How 'Army of the Dead' Brought That Terrifying Zombie Tiger to Life

Look closely for Valentine the tiger's adorable heart-shaped nose.


Zack Snyder’s new zombie apocalypse heist movie Army of the Dead remixes movie genres, filmmaking techniques, and even different types of Hollywood zombies to create its blood-fueled world, and the combined spectacle is really something to behold. With a shallow depth of field achieved by using decades-old Dream Lenses that artfully blur out the background and a thirst for as much gore and guts as you can fit into two hours and 20 minutes, Army of the Dead is a visual spectacle achieved by combining practical effects with digital splatter. 

The movie made headlines already for more or less seamlessly replacing Chris D’Elia with Tig Notaro, a process that involved mapping out landmarks and anchor points that had already been shot once before, creating a completely digital body double, and re-shooting Notaro’s scenes on the same sets with multiple different camera lenses. Aside from Notaro’s appearances, a lot more work went into refining the look and the vibe of the rest of the movie, and visual effects supervisor Marcus Taormina, who has also worked on the effects of movies like Bird Box and Fast & Furious 6, spoke to Thrillist about fashioning a zombie tiger from scratch (with an assist from one of Carole Baskin’s big cats), the one scene that even Zack Snyder told him to rein in a little bit (it involves a blood-soaked buzzsaw), and making digital blood look real (lots of oatmeal, apparently).

Thrillist: Zombie movies and movies of that sort tend to have a lot of practical effects done already when they shoot. What is it like doing visual effects for something like this? 
Marcus Taormina: When I was brought onto the project, Zack and I had a lot of conversations, and one thing that is important to him is Filmmaking 101 scenarios. It’s not overly complicated. The simple things work, and the trickery works. So we knew that a lot of it was going to be practical effects from a makeup standpoint, and from a zombie standpoint, but then obviously we had some big questions and big things to solve in the visual effects realm. 

We actually shot a huge extensive library with the support of our special effects team of blood spurts and squirts and they got really fun with it, where it was like, “Yeah, you know what, that blood, it’s too thin.” And then we started to put the coffee grounds in there and oatmeal and really experiment with the texture and look of that blood. 

I think one little tidbit that’s interesting is the way that Zack filmed it with a super shallow depth of field and these vintage lenses from the ’60s was a blessing and a curse for visual effects. It was really great in a lot of ways, because we could kind of use trickery in some of our backgrounds where we didn’t have to render a full digital background, for instance. But it also presented a ton of issues because that was such a unique look, that we had to solve how we were going to match the practical look into our digital background.

I don’t remember why I learned this, or in what context, but I recently learned about digital blood spatter on people’s faces in movies, that a lot of the time the blood isn’t really there. Because then you have to worry about if we’re going to do multiple takes of this, then we have to wipe it all off and do it all over again.
Exactly. You saw the movie now, you know what I mean. That’s a massive cleanup. That’s like a fire hose and spraying all that down. But I will say there were elements-like the gore saw, for instance, in the montage when Vanderohe was whipping that thing around-we approached that practically. We went to the special effects supervisor, and we were like, “We’ve got to figure out a way to do this.” At the core, it was really simple. We got a saw, it was a safe spinning blade like a foam blade. And we piped a bunch of blood through a green tube and had it feed out there. And then when we got into post, we kind of discovered the over-the-top zaniness of the gore.

When Cruz takes the .50 caliber to the zombies, that’s a combination of practical effects where the special effects team rakes these foam core dummies. We had the zombies jump up, we locked the camera we had, and we put our foam core pieces of them in there. And we ran this outrageous practical effect where these bodies just blew apart in explosions of blood. And then what we did is we melted the zombie jump to meld into the practical foam cores and we added some motion to it so it felt alive. And then we just continue to pile on the gore, pile on the gore, pile on the gore. And that shot is just outrageous. It’s the only shot where Zack told us to back off. There’s a Snyder version of that, a “Snyder Cut,” if you will, where that was the one time where we went too much.

Zack Snyder himself was like, “All right, cool it.”
[Laughs] Yeah.

Clay Enos/Netflix
Clay Enos/Netflix
Clay Enos/Netflix

The tiger, Valentine, is honestly one of my favorite characters in the whole thing. What did you first think when you heard you’re going to be making like a zombie tiger for this?
Oh, I was super pumped. I think it was the second week where [Zack] actually had an artist do some early pencil sketch concept of Valentine, which is I think circulating somewhere. But it’s great because it’s literally like, it’s almost a one-to-one with the face. There were very specific pieces of Valentine that he wanted to keep. If you look closely, what’s nice is that the nostril cavity in there actually has a heart shape to it. And that was something we keyed into early on and kind of kept that as like, “It’s Valentine!”

