David Nichols, a veteran Hollywood production designer and visual consultant who has worked on films like Rocky and Groundhog Day, has died. He was 78 years old. A regular collaborator with filmmaker Martin Scorsese, Nichols worked on projects like Taxi Driver (in which he also appeared as a background actor), Boxcar Bertha, Mean Streets, and Waking the Dead. Working in both film and on Broadway, Nichols's career also saw him act as a writer, art director, and actor. On the comic book side of things, Nichols worked on the 1982 (Wes Craven) film version of Swamp Thing as a production designer.
Besides Swamp Thing, other films Nichols worked on as a production designer include Great Balls of Fire!, Mr. Holland's Opus, and Hoosiers. His last film was the 2000 thriller Gossip, which starred X-Men's James Marsden and The Walking Dead's Norman Reedus.
As someone who worked on the art department of some of the 1970s' most significant films, Nichols helped to shape the visual vocabulary of modern cinema. The fact that he then made it through to the '90s and worked on films with such a dramatically different look, such as the soft and warm visuals of Mr. Holland's Opus and Groundhog Day, shows a pretty broad skillset. He remained active in Hollywood until 2000.
During a 2014 interview, which you can watch on YouTube, Nichols recounted a story about an experience he had while making the film Zebra in South Africa during Apartheid. He was apparently stopped by police while trying to attend a memorial service for protestors who had been killed during a riot. Police were scared of his camera; they did not want outside press to report on the event — probably rightly so, as he recalled seeing 30,000 people at a local stadium breaking out into song, something that moved Nichols deeply. He said that the next day, he was approached by a janitor, who thanked him for attending the service. The two hugged and, according to Nichols, the whole experience was one of the most moving of his life and certainly during his career on film.
Per Variety, a celebration of Nichols' life will be announced once the coronavirus pandemic conditions improve and shelter-in-place guidelines are lifted. His family is encouraging donations to animal-support charities to be made in his name in lieu of flowers.
We extend our condolences to Mr. Nichols's family, friends, and collaborators at this time.