In Zack Snyder’s “Army of the Dead,” Las Vegas is infested with zombies and, in particular, one zombie tiger that instantly sank its undead fangs into fans’ hearts when it appeared in the first trailer. In a surprising turn of events, long before Carole Baskin became a household name in Netflix’s “Tiger King,” she was helping Snyder and the VFX team find a real-life reference for the zombie tiger, named Valentine in the film.
VFX supervisor Marcus Taormina says creating Valentine’s design was the biggest challenge because there needed to be a sense of believability to the tiger. Snyder gave Taormina a 2D concept of ideas for Valentine’s face, and the VFX team started to model and sculpt it in 3D, making it feel like a real tiger.
Taormina had initially looked at white tigers in Siegfried & Roy’s Secret Garden and Dolphin Habitat, but “unfortunately, those tigers were old and frail and didn’t feel like ours,” he says. The team searched for other places around the country to observe tigers in their natural habitats, but some locations declined, Taormina explains.
The VFX team finally found help from an unlikely source: Baskin’s Big Cat Rescue, now famous from Netflix’s “Tiger King” series.
Baskin was one of the few who offered to open her tiger sanctuary in Tampa, Fla., to the crew to observe the big cats. “At the time, they had just finished filming ‘Tiger King,’ so nothing had been released. We had no idea,” Taormina reveals. “Sapphire was the tiger we landed on and shot.”
The Big Cat Rescue team helped Taormina get close to the tiger, involving them during feeding times so they could get the necessary shots of the real-life dimensions to build and create a photo-real Valentine.
“Carole was very supportive, saying we were doing the right thing and correctly because they didn’t want to put those cats in those performances,” Taormina adds.
It wasn’t until months later when Taormina was home with his wife and in another room when he heard Baskin’s voice on TV. “I knew that voice, and I walked in and thought, ‘Oh my God! That’s Carole,’” he says when he pieced together Baskin’s roles on “Tiger King” “Army of the Dead.” “That was a great reveal.”