Hollywood Hacks – How Production Designers Build a Movie Set

There’s little more magical than a trip to the movies. The spectacle of the big screen has been keeping audiences entertained for over 100 years, despite the introduction of other distractions such as television or the Internet. There’s just something about seeing a story play out on such a grand scale that keeps people coming back.

Some audiences have a decent understanding of how a movie gets made. But many are in the dark to how the process works. How could it be that movies are so expensive? That they cost millions and millions?

Some of that has to do with something known as production design. A production designer creates the physical reality you see on screen, including all the sets. Read on, and we’ll walk you through what it takes to build a movie set.

Planning, Planning, Planning

Movies are a primarily visual medium. That means everything that we see on screen contributes to our understanding of the story, world, and characters. Movie sets need to capture the world that the story takes place in and convey it to the audience without any words being needed.

These sets must be so detailed as to feel real and authentic. Movies are escapes for the imagination, and it’s essential that an audience member feel as if they could step into the world on screen and walk around.

Since it is all about story the whole process starts with the script. The production designer, the individual in charge of set design, will pour over the script and understand the locations and world of the story.

They will speak with the movie’s director and make sure they are on the same page about the look, feel, and atmosphere of the film to be. The production designer might even make a book of images and illustrations to help ensure that the duo are on the same page.

The production will then begin to plan which locations will be built as sets and which will be real-life locations. Discussions will take place about which sets and locations can be augmented with CGI (computer-generated imagery). to save money.

Once a rough plan is in place, the production designer will spend months drawing out plans for the various sets in question. For the real-life locations, they will plan the layout of furniture and all other items seen in the scene. This planning period can take a great deal of time.

Construction on a Movie Set Begins

As the shoot date looms closer, these plans begin to take physical shape. At this point in time, plans have been finalized as to what actually needs to be built from scratch for the movie.

The production designer and their team have laid out detailed plans of what they intend to build in front of the director. If the director approves these plans, the team gets to work on making them a reality.

The plans are handed over to the production designer’s right hand, the art director. The art director oversees a team of draftsmen who act as the architects of the film set. They create detailed, three-dimensional blueprints of the film sets which can be used to guide the construction manager.

It’s then the construction manager’s job to hire all the necessary staff. This will include painters, carpenters, modelers, riggers, and scenic artists who will be the hands physically building the set. This is where the imagination and vision for the movie need to be translated into real building materials.

The construction team will use a wide variety of tools, including rope cast, to help turn the team’s blueprints into a physical reality.

Filling In The Set

While this team is building the set, the production designer and art director will be in the process of finding and obtaining the items that will be placed inside it.

For a period piece, for example, that might mean seeking out authentic 17th-century bedroom decorations. For a futuristic sci-fi, it might mean gathering materials and making entirely new creations from scratch. In these cases and for all in between, the items chosen must be carefully selected.

The way a room works can tell you a lot about its owner. As such, the selection of set dressing can help contribute to an audience’s understanding of the character in a major way. Are they messy or clean? Rich or poor? What is placed in a set helps us to understand these things.

You can start to get a sense of why a series like Game of Thrones is such a massive undertaking. While not a movie, production on the show works in the same way.

Acquiring all of these items, hiring all laborers, and transforming raw material can be quite an expensive process. And this is just a small part of all the movie parts that make up film production. It’s no wonder that movie budgets are so high!

An art department coordinator will work alongside the designer and art director to ensure the team comes in under budget. They’ll keep the expenses of the team organized and present an actualized budget to the team and the producers every few days.

This can help keep the construction and decoration of sets on track without spinning off into excessive spending.

How a Movie Set Gets Built

The process of how a movie gets made can be almost as interesting as the movies themselves. Building a movie set is no easy task, but a dedicated team can come together and make one individual’s vision a reality. That’s the power of movie magic.

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