Filmmakers Guide To Production Design


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Filmmaker’s Guide
Production Design

Vincent LoBrutto

© 2002 Vincent LoBrutto
All rights reserved. Copyright under Berne Copyright Convention,
Universal Copyright Convention, and Pan-American Copyright
Convention. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a
retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without
prior permission of the publisher.










Published by Allworth Press
An imprint of Allworth Communications, Inc.
10 East 23rd Street, New York, NY 10010
Cover and interior design by Joan O’Connor, New York, NY
Page composition/typography by Sharp Des!gns, Inc., Lansing, MI
Cover photograph: Photograph of scale model for the production
design of the television adaptation Death of a Salesman (1986),
directed by Volker Schlöndorff, production designer, Tony Walton.
Courtesy Tony Walton, The American Museum of the Moving
Image, and the CBS Television Network.
ISBN: 1-58115-224-8

LoBrutto, Vincent.
The filmmaker’s guide to production design / Vincent LoBrutto.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 1-58115-224-8
1. Motion pictures—Art direction. 2. Motion pictures—Setting and
scenery. I. Title.
PN1995.9.A74 L63 2002
Printed in Canada

Reeves Lehmann and
Salvatore Petrosino

This page intentionally left blank



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xi

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xiii


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . xvii



A Brief Historical Perspective on Production Design in Motion Pictures . . . . . . . 1
Production Design Is . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2


The Trinity . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6
Writing for the Screen . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Writing the Screenplay with Design in Mind . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7
Production Design as a Narrative Tool . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 13
The Vision Thing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 14
A Production Designer’s Credo . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Communication . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Breaking Down the Screenplay . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 16
Set Decoration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Props . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 21
Special Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Finding the Look of a Film . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 22
Exercises to Develop Visualization Skills . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 24



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

The Psychological Nature of Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 27
Atmospheric Qualities of Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 28
Translating the Narrative into Visual Ideas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29
Interpreting the Characters Visually . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Establishing an Environment for Cinematic Storytelling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30
Visualization Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 31

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33

Design Files . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 34
Paintings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 35
Photographs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Magazines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 37
Literature . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 38
Video . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 39
Oral History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
The Internet . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 40
Clearance and Permissions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Product Placement . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41
Guidelines for Conducting Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43

The Design Team . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Art Director . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Set Designer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 44
Set Decorator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Lead Man . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Swing Gang . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Hair and Makeup . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 45
Construction Coordinator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48
Construction Crew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 49
Property Master . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Location Scout . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 50
Location Manager . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Greensman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Buyer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Scenic Artist . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Costume Designer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Production Illustrator . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 53
Draftsman . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 55
Set Dresser . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56
The Production Designer’s Responsibility to the Art Department . . . . . . . . . . . . 56


Understanding the Role of the Art Department During
the Early Stages of Pre-production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 56

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57

Concept Drawings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Approval . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 58
Storyboards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 62
Drafting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Sample Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 63
Drafting Requirements and Standards . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Plans . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 65
Location Scouting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 70
Organizing the Property Department . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
Final Steps of Pre-production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 73
Deadlines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Keeping Ahead of the Company . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 75
Cover Sets . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
Pre-production Advice . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 77

The Color Palette . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 78
A Concise Lesson in the Nature of Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 82
Color Theory . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .82
Black-and-White Filmmaking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
Color Correction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Developing a Color Sense . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 85
Discovering Color . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 86

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 89

Aging Wood . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Aging Stone . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
The Role and Purpose of Aging in Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 90
Learning About Texture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 92

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 93

The Development of Shot Design and Sequential Storytelling
Through Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94
The Development of Applying Design Aesthetic to Cinematic Storytelling . . . . 95
The Modernist School of Design Makes an Impact on the Look of Films . . . . . 97
The Architect as Production Designer . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 98
Construction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99


Use of Space . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 99
Post-modern Film Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 100
Learning More About Architecture . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 103

Time . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105
Time and Place . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111

Research . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111
Genre Is Storytelling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 126
Genre Exercises . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

Budgeting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129
Projecting the Production Design Budget . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 130
Scheduling . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132
Budgeting Tips . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .132

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135

Advantages of Shooting in the Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 136
Safety Procedures . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
The Grid . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 137
Workshops and Tools of the Art Department . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
Flats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138
Materials and Use . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 139
Painting . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 140
Three-Dimensional Weight-Bearing Construction . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Bracing the Set . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 141
Methods for Anchoring Objects to Flats . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Openings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 142
Cycloramas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 143
Ceilings . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Floors and Ground Areas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145
Procedures for Building and Erecting Sets in a Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 146
Camera Blocking in the Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
Rehearsals . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
Striking the Set . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148
Storage . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 148
Transportation of the Set . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149
Getting Familiar with Working in the Studio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149



. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151

Scouting Locations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 151
Transforming a Location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
Shooting at One Location for Another . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152
Matching a Location and Studio Work . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 153
Putting It All Together . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154
Tips for Working on Location . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 154

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 159

Keeping the Production Design Budget Down . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165

Pre-CAD Effects . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165
CAD Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Virtual Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
CGI in Contemporary Film Production . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168
Successfully Merging CGI Technology with Production Design . . . . . . . . . . . 168
Computer Animation . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 168
The Future of Digital Moviemaking . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 175


