Surely, parallels have never before been drawn between these three things: Davis High School, Southern folklore and a web-slinging costumed crime-fighter.
Yet there’s some commonality: Each influenced Tom Hammock, a 38-year-old Davis native. The former Blue Devil has credits on both the big screen and in hardcover (more on the South and Spider-Man’s part in that later).
Most recently, Hammock was the production designer for “You’re Next,” a horror film that’s set to release Friday. He’s also finished a graphic novel, “Will o’ the Wisp,” which will be published in November.
And, as proof of how busy a career of this sort can keep someone, he’s already temporarily relocated to New Mexico for the production of “The Guest.” This action-thriller is the follow-up movie from the director of “You’re Next.”
Things have moved quickly for Hammock since his graduation from DHS in 1994. He cites his upbringing and education as significant in piquing his interest for the fast-paced film industry: ”It is a nicely well-rounded education that you get in Davis. And because of how tied in it is to (UC Davis), you get to see so much art and music. That rubbed off on me.”
But his entry into the profession wasn’t immediate. Hammock studied landscape architecture at UC Berkeley, and worked in the Bay Area in this field for nearly four years.
In 2002, when the big screen was first graced with the aforementioned superhero, Spider-Man, Hammock was inspired to change careers. He worked with the film crew of “Spider-Man” as it toured the laboratory of his father, Bruce, a UCD researcher.
“They came to him because he’s one of the few people in the country with both spiders and radioactivity in his lab,” he explained. “They wanted pictures as references for their movie.
“I ended up dealing with them a lot. They sort of convinced me to go into film. … I know it’s an odd way to end up in a career, but that’s how it happened.”
Not long after he was bitten by the Hollywood bug, Hammock shipped off to Los Angeles. There, he worked toward a master’s degree in production design from the American Film Institute.
From there, he said, it was a clean transition from landscape architecture into what he does now, which is, basically, the architecture of film. As production designer, he works with the director on outlining the overall aesthetic of the movie.
He was assisted in part by the mentoring of Robert Boyle, who also worked for a time as an architect. Boyle was a production designer for several Alfred Hitchcock movies, including “North by Northwest” and “The Birds.”
However, Hammock had to learn what creative process was best for visualizing the movie on his own accord. In his experience, it’s hours browsing through photography relevant to the setting.
“Doing that helps me realize the design scheme and how the film will change over time,” he said. “You don’t want the film to be static, you want it to visually change as it moves forward.”
An early role he tackled had him researching candy-making machinery over the decades for sets in Tim Burton’s “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” Another time he assisted in an airport setting for Steven Spielberg’s “The Terminal.”
Hammock’s résumé continued to expand as he worked in similar capacities for both Burton’s ”Corpse Bride” and “Constantine” in 2005. He began taking on more responsibility in independent films, such as the cult horror movie “All the Boys Love Mandy Lane.”
Another thing Hammock eventually did was conceive of his own graphic novel. And with the advantage of having a willing illustrator as a friend, Megan Hutchison, the execution came soon after it was conceptualized.
“Will o’ the Wisp” animates the adventures of a young orphan in a mysterious Louisiana swamp. The tale spawned from folklore stories he was told as a young boy by his father, who hails from the Deep South.
And, as his father explained, it’s based on some truths. It shares qualities with the real Atchafalaya Swamp, which is the largest swamp in America. He said people there speak a different language, and the islands actually do move with the tide.
“But it wasn’t my stories that made him the artist he is now,” Tom’s father said. “He was always interested in art. He turned that interest into storyboards. That turned into movies and this graphic novel. It’s all him.”
For those interested in the book, which Hammock said is primarily aimed at a young adult audience, the website is ossuaryisle.com. It’s intended to become part of a series.
“Besides the graphic novels, my goal for the future is to keep designing movies,” Hammock said. “It’s great to be able to go different places and invent these worlds.”
— Reach Brett Johnson at email@example.com or 530-747-8052. Follow him on Twitter at @ReporterBrett