Filmmaking / Directing : How long does it take to build these amazing sets? by Beth Fox Heisinger

How long does it take to build these amazing sets?

I realize there are huge variables here -- budget, time frame, scope of work, et cetera. And, of course, there is the concept/design phase and the creation/fabrication phase. But still? I look at these incredible sets and watch "behind the scenes" but I never quite understand the time involved. Can someone elaborate? Thanks!

Pierre Langenegger

I'm certainly not speaking with any authority here but I did some PA work on a friend's feature a couple years back. They had free use of a scout hall for a weekend to shoot the basement scenes The hall doesn't have a basement so they constructed a set consisting of two rooms and a fake staircase leading down into the rooms. The schedule was to construct Saturday morning, film Saturday and Sunday and tear down Sunday night. I was impressed but I was also impressed with their schedule as they shot their feature in 13 days.

Beth Fox Heisinger

Wow, that is impressive, Pierre!

Gary Tucker

Something that I wanted to explore was the use of Blender combined with actual built props.

Quinn Katherine Stone

It really depends on the set. We typically have a few weeks working with the director and cinematographer on design and functionality. Most of the time we do most of the work in our shop for a week or two then transport to the studio and have 1-2 days installing. If you have something specific I can give you a better idea of timeline.

Deborah Hancock

A great deal depends on how motivated and hard-working your crew is. Did you see Kick-Ass? Many of the interior scenes, IIRC, were created in sets that were built in something like two weeks. It looked great on film.

Robert Franklin

I would love to watch a set being built!

Roxanne Paukner

If you're fortunate enough to get authentic locations, as we are for this current project, little to no "building" is required, only dressing. We are using several museums, which is super-sweet as this story I'm Art Director on is set in 1910! https://vimeo.com/226937883/360c6231d1

Royce Allen Dudley

Design+ Budget = Schedule is one way to consider it.

Sets can go up in a day or two from prefab kits including custom paint colors, trim, and dressing, or take months to stand, finish, paint and detail. Do you see a big difference ? Often, none. Sometimes, lots.Depends on the coverage and the cut.

I have been running the back end of 5 soundstages with a scene shop the last 3 years, and assure you a huge variety of sets can be up in 1-3 days with existing flats and set pieces, add 1 day if it is from scratch; anything purely custom and huge and detailed ( mouldings, wallpaper, exotic sculpting, detailed scifi) takes longer, but you have to remember sets are not real, so while a real house takes months to a year, a set can be days. It only has to look real. An airplane or spacecraft can take quite a while; less time if components like hatch doors and switch panels are rented from prop houses. Many architecture-based sets are fast, but if you want to copy something known, like the Oval Office, that also can take a while. It's about details.

I do recall a project I DP'd a few years ago ( HOUSE OF THE WOLF MAN) where we had 5 weeks from budget greenlight to finish of principal photography; the period castle sets from tower to dungeon including miniatures were built from scratch in 2 weeks; the film was all soundstage other than an exterior drive in the rain and lightning up at a Hollywood Hills home, although that also had a facade put up and taken down in a few hours, along with rain towers and Xenon lightning simulation. The production designer was well known as having a great art department and a great mind for his work... best set I ever had in front of my lens.

Often a set is cheaper than an actual location depending on where you are; in L.A., a bar or restaurant is insanely expensive to shut down for production; standing sets of that ilk on controlled stages are far cheaper. even a small piece of an existing location is often easier to copy and shoot on a stage. Location shooting is usually costly for all but the tiniest of films.

And then there is control. Ever try to fly a wall or remove the ceiling in a location to light the scene ? Exactly.

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