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181


. . . . . . . . . . . . . 173

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189


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I would first like to thank my chairman, Reeves Lehmann, of the
Department of Film, Video, and Animation at the School of Visual Arts in New York
City, and Salvatore Petrosino, his director of operations, to whom this book is dedicated. Reeves gave me his full support to teach a production design course back in
1994 and Sal has been my consigliere on developing the class over the years. It was
Sal’s idea to mount a museum show, “The Art of Production Design in Motion
Pictures,” which we co-curated at the Visual Arts Museum at SVA in Spring 2000.
Again Reeves was there with full support and encouragement. My heartfelt thanks
to Silas Rhodes, founder and chairman of the board of the School of Visual Arts, for
his good graces, for following the path less often taken, and for creating a home for
the study of art. SVA President David Rhodes and Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes
also provided encouragement and support. I thank Francis Di Tommaso, director of
the Visual Arts Museum, Rachel Gugelberger, associate director, and their staff for
the meticulous care, good taste, and expertise in mounting such an enterprise.
I learned production design for film at the knee of many great designers and have
them to thank for my education in this cinematic art and craft. They include these
artists: Ken Adam, Mel Bourne, Patrizia Von Brandenstein, Albert Brenner, Robert
Boyle, Norman Garwood, the late Ted Haworth, Andrew Jackness, the late Richard
MacDonald, Terence Marsh, Jane Musky, Lawrence G. Paull, Polly Platt, Bruno
Rubeo, the late Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Paul Sylbert, the late Richard Sylbert, Wynn
Thomas, Tony Walton, Stuart Wurtzel, and Kristi Zea.
I want to thank the late Richard Trupkin who produced productions of Twelve
Angry Men and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which I directed as artistic director of the Woodside Kiwanis Players. Production designer Marvin Pastina created
environments for our work beyond any expectations of what a little local community theater company could do. I offer respect and remembrance for firefighter
Lawrence Virgilio, who performed in both productions and perished on September
11, 2001.


My wife Harriet Morrison is a woman of the theater who over the years inspired
me to study the horizons of drama. It was Harriet’s idea for me to do an interview
book on production designers, and she envisioned its title. She was the first reader
of this book and as always lent her “fine Italian hand” to the manuscript. My son
Alexander Morrison, who recently studied filmmaking, screened film after film with
me during my original research into the subject and warmed my heart with the following story. One night while he was attending American University, he walked into
a dorm room where a group of students, kicking back, were watching a video of
Goldfinger. (I’m sure refreshments were served.) Alex looked at the screen and said,
“Oh, that’s a Ken Adam film!” as a food fight broke out in his direction.
My appreciation to all the students who have attended my production design
course at SVA for teaching me about teaching production design and to all the thesis students who have harnessed the power of design for their films. I cherish all of
our discussions and marvel at the results.
My thanks to all the heads of education I have worked with at Film/Video Arts
for their support of a production design mini-course I teach there. Thanks to all of
FVA’s documentarians and guerrilla filmmakers, who at first respectfully listened,
then went on blind trust, and then embraced production design as part of their
I want to thank publisher Tad Crawford at Allworth Press for suggesting this project and for his unconditional support. Thanks to my editor Nicole Potter for expertise, patience, and taste, and to Kate Lothman for her understanding and professionalism in coordinating the project. Thanks to copyeditor Diane Moroff for her meticulous attention to detail, and to Joan O’Connor for her elegant book design.
Finally thanks to Andrew Jackness, Wynn Thomas, and Tony Walton for contributing examples of their work that reveal the art behind the art of production
design. My respect for and fascination with the work of film production designers is
what got me here in the first place.



The purpose of this book is to make filmmakers aware of the art and
craft of production design for motion pictures and to provide practical, technical, and
aesthetic guidance. This is a how-to book about production design for film and a
why-to book as well.
Volumes have been written and said about the look or vision of a film. Many
filmmakers rely on the tools of cinematography and videography to achieve this
goal. Burgeoning digital tools enhance the visual properties of a movie but do little
on their own to create the total visualization and design of a motion picture.
Production design has long been a mystery to many filmmakers. Often, we are not
aware of when production designers are doing their job or the nature of their contribution. Production design is usually associated with Hollywood blockbusters and
period films. Historically, independent, low-budget filmmakers have felt they did not
have access to production design, and besides, contemporary films are shot on real
locations, aren’t they?
Although I had made my own independent films, have a B.F.A. in filmmaking
from the School of Visual Arts, and worked for the ABC television network in postproduction and as a freelance film editor, production design eluded me. As a student of filmmaking for most of my life, I have studied every genre and style of
movie from classical Hollywood to the films of international masters, independents,
and experimentalists. My understanding of the tasks involved in creating motion
pictures embraced directing, screenwriting, acting, cinematography, and post-production, but I remained in the dark as to art direction’s’ role in the visual and narrative processes.
During the 1990s, I produced a series of interview books on the film crafts. The
first craft I investigated was close to home—editing. The second book, on production design, was in less familiar territory. Filmographies produced a list of production designers with experience, craft, and the ability to collaborate with directors on
a wide range of film styles and storytelling approaches. I quickly came to the real-


