October 31, 2013 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

He’s just come back from a walk, palm trees in the background, with a 3-pound Chihuahua named Minnie Mouse. Joe Giles is no longer a Nebraska kid following an Air Force dad around the Midwest. The 30-year-old has been settled in Los Angeles for the last 10 years, working as a makeup artist for K.N.B. EFX Group, Inc. on projects like AMC’s The Walking Dead.

“I just finished working on some Walking Dead webisodes,” Giles says, “you know, those in-between-season shorts they put online.” Specifically, he works in K.N.B.’s molding department, lifecasting actors in custom makeups for that rotted look so popular for today’s zombie. He’s contributed his special-effects makeup expertise on all three completed seasons of the show, even helping to establish the original movements 
of the walkers.

“I actually did early camera tests,” he says. “They used me for some of the makeup tests, and they use some of that footage to teach the actors how to walk on camera.”

Giles considers himself rather fortunate so far in his plans to continue both acting and doing lab work. “I keep getting both sprinkled randomly as I go,” he says, mentioning his appearance as a zombie in the “Thriller” scene of the 2009 Michael Jackson film This Is It (“I was lying in this grave thinking, oh wow, I am really doing this”). And how he got to do all the hair work for the Michael Myers masks in Rob Zombie’s 2009 Halloween II. And when he got to play a demonic surgeon in Zombie’s 2012 The Lords of Salem. “It’s not every day one of your music idols is directing you,” Giles says, still obviously impressed. And of course, he’s continuing work on the fourth season of The Walking Dead that premiered this October.

He says that Howard Berger, co-founder of K.N.B., jokes that Giles is their resident ghoul. “I don’t mind being typecast though,” he says, “I love all that.”

He admits that, during his middle-school and high-school years in Omaha, “Halloween was pretty much what I lived for all year. It’s my true passion.” Annual trips to Vala’s Pumpkin Patch in Gretna, Neb., were a given. At 15, Giles began volunteering at Mystery Manor, a permanent haunted house in Downtown Omaha. “That place definitely helped shape my creative life,” he says, recalling his earliest experiences with special-effects makeup and the challenges of getting the movements of a new character just right. “Wayne [Sealy, owner of Mystery Manor] pretty much gave us free rein. Doing makeup for haunted houses and acting…it teaches you to be fast on your feet, to think quickly.”

After two years of studio art at University of Nebraska-Omaha, graduating from Westmore Makeup Academy in California, plus his years of experience in the film industry, it’s just possible that Giles has refined his approach to the perfect spooky look. “You gotta find a mid-ground between just gore and something that’s interesting. For instance, last year, I was a zombie, but I kept it more forensic and skeletal,” he says.

Oh? Was this for a party?

“Well, I still go trick-or-treating. I mean, you know, I’ll hit a few houses.”

Clearly, Halloween is still his thing. In fact, that seems to be a huge reason he tries to come back to Omaha whenever the leaves change. “I miss that Midwest fall,” he says. “You don’t get that out here. I’ll even set out fall-scented air fresheners to get that feel in  L.A.” He even shows up at Mystery Manor to volunteer whenever schedules permit. “I pretty much just say, ‘Hey, Wayne, I’m here to work!’”

Of course, cool weather, autumn colors, and haunted houses aren’t the only draws to come home. He and his twin sister, Brandi Lusk, celebrated their 30th birthday together last April.

They spent a cozy night with their family at the Villisca Axe Murder House in Villisca, Iowa.

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