Fans watching TV’s “The Walking Dead” are definitely aware of Michonne, a character shrouded in mystery. Many characteristics contribute to Michonne’s persona and a large part of that identity is tied to props created by Mark Grzybowski of Slinger.
He created the blade Michonne’s character uses on the show. He was responsible for every detail of the weapon, from the feel and shine of the blade to the look of the sheath that covers it.
“The propmaster called and left a voicemail message, saying there is a new character that needed a sword,” Grzybowski said.
He was asked to make four swords. They provided the design and he had to make them in one month.
“It was really cool seeing my sword on television,” Grzybowski said. “I didn’t have cable at the time so I was driving back and forth to my parents’ house.” For Grzybowski, the opportunity was an amalgamation of past experience, passion and an abiding faith he could make a living from his talents. His interest in weaponry began when he was 10. He grew up watching movies like “Conan the Barbarian” and “Beastmaster,” which piqued his interest in swords.
“I have a brother and we were raised without guns,” Grzybowski said. “Swords were the only weapons we could pretend to play with. I think that was the early ‘80s.” The interest petered out for a few years as he was growing up, and he was less interested with the object and more attracted to the creative process. He enjoyed the creativity and appreciated designing the finer details of the weapon.
He went to the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and went through several majors before settling on the arts, where he found his passion. He began in the technical areas, engineering and computer science. He then went to Spanish, but eventually found art.
“The program was interesting,” Grzybowski said. “A student can major in art, but have an emphasis in different mediums. There is sculpture, ceramics and everything else.” His interest became metalsmithing. He learned to mold and shape a variety of metals, both by machine and by hand. There was a class where he learned how to cut sheets of metal.
“I didn’t know what I was going to do with the major,” Grzybowski said. “It was something I just wanted to do.” He graduated in 1999 and took a few jobs in retail, but it was not a good fit.
“I was going crazy and needed to create things again, so I worked at a higher-end woodworking store,” Grzybowski said. “I applied and got a retail job there. It turns out some of people from the sword place I eventually worked at got their supplies from where I worked. One of my coworkers got their information.” Grzybowski was given a chance.
“Basically I worked for Jody Samson,” Grzybowski said. “Whatever he wanted me to do, I would do. I cleaned the shop. A lot of it was preparing materials for him. He had free rein with his part of the company, so he could make whatever swords he wanted. He would draw the designs on bars of metal and I would have to cut out the profile of the blades, and eventually fitting guards on the sword.” In exchange, he learned from Samsons expertise. Practically, he learned a hollow grinding technique that is aesthetically pleasing. He then found a job in Indiana, working for a swordsmith there on a project for Nintendo and learned how to make swords designed in the Far East, before his family started his own business.
“My family had a meeting and they wanted to start a business,” Grzybowski said. “The deal was that I could work in the shop and they would handle everything else.” He made many types of swords for customers, mainly historical pieces ordered on the Internet. He worked with the company for a few years before it closed down and he transferred out of the business.
But he built a reputation for himself in the industry, and that is why representatives from “The Walking Dead” contacted him in 2013 for a sword.
The rest is history.
“The coolest part is there is an action figure with the sword,” Grzybowski said. “She has had four different figures. I bought them and gave them to everybody.”
An AP member exchange story.
Authorities said on a zombie apocalypse had not occurred in central Wisconsin despite the discovery of an empty casket along a rural highway earlier this month.
A driver alerted authorities after spotting a casket on the side of a road in the city of Friendship, about 80 miles north of Madison, the Adams County Sheriff’s Office said.
Later, an unidentified man came forward to claim the casket, telling authorities that it fell out of a boat he was pulling with his truck, according to a sheriff’s office Facebook post.
“There was no sign that it was ever used for a burial,” Adams County Deputy Joe LeBreck said. “We had no concerns that we had a grave robbery or a zombie apocalypse here.”
Police were searching Monday for a man who opened fire at a Florida weekend event celebrating zombie pop culture, killing one person, injuring six others and sending thousands of attendees scrambling for cover, according to a police spokesman.
“We’ve gotten numerous tips,” Fort Myers police chief, Dennis Eads told a press conference. “We have several leads that we are following right now … I’m very confident we’ll find out who did this.”
The suspect was described by police as a male in his late teens or early20s, dressed in a black T-shirt and a flat-billed black and red baseball cap, police said.
The suspect was seen firing a black semi-automatic handgun before fleeing the scene, police said.
Revelers were out late Saturday evening for the annual Zombicon community fundraising event when gun shots rang out as costumed festivity goers ran through the streets of downtown Fort Myers, creating confusion over who was hurt due to zombie props, fake blood and wounds.
Fort Myers Police Department identified the dead victim as Expavious Tyrell Taylor, 20, of Okeechobee, Florida. Taylor was described by friends in local media as an avid football player who was a student in the Miami area.