ization that the look of a film couldn’t have sprung forth full-blown from the director’s imagination, as the auteurists would have us believe. Nor did the great artistry
of the cinematographer accomplish the visualization of a film—someone had to create what was in front of the camera, while the director and director of photography
were behind it.
A lot of background research was necessary. For many of the films I had already
seen, I had to re-educate my eye to see beyond photography to the purpose and
influence of production design in the moviemaking process. When the contribution
of production design did appear in front of my eyes, it was an epiphany.
When I was ready, having finished my self-created prerequisite course, I interviewed a number of prominent production designers on the East and West coasts.
These in-depth discussions were not only the content of By Design: Interviews With
Film Production Designers, they also became a series of one-to-one master classes
in feature film production design. My professors were legends in the field: Ken
Adam, Goldfinger (1964), Dr. Strangelove (1964), and Barry Lyndon (1975); Mel
Bourne, Annie Hall (1977), Fatal Attraction (1987), and The Fisher King 1991);
Robert Boyle, Shadow of a Doubt (1943), North by Northwest (1959), and The
Thomas Crown Affair (1968); Albert Brenner, Bullitt (1968), The Goodbye Girl
(1977), and Pretty Woman 1990); Norman Garwood, Brazil (1985), The Princess
Bride (1987), and Glory (1989); Ted Haworth, Strangers on a Train (1951), Some
Like it Hot (1959), and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973); Richard MacDonald,
The Servant (1964), The Day of the Locust (1975), and Altered States 1980); Terence
Marsh, A Bridge Too Far (1977), Absence of Malice (1981), and Spaceballs (1987);
Jane Musky, Blood Simple (1984), Ghost (1990), and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992);
Lawrence G. Paull, Blade Runner (1982), Romancing the Stone (1984), and Back to
the Future (1985); Polly Platt, The Last Picture Show (1971), The Bad News Bears
(1976), and The Witches of Eastwick (1987); Bruno Rubeo, Platoon (1986), Driving
Miss Daisy (1989), and Sommersby (1992); Ferdinando Scarfiotti, Death in Venice
(1971), Last Tango in Paris (1973), and Scarface (1983); Paul Sylbert, One Flew
Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), Heaven Can Wait (1978), and Kramer vs. Kramer
(1979); Richard Sylbert, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), The Graduate
(1967), and Chinatown (1974); Wynn Thomas, Do the Right Thing (1989), A Bronx
Tale (1993), and Mars Attacks! (1996); Patrizia Von Brandenstein, Amadeus (1984),
The Untouchables (1987), and The People vs. Larry Flint (1996); Tony Walton, A
Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), Murder on the Orient
Express (1974), All That Jazz (1979), Stuart Wurtzel, The Purple Rose of Cairo
(1985), Brighton Beach Memoirs (1986), and The Mambo Kings (1992); and Kristi
Zea, Married to the Mob (1988), GoodFellas (1990), and The Silence of the Lambs
The concepts and techniques presented in this book have been acquired from the
knowledge and experience of these and other production designers. The teaching
methods I have developed since 1994 were honed during my course in production
design at the School of Visual Arts.
Teaching production design to filmmakers is unlike educating them about cinematography or editing, both absolutely necessary to completing a film. In fact, the


early reaction was there was no access, no money, and no way to bring design to
their films. This quickly changed; filmmakers learned that production design was a
road to achieving their vision of a film and could be accessible to them.
Currently production design is an integral component in independent, student,
low-budget as well as mainstream film production. I get many calls and request from
filmmakers looking for a production designer. With each passing year the number of
film students who have dedicated themselves to becoming production designers
This book has evolved out of this experience and from my work as an advisor to
student and independent filmmakers. The results have been affirming and altering.
The majority of films now have added a production designer to their creative team;
in turn, the work is more visually interpretive and expressive. Filmmakers are visual storytellers, and production design provides possibilities that have been long
ignored, misunderstood, and underutilized by moviemakers outside of the old and
new studio systems.
Throughout the following eighteen chapters, we will be exploring the answer to
one question—What is production design?—with a Zen-like approach. This book
is for producers, directors, production designers—in other words, it is for moviemakers.


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Chapter 1

The word “film” is used throughout this book along with “movie” and
“motion picture.” In the twenty-first century, the media and formats utilized to capture images include film, video, and digital technology. Often “film” is used to indicate a project that in reality may be a video. Eventually the term filmmaker may be
replaced with imagemaker, moviemaker, or motion picture creator, but to consider
one a filmmaker still has meaning and places that person at the center of the process.
In an Author’s Note for his 1976 novel, Even Cowgirls Get the Blues, Tom
Robbins apologizes for use of pronouns and nouns in the masculine gender, while
expressing hope that the English language would in the future find a grammatically
correct solution other than use of he, she, his, hers, himself, or herself. Mr. Robbins
and fellow writers—including myself—are still waiting. I particularly cringe at the
written or spoken use of the phrase “he or she” and generally prefer to use job titles
that aren’t gender specific, like cinematographer or director of photography or sound
recordist, rather than cameraperson or soundperson. My apologies for the English
language’s insistence on being gender specific when, in the practice of filmmaking,
it does not apply. In other words, filmmakers are filmmakers, and this is a book for
Words that appear in boldface type indicate their importance in understanding
production design for motion pictures and can be found in the appendix B, the glossary, along with other useful terms.


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Chapter 1

Production design is the visual art and craft of cinematic storytelling.
The look and style of a motion picture is created by the imagination, artistry, and collaboration of the director, director of photography, and production designer. A
production designer is responsible for interpreting the script and the director’s vision
for the film and translating it into physical environments in which the actors can
develop their characters and present the story.
In its fullest definition, the process and application of production design renders
the screenplay in visual metaphors, a color palette, architectural and period
specifics, locations, designs, and sets. It also coordinates the costumes, makeup, and
hairstyles. It creates a cohesive pictorial scheme that directly informs and supports
the story and its point of view.
The production designer researches the world in which the film takes place to
establish a sense of authenticity. The production designer must interpret and transform the story, characters, and narrative themes into images that encompass architecture, décor, physical space, tonality, and texture. Production designers use
sketches, illustrations, photographs, models, and detailed production storyboards
to plan every shot from microscopic to macroscopic detail. Production designers
are the heads of the art department and manage a creative team that includes art
directors, set decorators, property masters, painters, carpenters, and specialty
crafts people.
A Brief Historical Perspective
on Production Design in Motion Pictures

Production design is an art and craft embedded in the core of the filmmaking
process. Production designers utilize imagination, technique, illusion, and reality.
They apply discipline and financial restraint, to visually enhance the script and the
director’s intent, by creating images out of ideas and purpose out of the images.


