Oh, that's a zombie.
August 9, 2007 12:52 PM   Subscribe

Please list visual traits that identify zombies.

If I were looking at a humanoid, or a picture of a humanoid, what visual traits would quickly alert me that I was looking at a zombie?

I don't mean behaviors (such as eating brains); I mean features of a static image that I could glance at quickly and immediately think to myself, "Oh, that's a zombie." Or, if I were drawing a zombie, things I could include so that the viewer of my art would immediately identify the image: "Oh, that's a zombie."
posted by ikkyu2 to Media & Arts (48 answers total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
deeply sunken bloodshot eyes
posted by patricio at 12:53 PM on August 9, 2007

a limp. vacant look their eyes as they stare forward. Arms vaguely out stretched.

/me gets all his info from Night of the Living Dead.
posted by mmascolino at 12:55 PM on August 9, 2007

Disclaimer: I don't believe I've encountered any zombies IRL. I am a huge fan of Dead Rising, though.

I think a lot of zombie characteristics are behavioral, which doesn't help with drawing them. But they usually have their arms kind of sticking out. (Although that might be confused with sleepwalking... Which I suppose is kind of what zombies do, in a sense?)

There's a possibility they'd be bleeding from the head or have other head trauma.
posted by fogster at 12:55 PM on August 9, 2007

Rotting flesh, but the individual is clearly still mobile. Dried blood caked around the mouth, chin, and neck from feasting on human flesh.
posted by jjg at 12:56 PM on August 9, 2007

A caption of them saying "Braaaaaaaaaaiiiinnnnssss".

Dead giveaway every time.

Oh, andif they look like they are moving fast, they aren't zombies. @#!@$% 28 days later, zombies are not supposed to move that fast, even virus infected adhoc zombies.
posted by iamabot at 12:56 PM on August 9, 2007


The zombie's shambling (which a static picture wouldn't show) is arguably a result of the stiffening (or atrophying?) of muscles combined with the zombie's carelessness for the carcass that is his or her vehicle. Posture will come across in a still photo, though motion won't.

Slack mouth. Blank expression unless alerted to prey.
posted by Elsa at 12:56 PM on August 9, 2007

Pale or grayish skin and a generally disheveled appearance.
posted by jjg at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2007

arms outstretched, mouth open/bloody, eyes large and dead-looking, limbs are stiff, position/movement is awkward, limping, hands over-sized and bloody, parts and pieces of the body are missing or have holes in them, or rotten away/black. the resident evil series pulls this off terrifyingly well. zombies are traditionally pale and skinny (think fresh from the grave), with limbs that are very boney and skeletal-looking. teeth are usually prominent and large/bloody. the image should scream "mmm humans! yummy"
posted by lohmannn at 12:58 PM on August 9, 2007

i would think some wound that, if it happened to a living person, would make them die. Thus, if they're still upright and conscious, they must be a zombie. Something like a missing limb, a head wound where the brain is visible, etc.

On preview, what jjg said.
posted by silverstatue at 1:01 PM on August 9, 2007

To build on Elsa, I would describe zombie posture as asymmetrically balanced. They're fairly stable postures, since they're slow and might be dragging limbs.
posted by cowbellemoo at 1:04 PM on August 9, 2007

I think since because zombies are living dead, their muscles are deteriorating including the ones in their face. So slackjawed, drooling (do the livind dead produce drool? not sure), eyes unfocused.
posted by spec80 at 1:06 PM on August 9, 2007

This Penny Arcade strip is a pretty good example of what everyone here is talking about: gray, peeling skin; eyes rolled back a little; arms forward; looks like he's lurching around. Even if they weren't talking about zombies, you'd know thats what he was.
posted by hobgadling at 1:10 PM on August 9, 2007

Skin color. I believe the solanum does something to the skin color.
posted by fidelity at 1:11 PM on August 9, 2007