All six wounded persons suffered non-life threatening injuries, according to Lieutenant Victor Medico with Fort Myers police.
In the event of a zombie outbreak, don’t muddle around watching Atlanta burn or New York City fall. Run for the Rockies.
A team of students at Cornell University created a model for how a zombie outbreak might develop in the United States. The modeling shows the safest places to safeguard the human brain are remote locations, especially the Northern Rockies.
The research team presented its work modeling the statistical mechanics of zombies on March 5 at a meeting in San Antonio, Texas.
“Modeling zombies takes you through a lot of the techniques used to model real diseases, albeit in a fun context,” said Alexander Alemi, a graduate student at the New York state university.
Alemi, Matthew Bierbaum, Christopher R. Myers and James P. Sethna conducted the research, which involved a full-scale simulation of an outbreak in the United States and an analysis. They summed up their findings in an abstract published in the Bulletin of the American Physical Society: We “discover that for the realistic parameters, we are largely doomed.”
But doomsday doesn’t come as quickly as many “living dead” films and graphic novels suggest. In the Cornell research, cities would fall quickly, but the outbreak would take weeks to penetrate into less densely populated areas and months to reach the Northern Mountain time zone.
“Once the zombies invade more sparsely populated areas, the whole outbreak slows down — there are fewer humans to bite, so you start creating zombies at a slower rate,” said Alemi. “I’d love to see a fictional account where most of New York City falls in a day, but upstate New York has a month or so to prepare.”
To reach their determination, the researchers made a lot of computations, employing models that address complex interactions between people and groups and then large-scale simulations of the progress of the disease outbreak.
“Each possible interaction — zombie bites human, human kills zombie, zombie moves — is treated like a radioactive decay, with a half-life that depends on some parameters,” Alemi said. “And we tried to simulate the times it would take for all of these different interactions to fire, where complications arise because when one thing happens it can affect the rates at which all of the other things happen.”
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It’s 5 p.m. on an October Saturday, and Michelle Soltis is waiting patiently for a gaggle of actors to come rushing in. Once that happens, things start to get really ugly.
Soltis and Dawn Marie Svanoe, partners in the Madison-based special effects makeup firm Glitter to Gore LLC, will have just two hours to turn 50-plus amateurs, professionals and just plain hangers-on into clowns, zombies and assorted dead and dismembered people for the evening’s performance at Screamin’ Acres, a seasonal haunted house attraction at Eugster’s Farm Market just west of Stoughton.
“We tell them 5 o’clock in order to get them made up in time for the 7 o’clock opening,” says Soltis, who with Svanoe has been creating beauty and horror with makeup since 2006. “But, well, they’re actors.”
To fill the time she begins a transformation process on husband Sid Soltis, whose burly frame, shaved head and foot-long black goatee make him the perfect choice for the character of Psycho the Clown. A set of contact lenses with alternating black-and-white circles begins the process in a startling way.
Sid smiles: “Just wait. It gets even better.”
Or, if you will, more horrible.
Soltis and Svanoe weren’t always professional makeup artists. Each came to find their passion via different routes.
Svanoe, a native of Loganville, moved to Madison in 1996 and got a job at Clownin’ Around, a former costume rental store in Middleton. She began doing freelance makeup on the side to augment her costuming experience.
Her assignments involved local theater work, including creating the makeup for Z-Town: The Zombie Musical, a locally developed stage production that has since moved on to productions elsewhere in the country.
One of Svanoe’s specialties is full-body painting, an art form not seen frequently in the colder northern climates, she says. It was a logical evolution of her face-painting background and is popular among models who want to showcase different looks in their portfolios.
“I wanted to work with a bigger canvas, which meant the whole body,” says Svanhoe, who planned to spend the Monday following her Screamin’ Acres assignment painting a model who came to Madison specifically to employ her services.
Soltis, who hails from Mishicot, started out studying aerospace engineering on an Air Force scholarship while doing modeling and makeup on the side. Eventually armed with an MBA from the University of Phoenix, she was overseeing the engineering standards database for Kraft Foods in Madison until 2008, when she was laid off during the recession.
“I always wanted to own my own business and figured that it was time get serious about makeup,” says Soltis. “We’re never going to get rich doing this, but we’re having an awful lot of fun.”
Like Svanoe, Soltis does face and body paining, and the pair also do bridal and runway model makeup, airbrush and glitter tattoos, and other related services. Soltis also is one of only two Wisconsin artists with an international certification in artistically applying henna, a type of organic dye used to create temporary body art, popular in India.
But Glitter to Gore’s accomplishments have become more than the sum of its parts. They are Madison’s only body art specialists and have Wisconsin’s, if not the Midwest’s, widest range of makeup services, including online sales at glittertogore.com.