The earliest films did not employ production design. The Lumière brothers in
France recorded the documentary reality in front of their motion picture camera.
The first evocation of art direction was fundamental. Filmmakers used painted backdrops and simple props to create a basic setting. Early art direction was not realistic in approach or result but rather a mannered, generic representation that indicated where the story took place. It functioned as an accessory to the screen story, not
an interpretive or expressive craft.
The classic Hollywood studio system created and developed massive factory art
departments, with hierarchies headed by supervising art directors, who managed
the work of art directors and other unit members who designed and executed each
and every studio release. Art direction in movies during the 1920s and 1930s
became a sophisticated art form supported by a wealth of organized and systematic resources, but it did not yet encompass the shot-by-shot totality of film visualization that interpreted the story and gave the characters a living and breathing environment.
The advent of the production designer occurred in 1939 when producer David O.
Selznick gave the title to William Cameron Menzies for his work on Gone with the
Wind. Selznick recognized that Menzies did much more than design the sets and
décor; he created a blueprint for shooting the picture by storyboarding the entire
film. His detailed visualization of Gone with the Wind incorporated color and style,
structured each scene, and encompassed the framing, composition, and camera
movements for each shot in the epic film. Menzies’ contribution helped expand the
function of the art director beyond the creation of sets and scenery, to include the
responsibility for visualizing a motion picture. As a result of his extraordinary
vision, William Cameron Menzies is recognized as the father of production design.
Over the decades, leading designers have alternated between the art director
credit and the production designer title. Now, most films—both big-budget and lowbudget independent productions—bear the job title of production designer, followed
by art directors, and a team of art department artisans.
Production Design Is . . .

• A galaxy far, far away, imagined and built on a sound stage
• Scenes that take place in New York or Los Angeles—but are actually shot in
• Gotham City brought to the screen, although the urban environment had previously only existed in the imagination of the comic book creators and was
expressed in ink
• An apartment in a Woody Allen film, shot on location in an actual New York City
apartment, transformed into the living space of the character through addition,
substitution, subtraction, renovation, and alteration
• A visual vehicle that transports the audience back or forward in time
• Visual poetry—a dream, a nightmare, or the mundane reality of the everyday
• The altered psychological state of the audience, created by an emotional mood or


• Paint, nails, and tile
• Wood, paper, and stone
• The relationship between the characters, their story, and the environment
Production design functions in the service of the story, in the vision and creation
of the illusion of verisimilitude and fantasy.

W H AT I S P R O D U C T I O N D E S I G N ? / 3

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Chapter 2

Making a film is a most complex artistic enterprise. Moviemaking is the
only creative endeavor that encompasses all of the arts: writing, photography, painting, acting, music, dance, and architecture. The filmmaker must take on the challenge of telling a story via image and sound each time a movie is made.
Filmmakers have myriad reasons for wanting to make a movie. They come to the
task with particular strengths. Some are principally writers; others are actors, or
come from the artistic disciplines of music, the theater, cinematography, editing, or
design. They make films to entertain, to express emotion, tell a story, deliver a message, to dream, to imagine, and because they have a passion that drives them.
Filmmaking takes time, patience, dedication, commitment, and an understanding of
the process in its totality.
If filmmakers are oriented toward story and performance, they must learn to visualize the narrative. The story must unfold in the mind’s eye, as it is conceived and
created. The filmmaker has to see the movie while the screenplay is being written
and during pre-production before the cameras roll. It must be envisioned not as a
movie that has been seen before but as a unique story expressed in a unique combination of image and sound. The filmmaker translates the story into the visual language of the cinema.
If filmmakers come from a visual orientation, they must learn to understand how
story and character form the foundation of a film. Image and sound without a compelling and engaging story and actors to bring it to life through performance will not
produce a successful or satisfying movie.
Good screenplays are rare gems. Writing a great or even a good screenplay is a
difficult endeavor. Even if filmmakers are in possession of a good screenplay, they
are only halfway toward achieving their goal. The process of imagining the images
that become a motion picture is called visualization. Visualization is a total process.
To make a cohesive and expressive film, the director must be in control of the way
the project is visualized.


Technically, films can be made without a director. Cinematographers, actors, production designers, and editors can follow a screenplay and record the story on film
or video, but without the guidance, leadership, and vision of a central figure, it will
never be more than just that—a story recorded on film or video. When a filmmaker
visualizes a good story, it becomes a motion picture with intention and purpose.
The great visualists span the history of film, all one hundred years plus. A short
but representative list would include these masters: Paul Thomas Anderson,
Michaelangelo Antonioni, Darren Aronofsky, Luc Besson, Ingmar Bergman, Bernardo Bertolucci, Luis Buñuel, Tim Burton, Werner Rainer Fassbinder, Federico
Fellini, John Ford, Terry Gilliam, Jean Luc Godard, D.W. Griffith, Alfred Hitchcock,
Stanley Kubrick, Akira Kurosawa, Spike Lee, David Lynch, F.W. Murnau, Sam
Peckinpah, Roman Polanski, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, Oliver Stone,
Andrey Tarkovsky, Francois Truffaut, King Vidor, Wong Kar-Wai, Orson Welles, and
Zhang Yimou.
The Trinity