They'd probably be wearing torn clothes. Since many of the zombies would have been created from bites from previous zombies, many of them will have died struggling. Probably their shoelaces would be untied as well, since they lack the motor skills or inclination to tie them up again. Many might be missing one or both shoes as a result.
posted by SBMike at 1:13 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I pretty much always picture them as decomposing corpses, but mobile. So, whatever damage would naturally occur to a body after death.
posted by occhiblu at 1:15 PM on August 9, 2007

Head tilted slightly sideways and/or forward from atrophied neck muscles.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 1:15 PM on August 9, 2007 [2 favorites]

Hair missing in patches, blood and dirt stains on clothes, maybe an arm or ankle bent in an unnatural way. Think of them as puppets made out of meat and you're on your way. And definitely missing and bloody teeth, for sure.
posted by monkeymadness at 1:17 PM on August 9, 2007

yeah, definitely slack jaw and lolling head, shuffling gait, visible severe trauma/bites.

Or, you know, emerging from a covered grave. That would probably be a pretty good tip-off.
posted by mckenney at 1:25 PM on August 9, 2007

Bad teeth, missing body parts, oozing blood that isn't red, dangling organs, mouth agape...and a sign saying "Will work for brains."
posted by chairface at 1:25 PM on August 9, 2007

What weapons-grade said, and also a different height across the shoulders (i.e. one shoulder's hunched up a bit). Perhaps one foot turned out to the side, which drags as they shuffle.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2007

A picture is worth a thousand words and here is a gallery with 268 pictures.

Dead Rising Zombie Gallery
posted by zephyr_words at 1:28 PM on August 9, 2007

Ah, yes -- poor posture. Zombies often seem to be slumped way over to one side, dragging a leg like dead weight (probably damaged in the attack that killed them). And because they feel no pain, they can walk and support weight on joints that are grossly out of alignment -- feet twisted around, elbows bent backwards, etc.
posted by ourobouros at 1:30 PM on August 9, 2007

Flies, eyes boiling with maggots, maybe some worm action -- you don't see a whole lot of larval insects, etc. chowing down on the zombies in most films (not even since the advent of CGI, which would make it much simpler to pull off), but you certainly would were zombies real.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 1:33 PM on August 9, 2007

I got painted up like a zombie for a horror TV show pilot. So, I've undergone "the transformation".

Here's some photos :
1, 2, 3, 4, and a higher-res shot of the full-body look here.

Some things that were done :
- Pale skin
- Sunken eyes
- Thick, blue veins on my face
- Mortal wounds and/or heavy scarring
- White-out contacts
- I had to move slow, and basically act like a braindead drunk

Basically, find pictures of people who've died (or movie characters who've died) out in the woods, left to rot. Then, picture them standing upright and trying to move very slowly while looking like they did while lying there dead and decomposing.
posted by revmitcz at 1:38 PM on August 9, 2007

Hair: stringy, patchy if they're meant to have been dead for a while before "getting better." Disheveled at the minimum.

Eyes: unfocused, cataractous. Not bloodshot, as that implies normal bloodflow, but a blown-out vessel would be a good effect.

Mouth: open, teeth rotting. Maybe some blood dripping from their last victim, although I personally prefer 28 Days Later's depiction of zombies that are more violent than hungry.

Face: all mucous membranes should have gone haywire. Eye boogers, crusty nose.

Skin: discolored; pale, grey if they're undead, jaundiced if they're "sickness" zombies. Acne patterns indicating infection and immune response. Visible pus a plus. More burst blood vessels.

Shape: emaciated is the norm, although nothing is creepier than an obese zombie (well, except maybe a child zombie). Slumping forward, obviously disregarding any musculature that isn't strictly necessary at any given moment.

Attire: torn, rotted clothes. Try to keep it to plausible wear and tear: neat rips around the sleeve or an entire missing article of clothing say "Aberzombie and Fitch catalog" rather than the consequence of a primitive nature.

