What’s His Story: Behind the Scenes of ‘The Walking Dead’ with the Art Director of the Zombie Apocalypse

The Walking Dead, AMC, zombie, apocalypse, Doug Fick, art director, sets, Atlanta, TV show, prison, Woodbury

Doug Fick on the prison set of “The Walking Dead” / Photo by Gene Page, AMC

UPDATE: Zombies, Katniss lead Georgia productions

Doug Fick of Decatur had a long career as a high-end carpenter of cabinets and millwork before his first foray into show business, as art director on a horror movie filmed in metro Atlanta. That led to a gig on the first episode of “The Walking Dead,” designing the inside of a tank —  where a survivor of the zombie apocalypse found the briefest respite, on a street in downtown Atlanta. Fick stayed beyond that and rose to the rank of art director. The show is filmed south of Atlanta, and Fick runs the art department, an in-house architectural firm that constructs the sets, which on this show can become integral to the gruesome story – like the prison-cum-refugee-camp and the town of Woodbury. I got to talk with him recently, as Season 4 heads into the homestretch.

The zombie apocalypse doesn’t just happen: I work under the production designer, who sets the look of the surroundings that we’re in. He comes up with the concepts, and I’m responsible for managing the process of getting them realized. We consult with wardrobe, the stunts, the set decorators and other departments, so everybody is on the same page. Everything is collaborative in the film industry.

Always on the run, with the characters: This is a big scale for a TV show, cinematic and ambitious. We move around a lot on locations, where we have to deal with the weather and we make sure the crew moves in and out without damaging the locations.

The Walking Dead, AMC, zombie, apocalypse, Doug Fick, art director, sets, Atlanta, TV show, prison, Woodbury, tank, Andrew Lincoln, undead

Star Andrew Lincoln, right, meets an undead soldier inside the tank that was Fick’s first project on “The Walking Dead.”

His sets help tell the story: The prison especially was a huge undertaking. We were there long enough that it became a character, and that’s really exciting when you’re working on something and it becomes that integral to the story.

The fences were really a big part of my life. I was the one who dealt with getting them put up and keeping them standing. The (zombie) extras put a lot of stress on them. The extras were very enthusiastic.

Keeping it safe when zombies fall through the roof: I enjoy the technical and engineering challenges, like the roof falling in on the first episode this season. That was shot in several spots. We had an actual store that we dressed on the exterior, and then had extras on the roof on the day we shot. The helicopter was put in digitally, and most of the damage on the roof. We dressed the interior that we created on (the nearby soundstage). The big part of that job was hanging a rig overhead that we could drop people through.

That was really a fun project. You create an environment for the actors to play in and they use it in ways that you don’t expect sometimes. You never know exactly what’s going to happen. The one thing you always have to know is that it’s going to be safe.

It was really a horrific place when the day was done, with fake blood everywhere. It was quite a mess to clean up, but it looked great.

Season 4 has just two episodes left to air. Fick is, of course, tight-lipped. No spoilers from this guy. Filming resumes in the spring. When I read the first script of the series, I thought, ‘I can’t imagine anyone wanting to watch this.’ It was so grim. But that’s part of the appeal. If it wasn’t, I don’t think the show would work…. It’s gratifying to see people enjoying the show.

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