Teen Wolf may have seemed like unlikely source material for a modern television reboot, but the MTV series has become a major hit for the network since its 2011 debut. The show got its start filming in Atlanta, Georgia, where Michelle Sink-Langford first joined its crew as an art department intern while still in the online Graphic Design program. With the fourth season finale airing next week, Michelle looked back on her career helping to develop the visual language of the cable hit.
“This all happened by chance for me, I was doing a lot of freelance graphic design work and stumbled across a job posting for an art department intern,” she says. “I didn’t know exactly what it was but it sounded like something that I could do. I went in for an interview and it turned out to be for the first season of Teen Wolf. I worked under the art department coordinator, set decorator, and props team before getting promoted, and that’s how it all started.”
Michelle would graduate to set dressing assistant and later set decoration coordinator, making her responsible for crafting the atmospheric sets used in the series, as well as helping with any design issues during filming. For a show steeped in the supernatural that translated to a lot of late nights, interesting research, and learning to balance her own creative instincts with those of the writers, directors, and producers.
“So much of it was about the research because we deal with werewolves, banshees, and witches – this whole other level of things that you can’t always Google,” she says. “You have to dive into a library, go through books, and do that extra level of work to find the right look. Creating something physical out of words on a page is a lot of trial and error. You can think it all looks perfect, and have everything that the script calls for, and then someone can walk in and say it’s all wrong. The job is about being able to ease back on what you feel creatively and then incorporating what everybody else feels too.”
The show eventually moved to California for its third and fourth seasons, and saw Michelle transition into her current role of graphic designer, which allows her to work remotely from her home in Atlanta. During a shooting cycle she’ll get direction from the series’ art design and prop master, then create digital files to send for review – typically anything held by an actor or positioned prominently on screen like textbooks, signage, and paperwork for the police station or hospital sets.
“You find people working remotely more frequently now, and there’s a lot more opportunities for that,” she says. “Last year I went on maternity leave and was working from my house. I would chat and email with the production designer and send my work over to get feedback, then send them directly to the printers to be manufactured. So you don’t always need to be where the production is, it’s just about finding an in – that designer or prop master who trusts you and loves working with you.”
With the latest run of Teen Wolf wrapped Michelle is already looking forward to coming back for the fifth season, which is expected to air in the summer of 2015. There’s an ownership that develops when you’ve been on a project like this from the beginning, and she admits a sense of pride in knowing she’s helped create a distinct visual aesthetic for a show that’s found such a loyal audience.
“I absolutely love my job with the show and the work we’ve all created,” she says. “What I help make gets to be seen on television each week, and I get to watch the fans talk about how much they love it online. Its been a really fun show for me creatively since the beginning and I’ve learned so much. It’s funny to me to think about my first season because I was still just a student. I’d even submit a lot of my Teen Wolf stuff for review in my Portfolio Creation class and get feedback on it from my instructors.”