Feet: calloused and shredded. Filthy with grime and clotted blood.
posted by Riki tiki at 1:38 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Aimless movement. Most people walk with a destination in mind, at least in the immediate distance. Zombies shuffle without a direction. Unless you've been sussed out, and then you're pretty fucked. General slump and inelegant gait should give it away nicely. And, as has been demonstrated in Night of the Living Dead, it's not really the zombies you want to look out for anyway...
posted by slimepuppy at 1:41 PM on August 9, 2007

Unless they're the 2 Fast 2 Furious zombies that are popular with kids today, then you don't have much to identify them with, aside from the running, screaming, blood and possibly missing limbs.
posted by slimepuppy at 1:43 PM on August 9, 2007

Low, throaty growl. Imagine Stevie Nicks first thing in the morning.
posted by banannafish at 2:01 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

In my mind, zombies are always associated with gray-colored skin.
posted by Space Kitty at 2:18 PM on August 9, 2007

I think the bottom lip has to hang low to allow drool out and to show the lower half of his teeth. He should have all his teeth, but they should be brown-ish.
posted by damn dirty ape at 2:26 PM on August 9, 2007

Bush can describe them.
posted by YoBananaBoy at 2:28 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think Shaun of the Dead is the film of record on this issue and your best reference, as it (in my experience) most accurately depicts both of nature and mannerisms of zombies as well as their physical appearance.

Most of the key identifying features have already been well covered: the grayish pall; rotting flesh; vacant stare; halting, stumbling walk; the low moans of the anathematized. I would add, however, that perhaps one of the most reliable methods for identifying this particular subset of the undead is their single-minded fixation on the brains of the living. There's nothing casual or subtle in their pursuit, and while single-minded determination to devour the contents of human skulls is a state of mind and therefore does not readily translate into a quantifiable physical characteristic, this fixation manifests in the average zombie’s fixed stare on its intended victim. Any clever and experienced observer who had made a serious study of these fascinating creatures would no doubt tell you that an unblinking and unwavering attention is one of the key hallmarks to look for when assessing potential zombies.
posted by buka at 3:30 PM on August 9, 2007

"Must ... watch ... YoBananaBoy's ... link ... to ... final ... frame."

See also.
posted by rob511 at 4:08 PM on August 9, 2007

what visual traits would quickly alert me that I was looking at a zombie?
Hey Doc, this isn't for work, is it?

posted by niles at 4:20 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Also key is the missing lips, exposing the teeth and gums completely.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:26 PM on August 9, 2007

My usual way of discerning the undead is the lack of steamed/steamy breath on cold days emanating from them. However, all the other upthread indicators work too when the rot sets in but the freshly dead need to be identified too.
posted by jadepearl at 8:10 PM on August 9, 2007

Please tell us why you ask! :)

Obviously one danger of zombies is that they can be so hard to distinquish from er... scruffier members of society. Until it is too late.

Eye witness account indicate that zombies can be at various stages of decay, from very recently dead, to very far gone.

If the photo was of the alleged zombie lying still on a table, there would be no smoking-gun visible sign that it was not simply a corpse - the photo simply does not show that the corpse can move, and that's what separates zombies from corpses.

In absence of a visual smoking gun (such as a photo of a far-gone corpse standing or in mid-stride), signs that are not conclusive but which would warrant further investigation would be evidence of movement after death, for example:
- Motion blur on part of the corpse, but not elsewhere.
- Flesh or blood in the mouth, especially if it appears fresher than the body.
- Evidence of adaption to surroundings, such as gripping a hand-rail (or similar) near, say, a morgue table, when one assumes that death was diagnosed elsewhere and the corpse subsequently brought to the morgue.
- Other forensicy type detective-case clues that indicate the body has been moved after death, or that death occurred before the body was dumped in the water and so it wasn't a drowning, etc.

For a photo of a person on the street, look for incongruities. NONE of these are smoking guns, but when more than one is present, further investigation is recommended:

- A fashionable ensemble being worn in an unmaintained state inconsistent with the vanity that assembled it. For some people, even an untied shoelace can be starkly out of place.

- Hindrances being ignored. For example, trash caught on a shoe, one arm immobilized by a slipped backpack strap, hairpiece come undone and covering eyes, etc.

- Evidence of violent behaviour. For example a bloody tote-dog bag.