We had a lot of discussions about the character itself. You could just go make a beastly tiger, but no, it doesn’t really make sense because Valentine has been in Vegas for five years, and food is scarce there now, but we want her to feel menacing, so she has to have some muscle mass to her. She’s also probably lying on dirty ground the whole time, so we want to make sure her groom has a nice matting to it and feels like it’s been grimy and sitting on dirty, dusty Las Vegas Boulevard. 

We had a great stunt team and one of them, who goes by the name of Spider, we ended up putting in the tiger role for eyeline but also for interaction, like when Valentine jumps on the car or when someone gets mauled. The great thing about Spider is he literally wanted to be the tiger. In his mind, he became the tiger. He really kind of lived in the character, which was great, because it brought that next level of interaction. 

When I actually did scout out Vegas, I went to Siegfried and Roy’s, and their tigers, you know, they’re older tigers, they’ve been through the gamut. So they were a little more frail. And we’re like, OK, that’s not gonna work. They move slow. I don’t want them to be doing anything that they shouldn’t. So again, we started to make a lot of phone calls and asked around, and we actually nailed down a place in Tampa, Florida. We looked through and we found one, Sapphire, who, sadly, I just learned, is no longer with us. But she was great. We flew down there, and we basically recorded Sapphire in her habitat through lunch time. She was fed, I think they were small game hens, and we recorded how she interacted and how she would jump and all that was great footage for our animation team. We’d have moments where I’m jumping around in the room. It really helps because it’s a conversation, but there’s only so much you can converse about without actually showing the action. So even at some times, I had to become the tiger.

Visual effects work in something like this, as you said, is often about trickery and what the audience doesn’t notice. Is it fun then to get to do these big CGI characters once in a while and just really go for it?
Absolutely. I mean, I laugh every time I talk about it because I’m like, in a very serious tone and sitting there telling them, “We need a photorealistic CG zombie tiger.” What am I talking about? It’s a zombie tiger! There is no photorealistic zombie tiger!

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Emma Stefansky is a staff entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @stefabsky.


Where to Celebrate Lunar New Year 2023 in Australia

And what it means to be in the year of the Rabbit.

where to celebrate lunar new year australia

Starting with the new moon on Sunday, January 22, this Lunar New Year ushers in the year of the Rabbit. We’ve put together a guide on celebrating the Lunar New Year in Australia.

What is special about the year of the Rabbit?

As you might know, each year has an animal sign in the Chinese Zodiac, which is based on the moon and has a 12-year cycle. This year, we celebrate the year of the rabbit, known to be the luckiest out of all twelve animals. It symbolises mercy, elegance, and beauty.

What celebrations are taking place and how can I get involved?

There are plenty of festivals happening all around the country which you can get involved with. Here they are per state.

New South Wales

Darling Harbour Fireworks
When: Every year, Sydney puts on a fireworks show, and this year, you can catch it on January 28 and February 4 at 9 pm in Darling Harbour.

Dragon Boat Races
When: Witness three days of dragon boat races and entertainment on Cockle Bay to usher in the Lunar New Year. The races will commence on January 27 and finish on January 29.

Lion Dances
When: Catch a traditional Lion Dance moving to the beat of a vigorous drum bringing good luck and fortune for the Lunar New Year. The dance performances will happen across Darling Harbour on Saturday, January 21, Sunday, January 22, and Sunday, February 4 and 5, around 6 pm and 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at Cirrus Dining
When: Barangaroo’s waterfront seafood restaurant, Cirrus, is celebrating the Year of the Rabbit with a special feast menu. Cirrus’ LNY menu is $128pp with optional wine pairing and is available from Saturday, January 21, to Sunday, February 5.

Auntie Philter
When: Hello Auntie’s owner and executive chef, Cuong Nguyen will be dishing out some of the most classic Vietnamese street foods with his mum, Linda. All of Philter’s favourites will be on offer, as well as Raspberry Pash Beer Slushies and other cocktails being served at the Philter Brewing rooftop bar on Sunday, January 22 and Sunday, January 29.


Lunar New Year Festival
When: Ring in the Lunar New Year with food, music, arts, and more on Sunday, January 22, from 10 am to 9 pm.

Lunar New Year at the National Gallery of Victoria
When: Celebrate the year of the rabbit at the National Gallery of Victoria’s festival of art, food, and art-making activities for everyone from 10 am-5 pm.


BriAsia Festival
When: From February 1-19, Brisbane will come alive with performances, including lion dances and martial arts displays. There will be street food, workshops, comedy and more.

South Australia

Chinatown Adelaide Street Party
When: Adelaide is set to hose a fun-filled day celebrating the Chinese New Year on Saturday, January 28, from 12 pm to 9 pm.

Western Australia

Crown Perth
When: Across January and February, Crown Perth hosts free live entertainment, including colourful lion dances, roving mascots, and drumming performances. The restaurants will also throw banquets and menus dedicated to the Lunar New Year.

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