Forrest Gump Production Designer Rick Carter Breaks Down Famous Lt. Dan Scene For The First Time

Forrest Gump production designer Rick Carter breaks down Forrest, Bubba, and the audience’s introduction to Lieutenant Dan for the first time.


In the video above, Forrest Gump Production Designer Rick Carter graciously takes part in Vanity Fair’s new episode of ‘Notes On A Scene’ breaking down Lieutenant Dan’s joint introduction to Forrest Gump, Bubba, and the audience. I highly recommend watching this video breakdown on Forrest Gump which gives a lot of insight into how production designers work on a feature film. The last time Vanity Fair featured a production designer on ‘Notes On A Scene’ was with The Crown production designer Martin Childs as he completed a set-by-set breakdown which we previously showcased.

“For this particular movie this was reflective of my own life and times.”

Rick Carter is a world renowned production designer who not only designed Forrest Gump but also other classics like Back to the Future Part II & III, Death Becomes Her, Jurassic Park, Amistad, Cast Away, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens. In 2010 Rick Carter won his first Best Production Design Oscar for his work on Avatar and in 2013 won a second Oscar for designing Lincoln.

It was really interesting to see Rick Carter explain what it takes to suspend the disbelief of the audience while also working with the everyday circumstances of production. On Forrest Gump, once they decided where Forrest’s house would be built in the South, on the Delta, they had to create much of the rest of the film including the scenes in Vietnam nearby, which is often the case during production.


Forrest Gump Production Designer Rick Carter

Forrest Gump (1994) | Paramount Pictures


This meant Rick Carter and his team had to bring in tropical foliage and palm trees from Los Angeles and then dig the bases into the ground enough so that the trees would reliably stand up and convey the visual idea of Vietnam. They also had help with the military camp details from there military advisor, Dale Dye, who had advised on other Vietnam films like Platoon.

Rick Carter also discusses his process as follows, “My process I would guess is as a collage artist. I do little sketches, I do a lot of research. For this particular movie this was reflective of my own life and times. I’m basically Forrest’s age so I knew about the era that we pulled the story from- the Vietnam era, the civil rights era, growing up in the Sixties.” This is interesting that he felt a personal connection to the film and understood the subject matter more than most. This only helps a film when the production designer has a history with the subject matter and a solid frame of reference.

It’s important to note there is no superfluous design in the film. This isn’t a film where he wanted to be seen as a production designer. He made sure every element was adding something to the story, plot, tone, and characters, or taking something away. He uses the signage at the camp and the flag on the out house as an example.


Forrest Gump Production Designer Rick Carter

Forrest Gump (1994) | Paramount Pictures


You’ll notice, as Rick Carter mentions, that a lot of what makes the military visuals work is the iconic military vehicles and equipment including the Bell UH-1 Iroquois nicknamed the Huey which was a utility military helicopter as well as some of the horizon lines with foliage and bamboo buildings in the distance created by visual effects juggernaut Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).

Hopefully this video gives you some sense of how Forrest Gump production designer Rick Carter designs a film and takes every element introduced to the audience very seriously.

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Posted by Rose Lagacé

Rose Lagacé is a production designer for film & television by day and an emerging filmmaker by night. Rose is also the creator and editor of Art Departmental where she celebrates the art and craft of production design.

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