What does it take to create a convincing end-of-the-world scenario? That's the question facing The Walking Dead production designer Greg Melton, who spoke with the AMC TV blog about his work on the developing television series based on Robert Kirkman's Image Comics title.
"I did Tales From the Crypt for many years, and I always approached that show from a realism standpoint -- trying to set up a realistic world, and then let the surreal horror spin out of it," said Melton. "And that's the strategy I've taken with this, to root it in reality as much as possible and let Rick move through this world and see it get more and more skewed. A great example is when he wakes up in the hospital. It just gets worse and worse. It's like there was a running gun battle through this hospital. There were grenades. He comes outside and it looks like Dachau. Then as he comes to the parking lot, there's going to be an entire military hospital unit that's been overrun. It just keeps unfolding. When you read the comic, Rick walks outside and there's a car crashed into a tree. [Laughs] I'm like, 'OK yeah, we'll do this burned out bus and dump trucks stacked with bodies.'"
In constructing the zombie sequences in a battle-ravaged Atlanta, Melton said that the trick was "to find areas that we own. We're setting up an abandoned city, so we needed to find areas of downtown that we could shut down over a weekend. I was looking just to keep it tight, so that it was hard to see around corners and know what's coming ahead of you. And then from there, it was just trying to build some backstories to what happened there: The concept was that a section of Atlanta had become a Green Zone where the military could protect a certain square-block area. And basically the thought is that Rick approaches this military checkpoint that's been overrun. We had lots of abandoned cars with luggage or doors open, like people had come, tried to get in; some people had tried to run the blockade, we had some burnt, turned over cars."
Although The Walking Dead will utilize some CGI, Melton said that the show will be less dependent on it than initially thought.
"I have to say rather proudly that there are two or three sets that we've done -- downtown Atlanta, the gas station -- that were going to have a lot more CG work done to them," he said. "But when we got done with them, Frank was like, 'We kinda have it,' which was great for me. He's like, 'I don't think we need to extend this set. This is actually much more than I thought I was going to get.' That's been kind of cool, to actually be able to deliver enough physical scenery to fill the shot."
Frank Darabont's pilot episode of The Walking Dead airs on AMC in October.