Many filmmakers embrace the camera as the key element in cinematic visualization, but an all-encompassing visual style or look of a movie comes from the trinity
comprised of the director, the director of photography, and the production designer.
The aforementioned visualists are filmmakers who understand the total palette at
their command. It has little to do with money or cinematic philosophy. It is the nature
of the motion picture medium. A screen story is created through cinematography and
Critics and theorists often cite Citizen Kane (1941), directed by Orson Welles, as
the great American movie—the result of its enfant terrible, twenty-something director, crowned auteur. Scholarship by Pauline Kael published in The Citizen Kane
Book and Robert L. Carringer in his book The Making of Citizen Kane has revealed
that the film is the result of collaboration. The screenplay by Herman J. Mankiewicz
and Welles contains a narrative and visual structure that directly served the vision of
the film and its thematic content. The visualization of Citizen Kane emerged from
the artistic partnership of three men: Orson Welles, the director, Greg Toland, the
director of photography, and Perry Ferguson, the art director. Welles and Toland have
been justly praised, while Ferguson’s contribution to Citizen Kane has been shrouded by the mysteries surrounding the role of art direction in movies.
Citizen Kane was storyboarded in great detail, and Ferguson was instrumental to
that process. Welles and Toland discussed and decided on the use of deep focus for
the film, but Ferguson had to design deep perspective sets with foreground and
background details for that visual concept to take shape in the film.
The notion that Charles Foster Kane would be based on William Randolph Hearst
evolved during the gestation of the screenplay. Ferguson and the art department were
not able to get any firsthand accounts of what Hearst’s San Simeon estate looked
like. Research turned up a 1931 Fortune magazine feature article, “Hearst at Home,”
which served as the genesis for Ferguson’s designs for Kane’s Xanadu.
San Simeon’s great hall became the inspiration for the great hall at Kane’s


Xanadu. Ferguson sketched a massive oak table, a high-backed armchair, and a large
fireplace into the room. Xanadu became a combination of Renaissance architecture
and Gothic, Venetian, Baroque, Egyptian, and Far Eastern design. Another influence
on the design of Citizen Kane was the overscaled, overdecorated visual style pioneered in the films of D.W. Griffith and Cecil B. De Mille. The photographic plan to
create size, a Gothic atmosphere, and to utilize low and canted angles influenced
Ferguson’s work as art director and the sets themselves made the totality of Citizen
Kane’s visualization possible. Ferguson was aware of the camera’s power to suggest
massive space and depth. In turn, this minimized set construction, often allowing
Ferguson to design a foreground and background so that lighting, lenses, and composition could do the rest to create the grand illusion and mighty power of Xanadu
as a symbol of Kane’s wealth and loneliness.
Writing for the Screen

The earliest advice to screenwriters to write visually may very well have come
from Aristotle in the Poetics. The Ancient Greek philosopher compelled creators of
drama determine the developing narrative by visualizing the action as if the writer
were actually present as it unfolded. By visualizing the action as the screenplay is
being written, the filmmaker can make measured decisions about what is appropriate for the story and rout out the inconsistencies and distractions that threaten the
In a screenplay, the prose in between dialogue describes what will be shown on
the screen. Here, the writer determines the setting—where the scene will take place,
the time, and the geographical location.
The screenwriter invents the action using a sensibility that screenwriter and educator Stephen Geller calls the “dream-screen.” Write what you see. Write for the
frame. Create for the way in which the camera composes, for space, shape and form,
texture and light. The training of a screenwriter goes beyond story and character.
Visual storytellers write with an understanding of how lenses, shot size, and camera
movement impact on a narrative. They create visual symbols and metaphors that are
part of the cinematic language. Visual images associate and correlate ideas, concepts, and meaning to the story. The writer creates the plan for what is known as
mise-en-scène, which includes the environment of a scene, the décor—the production design.
Writers deal with human reactions to ever-changing circumstances and environment. Changes in the environment instigate change in the characters. The characters
are the sum total of their physical being and the influence their environment has on
them. Once the screenwriter has imagined the environment, it is created and realized
by the production designer and the art department.
Writing the Screenplay with Design in Mind

A script is a blueprint for a film photographed during the production process and
structured during the post-production process. A screenplay is a story written to be

V I S U A L I Z AT I O N O F A S C R E E N P L AY / 7

told through the cinematic tools of cinematography, editing, sound, and production
The idea for your film should have the potential for cinematic storytelling, while
your approach can be a traditional, nontraditional, or experimental narrative. The
prime concerns of the filmmaker are the presentation of the story and characters in
visual and aural terms. A well-crafted screenplay should be revised through many
drafts before it is ready to be interpreted cinematically. Don’t proceed until you get
the script right. If the story is insignificant, unimaginative, incoherent, or poorly constructed, the production design can do little more than decorate, rather than visually
interpret the narrative to make a significant contribution to the cinematic storytelling.
The design process actually begins before a single word is put on paper. All films
start with an idea, a concept, and a story. The sole purpose of the screenplay is as a
text, a blueprint to be used to make a film. You must write visually so the camera and
the design can interpret the script.
To find out how past screenwriters have created their mise-en-scènes, read the
screenplays of films you are familiar with and have a passion for. Study how the
filmmaker visually presents the story. The world around the characters is as important as the story itself. Characters and narrative need an armature to give the story
veracity, a sense of time and place, an atmosphere, and psychological insight.
All films, not just period films, have a production design. Here is a short list of
movies that contain the rare but essential combination of a good story and an appropriate visualization that contributes to the narrative power the film communicates.
They include:
All That Jazz (1979)—an autobiographical fantasy of director Bob Fosse’s life in
the tradition of Fellini’s 81⁄2. Tony Walton’s production design provides the show biz
glitz, Broadway theatricality, and New York style for the flamboyant Joe Gideon who
burns himself out from too much sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll. Glittering colors,
shiny Mylar, drab rehearsal rooms, hip New York Apartments, and a hospital set out
of a Broadway musical. Also an excellent reference for designing music videos.
Amadeus (1984)—the seventeenth century world of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
Period concert hall and palaces, but the attitude is Mozart as rock star. Production
designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein used the metaphor of a Madonna tour: outrageous wigs, extravagant décor, powder puff colors, and theatrical excess.
Apocalypse Now (1979)—the Vietnam War as an LSD-laced fever-dream.
Inspired by Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and designed by Dean Tavoularis,
the trip down the river to the tribal fortress of a madman includes a phallic symboldecorated stage for the Playboy Bunnies entertaining the troops, a French plantation,
a quiet Vietnamese village devastated by bombs, and a helicopter ballet battle.
Barton Fink (1991)—an old claustrophobic hotel and the bungalows where
screenwriters lost their souls present the underbelly of the Hollywood dream factory as designed by Dennis Gassner.
Blade Runner (1982)—a futuristic, retrofitted, third world Los Angeles with
Asian, Mayan, and European influences. Neon nights set the stage for this neo-noir
designed by Laurence G. Paull.


