4 TV production designers on their unique paths into the industry, from milking spiders to mermaid lairs [EXCLUSIVE VIDEO INTERVIEW]

How does one become a production designer? For Tom Hammock (“Them”), it actually started in a most unusual way: he “stumbled into it” by milking spiders for their venom. We talked with Hammock, Sara K White (“The Flight Attendant”), Mark Ricker (“Halston”), and Jamie Walker McCall (“Pose”) about their careers and their current projects during our “Meet the Experts” TV production designers panel. Watch our group discussion above. Click on each name about to view that person’s individual webchat.

Hammock explains, “I’d been in science. My father’s studies poisons and so I’d grown up milking venomous animals for antivenom. And I stumbled into this via ‘Spider-Man’ and helping them out with a laboratory. And they kind of talked me into leaving architecture and ending up here.”

For McCall it wasn’t spiders but hobbits: “What inspired me to move out from New York and Boston to LA was I saw ‘Lord of the Rings.’ I went to school for advertising art direction and minored in graphic design. I was like, I want to do that. And so I moved to LA and worked my way up, and here I am.”

Ricker made his way from the stage to the screen. He was “a typical kid who loved movies,” but it seemed like making movies was “on another planet. So I just started in theater, which is what you could do, and eventually just started designing the sets because I had always sort of had a marker in my hand.” The first film he worked on was “Bull Durham,” which introduced him to movie art departments, “so that’s where I started.”

White studied interior design as well as creative writing, a fitting one-two punch if you’re interested in telling stories through physical space. “And I just happened to fall in with a group of friends who had just graduated from the NYU film program and needed an art department … And I realized very quickly that that was the kind of design that I’d always hoped to do, was to be a part of that storytelling.”

Then White worked on a music video “that required a mermaid lair built in miniature. And I was just blown away that that was something that even could happen in design. So immediately I was like, yes, I will design all the mermaid lairs, please. I’m still waiting for the second one, but it’ll come.” So from mermaids to spiders, orcs, and baseball, there are a number of possible entry points for artists who hope to create new worlds — or recreate old ones — in three dimensions.

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