,” he told the IBTimes. “We’re always stepping outside the box. Greg and I are always pushing the envelope and want to figure out new ways, things that people have never done before.”
The documentary on KNB EFX, “Nightmare Factory,” premieres on Epix Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. EDT. And you can catch KNB’s work when season four of “The Walking Dead” premieres on AMC this Sunday at 9 p.m. EDT.
Amanda Remling studied journalism at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, NJ.
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