Boogie Nights (1997)—one of the best references for the 1970s on film. Not an
exaggeration or satiric interpretation but a meticulous recreation approach as a period film, designed by Bob Ziembicki.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)—German Expressionism on film. The design
by Walter Reimann, Walter Röhng, and Hermann Warm features distorted perspective, walls filled with graffiti, and painted shadows are the environment for a sleuth,
a somnambulist, and a psychotic doctor who fills this claustrophobic world with
Chinatown (1974)—production designer Richard Sylbert’s perfect recreation of
Los Angeles in the 1930s for a narrative that reflects the cynicism and depravity of
the 1970s in which it was produced.
Citizen Kane (1941)—the world of Charles Foster Kane ranges from an old
boarding house to Xanadu, a castle of legendary proportion, in the design by Perry
Ferguson. This larger-than-life character is supported by space and grandeur that
represent both his power and his deep loneliness.
The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover (1989)—utilizes color to symbolize its themes. Designed by Ben Vanos, the restaurant is red to evoke decadence, the
exterior is blue to represent the city, the kitchen is green for growth, the toilets are
white for purity and innocence, and yellow exemplifies the antique books owned by
the lover.
Dracula (1931)—a classic horror film made for Universal on their studio lot, featuring the Count’s castle, utilized and imitated throughout the decades. The design
by Charles D. Hall creates the atmosphere for the ageless undead: a large, cold, dark,
stone space that protects the creature who can turn into a bat. The castle is contrasted by the sophisticated home of his victim, old-world elegance, and the sexual overtones of women in white, flowing gowns. A bedroom is defenseless against the elusive Dracula, who can fly through the open window. A room of coffins where the
vampires lie in hiding provides the vulnerability that leads to their demise.
Eraserhead (1978)—this mysterious and truly weird, no-budget, black-and-white
film brought notoriety to David Lynch as a personal filmmaker with a unearthly, psychodramatic vision. The room of a lonely man becomes the environment for his profound alienation and for a part animal, part human baby—one of the strangest characters in all of cinema. Lynch’s design of Eraserhead is filled with neo-surrealistic
images: the man’s hair standing on end as a particle-filled sky swirls behind him, a
blond-wigged Lady in the Radiator whose cheeks are riddled with mump-like
growths, a drawer full of dirt, and that baby that looks like a chicken and human
fetus combined (Lynch still keeps the secret of its construction and execution).
The Exorcist (1973)—a horror film that takes place in the staid elegance of the
Georgetown section of Washington, D.C. The design by Bill Malley contrasts the
everyday, normal life of a little girl with the results of her possession by the devil.
Her bedroom, where much of the action takes place, is transformed from a sweet little girl’s room to a baneful place. The film presents the scariest transformation makeup ever put on film. Religious iconography represents the power of the church in this
classic battle between good and evil. An excellent reference for contemporary horror films.

V I S U A L I Z AT I O N O F A S C R E E N P L AY / 9

The Fifth Element (1997)—New York in the future. Production designer Dan Weil
and director Luc Besson set out to avoid the clichés of the science fiction genre. Here
cabs and police cars fly but retain their traditional design. Twelve artists and illustrators worked on specific themes, vehicles, apartments, food, and domestic accessories. The traditional grid of Manhattan streets and avenues was retained, but buildings in the design were “futurized” to an appropriate level of technology, without
resorting to an exaggerated hypermodernity as seen in the old Flash Gordon serials
and many early science fiction films.
The Godfather (1972)—Paramount expected just another gangster flick, but
director Francis Ford Coppola and production designer Dean Tavoularis had in mind
an epic film about organized crime as an American industry. The screenplay by
Mario Puzo and Coppola stressed the family structure, power, and tradition. The
design contrasts the sanctity of a sunny garden wedding with Don Corleone’s dark,
old-world office, where favors and evil deeds are dispensed. The home is a fortress,
a corporate headquarters for the family business with dark wooden blinds, immaculate grounds, and all the trappings of home. Light and dark, and good and evil, are
the platforms for a family whose relationships are representative of 1940s middleclass America—except their business is crime, murder, and treachery.
Interiors (1978)—Woody Allen’s Bergmanesque drama is about an oppressive
woman and the psychological damage she has inflicted on her husband and daughters. Production designer Mel Bourne received an Academy Award nomination for
creation of an environment that provided the mood to support the drama. Eve, played
by Geraldine Page, is a decorator. The premise of the story is that she decorates the
family living space. Eve is a woman who is a perfectionist in her work, and the subtle and minimalist space she creates for her family represents her cold emotional state
and inability to give love. This space dooms them all to struggle with their feelings
toward each other. The walls in the house are a muted clay beige color. The window
walls along the part of the house that faces the beach are painted a lighter shade than
the other walls, to avoid shadows and create uniformity. The windows are a metaphor
for personal reflection and confrontation of the characters. Bourne reglazed every
window to have a clear surface for actual perfect reflections. The putty on each window was an exact straight line. Bourne felt it was what Eve would have done.
Intolerance (1916)—D. W. Griffith’s apologia for the racism of The Birth of a
Nation presents the intolerance of man throughout the ages and features the biggest
set ever built in Hollywood. For the Babylon story, the production design by Griffith
and his art department, led by Walter L. Hall, constructed massive steps and gigantic platformed pillars topped with enormous elephant statues. The immense scale of
the production design was unprecedented and became the artistic bar for the epic
film genre.
King Kong (1933)—designed by Carroll Clark, Al Herman, and Van Nest
Polglase, this fantasy of a giant ape taken from his African environment to New York
City, as an Eighth Wonder of the World spectacle for the entertainment of the cosmopolitan masses is convincing and metaphorical. The themes of beauty and the
beast and the dangers of violating the laws of nature are supported by a jungle
stronghold, an African landscape, a burgeoning New York City, elevated trains, and

