We recently were given the absolute priviledge of being invited down to Dead Walk Designs to find out more about the company, the history, the creative processes behind some of their work and what its like to live in a beautifully immersive fantasy world every day. Dead Walk Designs have conceptualised and created some of the most beautiful set designs and props to cater to so many different styles and we were very kindly invited down to have a chat with Shaun Davies the managing director.
How long have you guys been running and creating things for?
I've been working in the industry for about 23 years now. After art college I started out with a local company called Creative Solutions on Portland, they built theming for Sealife Centres, museums, theme parks etc and I worked there full time for 7 years. I started out as a general labourer, helping mix cement, painting base colours for themed features and worked closely with Nicky who taught me lots of different skills, such as sculpting and mold making. Rich, who was the creative director, taught me the basics of design and how to cost and run a project. Over the years I began designing and project managing my own projects and a few years in Rachel came on board to help with the theming work. In 2007 me and Rach decided to move to London with the idea of getting into film work, it was a bit quiet for the first 6 months, then another company from Weymouth, Nautilus, gave us a shout as they were working on the rebuild on the London Aquarium which had just been taken over by Merlin.
Then what happened?
We worked on that project for about 6 months and then ended up doing a lot of freelance work for Nautilus over the next 8 years. As we were working away a lot we decided to move to Bristol as London was getting pricey. Shortly after we found our selves on projects in Spain, Germany, New Zealand and Malta, so the idea of moving to Bristol ended up being a little fruitless, we only spent 3 weeks in the city over the 12 months we rented there. So when we got back we decided to move back to Weymouth, get our own place and then we just thought about starting our own thing which we did in 2015. One of our first projects was for Casela Park in Mauritius, a bird park that has now become more like a zoo and activity park, they were looking to add some themed features. We went over and worked with a local crew of concrete workers and taught them how to build rockwork so that the park could have a local team which could further develop the theming after we left. It was great working with those guys and experiencing the way of island life. We were there for 8 months and when we came back we set up the limited company and things went from there. Its been quite the journey!
You always find that the good journeys are worth doing as they are all random,
Yeah definitely. Every job is different. So far this year we've worked at the Tank Museum, a museum project which included a representation of an old carousel ride which had tanks as the ride on cars. They were looking to have some movement on it so we built it onto large springs, much like a ride you would find in a kids play park. We’re currently building a reception area for Chronos One Escape Rooms which is sci fi themed and we are also working on some cold cast bronze busts for a recognisable character (that's all i can say) which is a completely different set of skills. Due to the variety of things which come in we are constantly learning, which keeps things fresh and exciting. We are also working through designs for this year's Boomtown Festival which is happening in August. The festival is built like a small city, with large set builds making up a number of themed districts. We build Area 404, a sort of dystopian / mad max themed area and this year we are working up lots of designs for new buildings and structures which is quite exciting.
How long does it take you to plan the whole thing?
Things normally start with initial design briefs in November, and then we work through various design milestones throughout the year. As our busiest time of year for the attractions is from the New Year to Easter we’ll be starting to get into the creative designs over the coming weeks which I’m really looking forward to. We’ll start prefab in the workshop mid May, then head to the field mid July, until the event Aug 9th-13th, then a week of takedown.
What usually happens when you meet with a client?
We normally start the initial meeting to discuss an initial brief and, if necessary, go to the site to take measurements, photos and start thinking about ideas for the creative. The next step is to put together mood boards of reference images of things we think might help influence the design. Once this has been discussed and we get a rough idea of what our client is looking for we can start roughing out some basic sketches. We keep these loose to begin with, not putting too much time into inking or colouring them, this acts like a visual brainstorm and really helps to understand the things our clients like or dislike. Once we can pick those things which will work for the project these get worked up into coloured sketches. We then start building a 3D model, which is built to scale from floor plans and survey measurements. We then add textures and ideas of finishes/colours etc which can then be presented with rendered stills, animated videos, VR or through an interactive game engine like we did for Lost Horizon Festival. Once the design has been approved we move on to manufacturing in the workshop, then onsite install and build.
Tell us a bit about Lost Horizon
During the pandemic, Shangri-La who run an area of Glastonbury Festival set up a live online festival called Lost Horizon, using an online portal called Sansar. Anyone could access it online and we helped create digital environments and assets for the different areas. We weren’t held back by the creative process as this was a digital only event, so we could go big and out there with our designs. When things with the pandemic eased off they opened up a real world music venue in Bristol, under the same name. And we built a digital replica where they can stream content from the real world venue to the digital twin.
Do you prefer to do festivals, escape rooms, individual sculptures?
Tricky one. Although we enjoy working on festivals and Escape Rooms, I love getting stuck in to a sculpture project. We all really enjoy working on the horror themed jobs (hence our company name). A few years ago we worked on the renovation of a ghost train at Barry’s Amusements (now Curry’s Fun Park) in Northern Ireland and that, hands down, was the best job we’ve ever worked on. It was just good fun, we were pretty much given free reign to create something fun and exciting. We were there for 5 weeks and got to make all sorts of cool features, all with a great crew.
Have you ever thought about building a scare attraction?
Yeah, it’s something we talk about all the time. We have sort of been dabbling with the idea of doing something in Weymouth, we’ve got a fair few ideas knocking around, it’s just having the time to do it! Wether it would be a themed bar, or escape room, or full on Haunted House it would be great fun to put something together on our doorstep.
Is there any projects coming up that you’re really excited about?
Boomtown we are quite excited about. There’s one particular feature that I’ve had in the back of my mind for a few years, which we have worked into the design, so looking forward to building that! Things are looking busy for the rest of the year, got a fair few things coming up, we’ve just had an exciting meeting about a potential halloween project, but unfortunately it’s a little too early to talk about that one just yet!
I want to say a huge thank you to Shaun and the entire team at Dead Walk Designs for chatting with us and giving up some of their day to have us down. You can find out more about their projects and the company by visiting their website here!