UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. (AP) — It’s all hands on deck at Universal Studios Hollywood.
Behind double doors with the phrases “DON’T OPEN” and “DEAD INSIDE” scrawled across them in black paint, a team of workers is carefully positioning 12 creepy robotic hands as nearby crew members paint animatronic zombie heads and construct a hospital waiting room.
After a few minutes, the mechanical paws are ominously — and repeatedly — reaching through the crack between the doors. The iconic image is the first that will greet visitors when they enter the theme park’s new attraction based on the zombie apocalypse drama “The Walking Dead.”
“We knew that everyone was going to want to take a selfie with this, given modern sensibilities, so we moved it at the last minute out into what’s actually considered the queue,” said Universal creative director John Murdy during a recent tour of the still-under-construction walk-through attraction.
After utilizing mostly wood and cloth for the past four years to build temporary mazes based on the AMC series for the theme park’s annual Halloween Horror Nights event, Murdy and his team are using steel and concrete for a permanent “Walking Dead”-themed labyrinth.
“It’s unusual for a theme park to have an attraction based on a franchise as intense as ‘The Walking Dead,'” said Murdy. “I think what’s different is that ‘The Walking Dead’ transcends the narrow confines of horror and is a pop-culture icon watched by millions of people, beyond horror fans.”
Unlike past Halloween Horror Nights mazes, which mostly centered on scenes and characters from recent “Walking Dead” installments, the year-round attraction will take visitors through the previous six seasons.
“The Walking Dead” experience, scheduled to open July 4, will also recreate show locales such as the gloomy West Georgia Correctional Facility depicted in the third and fourth seasons and the freaky cannibal community Terminus glimpsed in the fourth and fifth seasons.
The attraction will feature a mix of animatronics and actors portraying various “walkers” — the series’ preferred moniker for the undead — featured throughout the series. The team from Universal is working closely with “Walking Dead” effects studio KNB EFX Group to bring them to, well, life.
“It’s the exact opposite of what we do on the show,” said “Walking Dead” executive producer and special effects guru Greg Nicotero (pictured). “When you’re working on a movie or a television show, you’re capturing a special effect on camera, so the choreography involved is very different.”
Nicotero noted that the attraction’s gruesomeness must be visible to all visitors, as well as durable enough for daily use. His tricks include adding magnets and zippers to zombie skins to make them more easily replaceable and crafting sturdier prosthetics from makeup molds created for the show.
The addition of “The Walking Dead” attraction is the latest in series of developments at Universal Studios Hollywood, including the expansion of “The Simpsons” ride area with Springfield-themed shops and eateries and the introduction of a West Coast version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Would it be too far-fetched for the park to add a zombie-laden land?
“I don’t see why we couldn’t have Terminus barbecue right next to this,” joked Nicotero. “I think, just like with Harry Potter, the world of ‘The Walking Dead’ has great opportunities to grow and expand. As we move past season six and into season seven, the world is opening up for us.”
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