Creative Characters S2 E4: David Sheldon-Hicks.
There’s a scene in Spider-Man: Far from Home, in which Peter Parker, played by Tom Holland, assembles a brand-new Spider-Man suit for himself using an absurdly cutting-edge device that, as luck would have it, was thoughtfully built into the equally high-tech private jet that he is, at that moment, flying over Europe bound for London. Is it nanotech? Something completely made up by the film’s writers? Does it matter? No: This is Spider-Man, so we viewers don’t really question the plausibility of what we’re seeing. The only thing that would disrupt our gleeful suspension of disbelief is if the tech looked wrong—it if appeared cheap, outdated, or simply didn’t feel like something Tony Stark, the bombastic, egotistical genius behind it all, would create.
That’s where this week’s guest comes in. David Sheldon-Hicks is the co-founder and Executive Creative Director of Territory Studio, a design firm that has worked on the veritable who’s-who of recent blockbuster films and video games. The hit list is impressive: Dune, The Batman, Blade Runner 2049, Ready Player One, Avengers: Infinity War and Endgame, Ex Machina, and that’s just scratching the surface.
Territory’s work spans multiple design disciplines and runs the gamut from subtler background details and integral storytelling elements like Peter’s suit device to fundamental world-building elements like the massive, animated billboards in Ghost in the Shell. David spoke with Monotype Creative Type Director (and former schoolmate) Phil Garnham.
“We do imbue character into the design of some of our graphics in some films,” Sheldon-Hicks tells Garnham. “Guardians of the Galaxy is a good example. There are no points of reference for graphics to navigate a spaceship being controlled by a walking, talking tree and a robotic raccoon. There’s no one at NASA that’s going to help me there! But you can use graphics as an expressive medium to imbue a sense of that universe and the personality of the spaceship. So, on those films, we have a lot of fun being expressive in the medium.”
In addition to sharing his insights and stories from the moviemaking world, David talks about the ups and downs of founding a studio and what he’s learned from years of trial-and-error.
“Our team structure has really evolved over the years. We used to have generalists that specialized, and I would now say that we have teams that are generalists, generalists that also specialize. We have a very defined visual effects team. We have a very defined motion design team. We have a very defined graphic design team and digital team. But trying to keep them separate is impossible because they love having cross-creativity conversations. And it really is that overlap of conversations that allows for the good stuff to happen.”
This episode is for anyone who enjoys a good ol’ big-screen blockbuster, and who loves being transported to a world that defies belief in the most plausible and convincing ways.