Anthony van Winkle (left) applies makeup onto Justin Hammond's (right) arm in order to make scars more realistic as Katrina Hamilton looks on.
As Forest Gibson (bottom left) shoots a scene for Night Zero, Anthony van Winkle (left) directs Katrina Hamilton (right) as Justin Hammond looks on.
Behind the scenes, Justin Hammond (left) and Anthony van Winkle control the reflectors. Since the graphic novel has a small crew, many of the actors help with lighting and odd jobs.
Co-creators Forest Gibson (left) and Anthony van Winkle examine the scenes shot for their graphic novel, Night Zero. Gibson is also the director of photography and Winkle is one of the main characters in the novel.
It’s the day when every horror movie cliché comes to life in a splatter of blood: the apocalypse.
A rare virus spreads across the globe and begins to destroy human civilization. The living dead roam the Earth. It’s the day your sister-turned-zombie tries to eat you. It’s the day millions of romantic moments end with premature decapitation. And it’s the day each survivor magically discovers a machete in his or her garage.
People begin quipping funny lines like “stay off my property” after slugging neighborhood zombies with baseball bats. Television screens turn fuzzy only seconds before viewers are about to be eaten. Mass migrations of birds preempt mass murder scenes. And George W. Bush is the president of the world — just kidding.
This is the post-apocalyptic setting for Night Zero, a series of photographic comic books and the nightmare brainchild of junior Forest Gibson and UW alumnus Anthony van Winkle.
Though production of the series’ first episode won’t finish for several months, the two creators say the process itself has been its own reward.
“I’ve been working on this project since … night zero,” joked Gibson at the producers’ informational meeting earlier this month. “We’ve been learning more with every picture we take. Every one looks better than the last. Even shooting at 8 a.m. in the rain and cold — though difficult — turned out to be fun.”
The idea for the story came from van Winkle, 23, a local actor and player for Jet City Improv who graduated from the UW with a degree in Germanics.
“I tried to make a comic book a few years ago — but I found that I was wholly unable to draw,” van Winkle said. “The ideas were fully formed in my head. But that’s when Mr. Gibson and I started combining different ideas.”
With Gibson, 21, a cinema studies major and avid photographer, van Winkle found the visual expert he needed to put his ideas of Seattle — post-apocalypse — on paper. The idea for Night Zero was born.
But the process of putting together a neo-noir-style graphic novel with photography hasn’t been easy, Gibson said.
“We’re using HDR [High Dynamic Range] photography,” Gibson said. “It means that you have to take three different exposures for each shot to get the desired effect. And for action shots — like when people are getting punched or falling down — it’s difficult.”
With HDR photos, each frame in Night Zero will be focused for several levels of depth, leading to a “flat” picture quality similar to painting or drawing. This is something that Gibson hopes will give the project the look of a hyper-realized comic book.
And just like other comic books, the story will play host to over-the-top caricatures and classic struggles between the good, the bad and the zombies, he said.
“It’s fundamentally a comic book, but it also comes from classic film noir,” van Winkle said. “There are no good guys. There are bad guys. And then there are really bad guys. In the post-apocalyptic world, you can’t be sure.”
Something that is certain, however, in the world of van Winkle’s post-apocalyptic Seattle, is that alcoholics have it best. In Night Zero, the only weaponless defense against zombie attacks is booze. If characters drink up, they’re less likely to be infected by the zombies’ scratches and bites. But the reasoning behind the drink-fed violence wasn’t for fight scenes filled with drunken boxing.
“We found a need to have an escape for the characters,” van Winkle said. “Most zombie movies have lots of main characters that get killed off. By the end, there’s either one man left standing or everyone’s dead. We had to make sure that our [characters] stayed alive so that the story could keep going.
“Plus it adds politics to the story. Alcohol, which is controlled by the mob, becomes a valuable resource and a major commodity. It added depth.”
Taking the story even deeper won’t be a problem, van Winkle said, as the graphic novel will primarily focus on character development.
“I guess it’s like Sin City in the sense that it’s got lots of different main characters,” he said. “It’s less about zombies and more about people. The zombies are there to create the environment. But the story is about the characters, their relationships and the politics involved.”
While van Winkle will portray John Bishop, a skull hunter who protects the people of the U-District, most other characters’ roles have yet to be determined.
Still, several students have already signed onto the project with earnest.
“Just being on the set is incredibly fun,” said Katrina Hamilton, a senior majoring in drama and dance. “This project is about a journey to professionalism — only there’s no fear of being fired.”
Gibson expects the finished pilot episode of Night Zero to be ready in a month, while the first episode could “potentially be finished before the end of the school year.”
Both van Winkle and Gibson said they are still looking for production assistants, actors and other people to help with the project.
“It’s not as much about the product right now, but the process,” Gibson said. “It’s about getting people involved and collaborating with a group of artists and doing something really fun.”
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