Their work involves more than making actors look spooky. This summer, they were contracted to provide makeup for a mass casualty simulation drill at Dane County Regional Airport, training federal authorities including FBI and NSA officers how to deal with a crisis situation.
On this night, however, Svanoe and Soltis were concerned with the undead and the other denizens of Screamin’ Acres — including Svanoe herself, who planned on joining the artists for the night.
“Stop by later,” she says. “I’d love to scare you.”
The idea for Screamin’ Acres, a horror complex on a family farm, was hatched three years ago by Jacob Eugster, just 14 years old at the time. Since then, Eugster’s haunted house has grown to a three-facility complex that this year raised $5,000 for Madison’s Henry Vilas Zoo and is attracting record crowds.
“We had 850 people through here last night,” says Michelle Soltis, whose firm has become a Screamin’ Acres sponsor. “That’s a really big crowd for us.”
For $20, or $30 for a line-hopper fast pass, visitors wind their way through three distinct environments, as well as a “haunted cornfield” with no end of surprises.
Each environment comes with a backstory. The Slaughterhouse offers the story of a possessed butcher who takes his frustration out on those around him, complete with the sights — and smells — of his carnage. The Last Resort contains the remnants of the country home of a doctor imprisoned for his experimentation on human beings, with examples still haunting the corridors.
The attraction’s most interesting building may be Side Effects, a unique 3D experience where, thanks to black lights and 3D glasses, the images jump off the walls and (thanks to special makeup) the actors as well.
Screamin’ Acres is open 7-11 p.m. each Friday and Saturday in October, including Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. For details and directions, visit screaminacres.com.
Heard about the Estate of George Romero v. Ashley Williams? The Zombiepocalypse trial begins May 8 in Madison.
The three-day mock trial is part of the National Mock Trial Championship being held at the Dane County Courthouse on Hamilton Street and the state Capitol on Main Street.
About 1,000 people — students, coaches, volunteer attorneys and judges — will be gathering for the event, the culmination of months of work by high school students.
The case involves this fictional scenario: The owner of an energy drink business winds up dead after an evening with friends at a zombie run. The man’s business partner is found not guilty in a criminal court, but the dead man’s estate pursues a civil claim against the partner.
In addition to the trial, students will participate in a zombie-themed costume contest.
Zombies seem to be everywhere these days.
In the popular TV series “The Walking Dead,” humans struggle to escape from a pack of zombies hungry for flesh. Prank alerts have warned of a zombie apocalypse on radio stations in a handful of states. And across the country, zombie wannabes in tattered clothes occasionally fill local parks, gurgling moans of the undead.
Are these just unhealthy obsessions with death and decay?
To Clemson University professor Sarah Lauro, the phenomenon isn’t harmful or a random fad, but part of a historical trend that mirrors a level of cultural dissatisfaction and economic upheaval.
Lauro, who teaches English at Clemson, studied zombies while working on her doctoral degree at the University of California-Davis. Lauro said she keeps track of zombie movies, TV shows and video games, but her research focuses primarily on the concept of the “zombie walk,” a mass gathering of people who, dressed in the clothes and makeup of the undead, stagger about and dance.
It’s a fascination that, for Lauro, a self-described “chicken,” seems unnatural. Disinterested in violent movies or games, Lauro said she finds herself now taking part in both in an attempt to further understand what makes zombie-lovers tick.
“I hate violence,” she said. “I can’t stand gore. So it’s a labor, but I do it.”
The zombie mob originated in 2003 in Toronto, Lauro said, and popularity escalated dramatically in the United States in 2005, alongside a rise in dissatisfaction with the war in Iraq.
“It was a way that the population was getting to exercise the fact that they felt like they hadn’t been listened to by the Bush administration,” Lauro said. “Nobody really wanted that war, and yet we were going to war anyway.”
The mid- to late 2000s also saw an uptick in overall zombie popularity, perhaps prompted in part by the release of post-apocalyptic movies including “Dawn of the Dead” and “28 Days Later.”
As of last year, Lauro said, zombie walks had been documented in 20 countries. The largest gathering drew more than 4,000 participants at the New Jersey Zombie Walk in Asbury Park, N.J., in October 2010, according to the Guinness World Records.
“We are more interested in the zombie at times when as a culture we feel disempowered,” Lauro said. “And the facts are there that, when we are experiencing economic crises, the vast population is feeling disempowered. … Either playing dead themselves … or watching a show like ‘Walking Dead’ provides a great variety of outlets for people.”
But, Lauro pointed out, the display of dissatisfaction isn’t always a conscious expression of that feeling of frustration.
“If you were to ask the participants, I don’t think that all of them are very cognizant of what they’re saying when they put on the zombie makeup and participate,” she said. “To me, it’s such an obvious allegory. We feel like, in one way, we’re dead.”