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a cavernous theater. The New York skyline serves as a jungle for Kong, who displays
his power by climbing to the top of the Empire State Building (a phallic symbol) and
battles airplanes (the might of modern man). An entertaining film with state-of-theart effects, it continues to influence any film that takes on the challenge of making a
fantastical, altered-reality plausible.
The Last Emperor (1987)—not only a fine period film but a good reference for
creating environments that express the changing environments of the protagonist.
Designed by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, the world of the child emperor is the Forbidden
City, which represents Ancient China. It is red and gold with traditional art and
architecture. The adult emperor is exiled to a bleak prison in Art Deco Europe. The
environments present a history of China transformed by Communism and the psychological impact it has on the life of a man born to rule, who is instead sent on a
journey influenced by politics, social, and cultural change.
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)—visualized the brainwashing of a group of
U.S. military men by the Communists, with a revolving amphitheater that represents
both a ladies’ garden party and the location where the event is actually occurring.
Richard Sylbert created a production design that graphically demonstrates the mental delusional state of the men. A classic reference for the political thriller.
Magnolia (1999)—the sheer number of sets, designed by William Arnold and
Mark Bridges, that link the large diverse group of characters in their misery makes
this over three-hour film a major design accomplishment. The environments include
the set of a quiz show, a stage where a macho guru preaches to men, a hospital room,
a bar, and a rainy street flooded by frogs that fall out of the sky.
Metropolis (1926)—this silent Fritz Lang masterpiece features a sprawling futuristic city powered by throngs of slaves who operate oppressive machines that power
the city ruled by the rich. Based on a 1925 vision of a German city in the future, the
production design features towering skyscrapers and a Tower of Babel metaphoric
structure. The sets by Otto Hunte, Eric Kettlehut, and Karl Vollbrecht contrast the
grandeur of the city’s power with the evil underground dominated by a medieval
industrial complex. This netherworld is filled with steel, platforms of compressed
workstations, iron rails, a raked staircase, and blasts of polluted steam pounded out
from ubiquitous pipes and orifices.
Nashville (1975)—Robert Altman’s sprawling film of Tennessee’s country music
scene as a metaphor for the political, social, and cultural state of America in the
1970s is set in recording studios, clubs, concert venues, an airport, on a highway during a multicar supercrash, and in the living spaces of country music superstars. Set
decorator and property master Robert M. Anderson achieves an effective commentary on the extravagance and superficiality of American style.
Rear Window (1954)—this Alfred Hitchcock thriller is about a photographer laid
up with a broken leg, who uncovers a murder in his apartment complex by looking
out the window. The production design, by Joseph Macmillan Johnson and Hal
Pereira and built on a soundstage, is a courtyard that becomes the man’s universe in
his confinement. This metaphor for the filmmaker as voyeur is supported by a set
that creates a specific character environment for each of the residents living across
from Jimmy Stewart’s photographer. In a narrative sense, the set is the story: people

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living in close proximity, their windows a portal into their lives, ambitions, and their
dark obsessions.
Requiem for a Dream (2000)—environments created by and perceived by the victims of addiction are the foundation of this harrowing film designed by James
Chinlund. The drug dens are detailed and depict the doomed world of the addict, but
the Brooklyn apartment of an older woman driven into delusion over her battle with
food addiction has the most deadly effective set. The set features a refrigerator as
frightening as the goriest digital creature.
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)—Roman Polanski’s brilliant adaptation of Ira Levin’s
novel of contemporary horror, set in New York’s Upper West Side. Richard Sylbert
designed quintessential prewar apartments for the mother of Satan’s child, a subtly
creepy one for their cult neighbors, and a scary basement that sets the scene for evil.
This paradigmatic film for the horror that invades the modern everyday world is still
going strong over thirty years later, influencing films such as Scream (1996) and I
Know What You Did Last Summer (1997).
Saturday Night Fever (1977)—low-budget kitchen-sink realism comprises the
world of an Italian-American young man from Brooklyn, New York, who lives at
home and works in a local hardware store and explodes into the disco nightlife that
he dreams will take him beyond his roots. The design features a multicolored projected dance floor, a white suit, and the real fashion of urban middle-class America
at the height of the 1970s disco inferno.
Se7en (1995). In this unusual and dark film, designed by Arthur Max, a serial
murderer is obsessed with the seven deadly sins. The killer, brilliantly played by
Kevin Spacey, keeps detailed notebooks depicting each of the sins—:envy, gluttony,
greed, lust, pride, sloth, and wrath—and he executes a killing for each in a fitting setting of his own demented choice and creation.
The Shining (1980)—Stephen King’s Overlook Hotel was built entirely on a
soundstage in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation. The haunted hotel was designed by Roy
Walker with large, interconnecting rooms for the psychological atmosphere that
overwhelms and influences the maniacal behavior of Jack Torrence. The décor
includes Native American artifacts, a gold ballroom, a blood-red and white bathroom, eclectic colors and patterns, long, narrow hallways, a huge labyrinth kitchen,
and a topiary maze. The interconnecting design allowed Kubrick to take full and
effective advantage of Garrett Brown’s then newly invented Steadicam’s ability to
float and glide without the director’s attention to the traditional mechanics of camera movement.
Star Wars (1977)—George Lucas and his team created a galaxy far, far away,
inspired by his passion for Flash Gordon, myth, and science fantasy. The Star Wars
saga is about more than movies; the films have become part of popular culture. The
design by John Barry, however, was developed with limited resources and a technology created by the filmmakers. The narrative reaches back to themes of good’s
triumph over evil and forward to New Age beliefs in trusting the force within. The
design team had the challenge of creating an alternate reality, consisting of a Death
Star military complex, vehicles, Jedi resources for the heroes, a memorable alien bar,
two charming robots, and a host of imagined creatures in the Lucasian universe.

