Over the years, Hollywood has used a number of ways to visually depict the undead on the silver screen. Of course, creating the look of someone who is rotting obviously has to be a special effect. The three methods used are actors and actresses in makeup, computer generated 3-D animation, or the use of puppetry. Sometimes you’ll see a combination of all of the above.
The cinema zombies you see most often are people in makeup. It’s the easiest to do. The pro is that you have actual people portraying actual people, so to a degree, there is a sense of realism. The con is that you’re limited to trick makeup, which can give the illusion of boney cheekbones and sunken eye sockets, but you can’t exactly make it look like someone’s jaw fell off. Not convincingly, anyway.
You see more CGI these days. While the sky is the limit in terms of the director’s imagination, current digital animation has its ups and downs, too. On the positive, you can decay your zombies to the point where they are borderline skeletal. Limbs can come and go, no problem. On the negative, CGI often looks too perfect. As a result, people can tell it’s fake, and what good is that?
What you don’t see as often is the use of puppetry. While this has limitations, it’s often a nice middle-ground between live action and CGI. Puppetry is not living and breathing, but what you see on screen is real form with the same light and shadow as everything else. Sam Raimi uses it effectively at times. One of the coolest undead puppets I recall in recent years was in the movie HELLBOY, where the lead carried around half of a reanimated corpse on his back.
Which one is most convincing?
To each his own, but my vote goes to puppetry. You haven’t seen as much of it, but I’d love to see more hands-on craftsmanship that goes into creating the living dead in films. Traditional slight-of-hand still holds up better than CGI, in my humble opinion, though isn’t as cheap.
And it takes more time.
But don’t you want filmmakers to put more time and care into creating movies you’re spending your hard-earned dollars on?