What’s better than going behind the scenes at the most popular Halloween event in the country? It’s actually becoming part of Halloween Horror Nights 22 by being transformed into a scareactor and unleashed throughout the streets of Universal Studios Orlando. A small group from the BestofOrlando.com staff was recently invited to become scareactors with full makeup, prosthetics, wardrobe, and training by the talented team of Halloween Horror Nights 22, and then let loose on the streets to elicit chilling shrieks from actual HHN guests. If you ever wondered about what it takes to be transformed from human to horrendous, BestofOrlando.com reveals new insight on the process, adventure, and fun of what makes you scream the most at Halloween Horror Nights.
We begin our journey into abomination with our wardrobe. When we entered the wardrobe department, it was the largest collection of bloody shirts, ragged pants, and despaired dresses we had ever seen. They had a size for every scareactor and quickly combined a look that suited our inner monster’s taste. After the change in style, we visited the masking area, where we were fitted for a silicone prosthetic mask, which fits tightly against your face. The mask had openings for your ears, mouth, nose, and eyes. Some openings had to be adjusted and cut to fit the face perfectly. In the end, the soft and squishy mask was the most comfortable mask I’ve ever worn, mostly because the circulation was flawless and it fit snugly to my skin giving me superior articulation, control and freedom. It’s definitely a mask you’d want to take home!
With a masks picked out, we met with the Universal makeup team for a rundown on the makeup procedure. The makeup team arrives at Universal around two hours before the HHN begins. Scareactors arrive 30 minutes after them. There are other teams working on scareactors in other areas of the property, but this location was responsible for the Warriors, Beasts, and the Walking Dead. Each night this specific location goes through about 80 scareactors and it takes five minutes to apply makeup on each scareactor. They prepare the paint and ready the airbrush. Rubbing alcohol is used to activate the paint, which he tests on his forearm to match the colors of the mask. The makeup is applied in layers. First, he started with a dark layer to simulate a weakened bone structure and matching the skin tone of the mask. After a few more layers, he introduced red accents in key areas like the finger tips, and then he used a dark tone overlay to give it a dirty look. Lastly, the blood is applied. A corn syrup-based blood is smeared, flicked, and graciously applied in areas that match the wardrobe’s blood stains. Next, they use the airbrush over the blood to smooth it down and give it a effect like it’s dried blood that’s been there forever. Once every part of the body that is exposed is painted, which includes eyes, mouth, ears, neck, and any holes in the wardrobe, we’re ready to begin our scareactor training.
There’s more to scareacting that meets the eye, and as we were introduced to show director, Patrick Braillard; we found there’s actually a science to it. When Greg Nicotero, co-producer, make-up supervisor and director of AMC's The Walking Dead joined efforts with Universal Orlando to bring to life the Walking Dead at Halloween Horror Nights, they incorporated the philosophy and training that’s used in the show’s actual “Zombie Camp” school for the extras. He explained that your zombie walk, grunts, and stagger should originate from your zombie backstory. He asked us to take a look at our makeup and wardrobe and imagine how this person became infected. The most important question in your zombie’s history is the wound. It’s a kind of like the forensics of the undead, which concludes that the bite area is where the infection manifested the most. And when you’re roaming around HHN, you should lead your walk with the body part where the infection took hold. Whether it was a chest, shoulder, leg or neck attack, having this story in the back of your mind as a scareactor helps you deliver a shockingly real and gritty performance. And that’s part of the particulars that make this event so visceral; it’s the small details that can be overlooked, but together bring a realistic ambiance to life. With our backstory in mind, we practiced our zombie walk along a long Universal hallway and it’s more physically taxing than you’d think to drag your feet, stumble, and hunch your back for a minute. Another important note from Braillard was not to be afraid to vocalize; remember that zombies don’t speak words like “Brains!” Their grunts, growls, and snarls are their choice of idiom. Versed well with zombie intension, it’s showtime for BestofOrlando.com!
On the Streets
A normal shift for the street character is about 30 to 45 minutes before they take a break and a new cast comes in. To arrive to the house or the scare location, scareactors will walk past the queue so people waiting in the Walking Dead: Dead Inside house can get a scare or two before they enter the house. It’s all part of the idea this year that there’s no place that safe for guests. When we arrive at the scare location, limping around and grunting in front Disaster! for 30 minutes was more demanding than you’d think, but as you get into your scareactor mentality; you’ll focus on the goal, which is to acquire a scare. The best targets to hit are people who are momentarily distracted, so anyone on a phone, texting or generally inattentive will be targeted. You also have your screamers, just like in the show; you’ll catch the scareactors attention with loud screams and fast movements. Acting this way will soon enough bring attention your way, and you’ll have a horde following you around. But by far the biggest challenge was to remain in character, especially when you startle someone well; people’s reactions can be quite entertaining. But for the most part, a big sense of the scareactors duty is to make guests feel like their part of an expansive and intricate atmosphere. Scareactors blend nicely with the music, fog, ambient lighting, and key atmosphere sets that make walking through Universal Studios at night an adventure on its own. We enjoyed hearing comments of guests just saying “Wow” or “That’s too cool” just as much as some of the big scares we had, and there were many.
The night of a scareactor is not over yet. Clean up is a process, and some scareactors don’t finish their tour of duty into well after the park has closed. It’s due to the fact that if guests get in line for a house before closing time, they’ll be allowed to finish that last attraction. It might take an hour or so after closing to finish the queue line. The blood will wash off with regular soap and water, so we head to the Universal locker room and costume area, where every uniform in the park is stored for their employees. All the uniforms from The Mummy Ride to Despicable Me are on huge mechanical racks like you’d find in a dry cleaner, but on a grander scale. After the corn syrup blood is washed away, we used baby wipes soaked in Super Solv, a special cleaner, to clean the paint off our faces. It’s tough to get between every crease and clear up all the makeup even with the right cleaner. We found ourselves going through multiple wipes to not look undead anymore. We can only imagine what it’s like to do this every night. By the end of HHN 22, scareactors must have rubbed off several thin layers of skin to get clean every night, but it’s all for the excitement and awe of millions that have visited Halloween Horror Nights throughout the years.
Before and After
The BestofOrlando.com crew in the zone.
Now you know what it’s like to be a scareactor. But what do you need to know about getting the most of your trip to Halloween Horror Nights 22? BestofOrlando.com has you covered with our Ultimate Guide that covers the houses, shows, food and much more!