- Evidence of violence having been inflicted. For example, torn clothing, blood, or injury.

- Modesty being ignored. In absence of continued threat, torn or missing clothing that has become revealing will often be held in place by living humans. Toupees are never allowed to hang partly off, etc etc.

- Trauma being ignored - bleeding without smears from wiping, ignored visible bites, or injuries, or missing digits, etc. When the shock has subsided, living humans often hold or nurse any injuries they are aware of.

- Trauma ignored for long periods. For example, a small scalp cut where the blood has been allowed to run into the eyes and clot there.

- Evidence of violent flesh eating - blood, flesh, hair, around mouth and finger nails.

- Evidence of massive and/or fatal trauma while still standing. (duh)

- Evidence of absent-mindedness or poor co-ordination. For example, clutching a leash with no dog. Struggling through a hedge when a pathway is visible nearby. Being on the road and not appearing to be alert for or aware of traffic.

- Evidence of relieving self in clothes.

- Others nearby exhibiting similar incongruities.
posted by -harlequin- at 8:36 PM on August 9, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here is a Zombie Identification Chart
posted by -harlequin- at 9:09 PM on August 9, 2007

Response by poster: Please tell us why you ask!

I wish to photoshop a black and white photograph to make it clearly and immediately identifiable as a zombie version of the famous person it's a photo of.

It's harder than it sounds.
posted by ikkyu2 at 2:52 AM on August 10, 2007


If you haven't already, google for zombie or zombification photoshop tutorials. There are quite a lot of them, (here and here, are just the first two), check them out and see if any are a style that you think would be effective for the photo you're using. If you find the right one, the steps to do it are included as a bonus :-)
posted by -harlequin- at 4:05 AM on August 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

You might want to look at/cut&paste some of my zombie kickball photographs.
posted by mikepop at 6:18 AM on August 10, 2007

If you can, you should put up some of your failed attempts and link to them here, it might be easier for people to advise what's unzombielike about them.

The basic premise of a zombie is that they are dead, yet animate. Most of their strictly-appearance features are thus the features of corpses in various states of decay: pallid skin, clouded eyes, sunken, shadowed features, physical trauma, disheveled hair/clothes. So your problem is going to be ending up with photos that merely make the individual look dead. So action shots might work better than head shots. Some blood around the mouth (from feasting on human flesh) couldn't hurt.
posted by nanojath at 9:54 AM on August 10, 2007

harlequin, any chance of a larger-sized version of that, say, something suitable for printing?
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:25 AM on August 10, 2007

I like the point raised in World War Z, where the zombie's eyes would develop a grayish color because there was no moisture to keep the surface of the eye lubricated, and it would become scratched with tiny abrasions.

Also, Nthing the body posture. Asymmetrical support from broken/ wounded/ atrophied limbs. Whenever you see a zombie movie, you can always tell the zombies, even in silhouette because of the body posture.
posted by quin at 12:37 PM on August 10, 2007

One of my favorite depictions of zombies was from "The Serpent and the Rainbow" film by Wes Craven, particularly the photo the hero was shown of a Haitian man who had died and was buried but was spotted roaming around town later on. Not typical, and not really horrific in the usual sense, but when I saw it, I thought, "That's a zombie!"
posted by sluglicker at 1:56 PM on August 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone for their participation and answers.

I'd like to apologize to the folks from Metatalk who were worried that this was hypotheticalFilter. I'd honestly forgotten that hypothetical zombie questions were a hot-button issue, here, and I should have been more clear about my goals in the original post.

When the project is closer to done, it'll get posted to Projects. Thanks again everyone!
posted by ikkyu2 at 6:17 PM on August 10, 2007

I see buka mentioned the film already, but it's a great line: "Just look at the face: it's vacant, with a hint of sadness. Like a drunk who's lost a bet."
posted by Tuwa at 7:44 PM on August 10, 2007

Ikkyu2, smooth out any dynamic wrinkles a bit. By which I mean any wrinkles that are the result of emotional expression rather than skin sagging.
posted by BrotherCaine at 1:14 AM on August 11, 2007

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