Wednesday, August 22, 2007



"Making big pictures on indoor sets was a technique that was really honed in the old studio system." - ALLEN DAVIAU (Cinematographer)

Luke Skywalker follows Yoda into his small house amidst the swampy planet of Dagobah in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. A huge doughnut shaped fortress city floats on a water-covered planet in Waterworld. Lips Manlis vulgarly slops down his dinner in his Club Ritz in Dick tracy. All of these scenes contain scenery that exists nowhere in the world. As a result, the filmmakers had to build the scenery from scratch into what is known as a set.

A set is any scenery or environment built indoors or outdoors for use in a motion picture. Movie production companies usually have many large buildings where filmmakers can build their sets. Not all sets are built in a studio, however. Many sets are built outdoors. Where the set is built depends largely on what the script calls for and what is more practical.

Building a set requires much brainpower and manpower. First, the set must be conceptualized and designed. It involves artists, architects, and many others to design a set. Once the artistic envisionment of a set is approved by the director and/or producer, the people responsible for constructing the set must decide the best way to build the set. They also have to build the set according to legal building standards. The sets must be as close to the conceptualization of them as well as be safe for cast and crew to work in and around. The actual physical construction of a set can take many weeks and many months, depending on the size and complexity of the required set.

A popular saying that accompanies building sets is "build only what the camera sees." That is, there is no need to waste time, money, or resources to build a huge elaborate set if only a small section of it will ever actually appear on camera. Therefore, set designers have come up with some tricks to creating realistic yet practical sets. For example, if the script calls for an old western town, the sets might consist of a street with houses on either side. If the camera will not be going inside of each and every house, then there is no need to build the insides of the house. Therefore, the set would consist of facades, or false buildings, that are generally walls with nothing in them. They look great from the outside, which is the camera's point of view.

Many production companies have permanent sets such as backlots. A backlot can consist of anything from a street full of fake facade houses to a wild open natural vegetated landscape. Production companies have a variety of different backlots. Take, for example, Disney - you can actually visit their backlot at the Walt Disney World MGM Studios in Orlando, Florida. There you can see some famous houses including the Golden Girls house and more.

Choosing to build a set is a big decision. It requires months of designing, preparation, construction, and decorating. But the efforts of those who choose to use a set over compositing actors into a model, using matte paintings, or settling for less visually appealing existing scenery often pays off. The results of a full-scale set produces the most realistic environment over any other special effects wizardry.



NeoAuteur said...

Your series about movie production continues to provide interests. Keep it up.

Johnskibeat said...

Best movie set I ever visited: Tommy Corman's enormous pad on the coastline of Kuai'i. It was really someone's house! I want to live there... must get rich quick. :):)