Zombies are created, not born, and the mastermind behind bringing them to all their disturbing glory on Resident Evil: Retribution is special make-up effects designer and supervisor Paul Jones. With over seventy credits to his name, including Nightbreed, Bride of Chucky, Resident Evil: Apocalypse and Silent Hill, the guy certainly knows his creatures! During my visit to the set of Retribution, the effecrs wizard took some time out of his busy schedule to tease moviegoers about the next evolution of the walking dead.
Has this film been more non-stop action than past ones?
For me, yeah. Someone just came to me and was like, "Did you do less zombies than the last one?" "No, actually, we've done more, except we're doing them in clumps of 20 at a time instead of [scenes where we need] 127 at a time." We've been doing a lot more of the same thing, really.
The zombies are a bit more evolved this time, so how has that informed your make-up design?
Well, it's always fun working with Paul because he has very specific ideas, so that makes my job easier, but also harder. I know exactly what I'm building, but I have to build it exactly how he wants. That's always fun. This has been a different kind of deal because the last movie was very stylized and this one is going for more realism. The zombies are on motorcycles and the action dictates what they'll look like because you've zombies doing stuff you normally wouldn't see a zombie do. I'm not even calling them zombies anymore, I'm calling them "infected." When you say zombie, you're talking about someone who has been brought back from the dead. With these Russian zombies, it's not the case. They've been infected, so they've mutated. They've been affected by the T-virus, it's the Las Plagas virus, actually, which is why they're different. So, again, everything is enhanced with them. We still aesthetically made them look dead. We've actually made a couple of them look really dead, but they're actions are almost super-human.
So, it's a scaled-back look?
No, we took it further. I'm a huge fan of Romero's Day of the Dead. I think that make-up looks realistic, but also extremely stylized. I really wanted to do my own version of that. And we raised the aesthetic of it a little bit because they're firing rocket launchers and jumping over trucks, so the way they're going to be seen in this, the make-up has been done accordingly. Their eyes are glowing red, as well.
What are some of the creatures we can expect to see?
Thankfully, the Lickers are all CGI on this, so I built some practical stand-ins. There's [a picture of] a hand floating around the Internet. We built some other pieces to help the CG guys. One of the biggest builds I've had besides the zombies have been the cocoons which are a new invention of Paul's that fit along the game. It helped the story elements. We trapped the little girl in the film and Milla has to rescue her, and so we had to create these cocoons, which are like egg pods. We're not really sure why they're there, but they help move the story along and from an aesthetic point of view, it was really fun. They had to look egg-ish and like a Licker because they come from the Licker, but they're their own entity.
We saw something that looked like a heart with tentacles…
Big claws, yeah. Those are the Licker pods. Some people call them pods, I call them cocoons, and we had to rig that with a whole ripping action so Milla can rip it open and reach in. The girl is trapped inside and, because she knows sign language, she's signing through the cocoon which is a nice story point.
Do you have someone at work right now on the set?
No, not today. We were cyber-scanning some zombies, tomorrow we have to do a biker zombie and then we have to do 70 zombies.
Are you inspired by Tom Savini?
I actually know Tom very well. We almost did a movie together. He came in as a designer. This was like 15 years ago. They hired me to build the stuff, he was the designer and three weeks into the production, the money fell out. He was pissed because he just bought a new car.
Can you talk about the cyber-scanning you're doing?
Yeah, obviously when we have a crowd of zombies, we can't do them all. What they do is huddle a crowd of zombies and shoot them against a green screen. But then you have certain elements like a zombie falling off of a building or crushed by a tank, for instance. I'm not saying that happens in this movie. If you cyber-scan someone as a zombie, it creates this 3D element which the CG guys can then animate. We bring a person in, put them in make-up, costume, everything and they stand there and are captured in three dimensions. Instead of creating a zombie from scratch, you have that element there and you animate it. You can duplicate them as well and give them all separate actions. So, if you have a crowd scene with hundreds of zombies, it's much easier to do this and duplicate them. You can customize each one. A good percentage of our days has been doing the make-up and taking them off to the CG guys so they can get a reference.
Is this the same process as the last film, with the various Alice characters running around?
Exactly, there was a lot of face replacement.
We interviewed Michelle Rodriguez while she was wearing a cyber-scanning suit. What did you have to do on her?
We actually did a make-up for Michelle on this one. I don't want to give it away.
Not quite, not quite. Something to make her look cool.
When she injects the parasite into her bloodstream?
Not quite. I'm not saying anything. But I did get to work with her, which was cool, especially for two of my make-up guys because they're huge fans. They were like, "Why is she here, she died in the first film?" "Yeah, but it's kind of a cool story, bringing back some old faces." The first day she flew in, she needed teeth casting, a face cast and a whole bunch of stuff. I picked the one guy in the shop who is the biggest squid and I said, "You have to go to set today, you need to do some work on an actress." He said, "Okay." He was crapping his pants, but I was in the background grinning. It was great to see Oded [Fehr] again too. , it's a nice reunion.
Are you doing anything here that is tantamount to the Nemesis in part two, with a guy in a suit?
Unfortunately, no. I've been giving Paul a lot of shit about it, because I did the Axe Man and the dogs on the last one. There was a lot of variation. This has been a simple show, but a harder show in terms of constant flow from us. There are three different types of zombies, the newly created human undead, the Russians Las Plagas, plus we have a scene in Tokyo, and we have a different look for those guys, too. So, we've been jumping back and forth. I told Paul, with the next film, he has to write a big creature for me. With the cocoons, he's been happy, so next time, do a creature suit.