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Sunrise (1927)—F.W. Murnau’s first American film is one of the masterworks of
silent cinema. The story concerns a farmer who considers murdering his wife when
he becomes involved with another woman. The massive exterior city set, designed
by Rochus Bliese, was exaggerated in scope to visualize the point of view of the
country couple swallowed up the breadth of the cosmopolitan environment. Actual
streetcar rails and streetcars were brought onto the set. Buildings, streetlights, and a
restaurant are just some of the details that give Sunrise artistic realism.
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)—Stanley Kubrick spent four years developing,
shooting, and completing the science-fiction film that rewrote the rules on cinematic storytelling and visualization. His objective was to present a projection of the first
year of the new millennium from the perspective of futurists and experts he had consulted from a wide range of technology, business, style, and scientific concerns. All
of the contributions were factored into the overall production design by Ernest
Archer, Harry Lange, and Tony Masters. The imagery utilized to support the cinematic exploration of space and man’s relationship to a higher power include a mysterious black monolith, a prehistoric landscape, the inner workings of an onboard
computer that displays more emotion than the human astronauts, a moonscape,
graceful crafts in space, a red and white space station waiting area, the interior of a
spacecraft built inside a centrifuge, and a Victorian room in another universe.
Vertigo (1958)—Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller about a mysterious
woman and a detective with a fear of heights made an uncharacteristic use of location shooting. The director, who enjoyed the control of the sound stage, made dramatic and atmospheric use of San Francisco locales. The film, designed by Harry
Bumstead and Hal Pereira, is one of Hitchcock’s most emotionally complex and
mature and was ahead of its time in using actual locations to bring verisimilitude to
the style. It wouldn’t be until the 1970s when a new generation of filmmakers took
to the streets to express their visions.
Witness (1985). This story of police corruption is a study in contrasts, in particular between the serene country setting of the Amish in Pennsylvania and
Philadelphia’s tough inner city. The old-world is invaded by the new. Director Peter
Weir explores the spirituality of the Amish and uses the metaphor of a fish out of
water as a tough police detective poses as Amish to solve a crime.
Production Design as a Narrative Tool

Through architecture, shape, space, color, and texture, the design of a film
expresses the story and supports the characters. Before you write your first screenplay or the next one, study and understand the palette and tool box that will empower you to fully execute the production design appropriate to tell the story through
your personal vision of the film.
Screenwriters write for the screen. They understand the function and purpose of
place and period. The prose is direct and evocative, but it is meant to give instruction to the designer. Write cinematically. Understand the environment that the story
takes place in. When does the narrative take place? Where? Be story specific. The
locations should reveal information about the character’s’ economic, social, moral,

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and political status and views. What is the emotional and psychological makeup of
the characters? Where do they live? What is their personal style? How do they relate
to their environment? How does physical space impact on their lives? Visualize the
story as you write it. How can the inner-life of the story be put into a physical environment? How do you impart the poetic or metaphoric subtext of the story?
The Vision Thing

We’ve established that the visual style of a film is largely created through the collaboration of the trinity of director, director of photography, and production designer. The following are descriptions of the nature of each job and the ways in which
these three interact and support each other creatively.

A movie director is responsible for telling a story visually with a point of view.
As the central creative force, a good director must have a firm idea of how to translate the script cinematically. In pre-production and production the director makes
countless decisions about matters concerning story, motivation, technical, and aesthetic issues, all to serve the film.
To the director, a screenplay represents the totality of the film—content, story,
and character. It’s a document that embraces the text to be used to develop a point of
view and the manner in which specific tools of cinema craft will be applied.
Directors read the script for an overall impression and impact. They must pre-visualize the film and be ready to collaborate with the heads of departments working
under their leadership. Directors make all final decisions on design and photographic matters.

It is the director’s imperative to have a point of view toward the narrative and
characters. Directors with a strong point of view toward production design, such as
Terry Gilliam, Peter Greenaway, Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, and Ridley
Scott, communicate design ideas directly. Others directors give the production
designer a guiding concept and react and respond to their ideas and drawings; still
other filmmakers have little sense of the visualization and rely on the designer for
the creation of the production design.

The production designer is the head of the art department. Production designers
are responsible for the physical environment, the sets, and locations. They oversee
the work of the costume designer, and hair and makeup design. They are responsible for the selection, creation, and construction of the sets, locations, and environments for a movie. Production designers are fiscally responsible to the producer for
the design and construction of the sets. They are artistically responsible to the director and to the creative potential of the screenplay.
Production designers are brought on early in the pre-production phase. They read

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the screenplay for overall impressions, then begin to formulate a concept for the
material. The production designer searches to find the film’s visual potential and
intent, to be expressed in the physical environment. They begin to make notes concerning period, locations, space, texture, and color. The designer meets with the
director and shares impressions of the story and how the film will be visualized. The
physical environment of the story is the production designer’s primary concern.

The director of photography, or cinematographer, is responsible for rendering the
director’s vision of the movie on film or video. The director of photography collaborates with the director and production designer to create the look and visual style of a
film that will best serve the story. The domain of the director of photography is the
camera, composition, light, and movement. Lenses define the frame and perspective.
Film stocks, lab processes, and digital enhancements impact on the color and visual
texture. Cinematographers don’t create production design—they photograph it.
The director of photography generally is brought in later in the pre-production
process. The reason is fiscal. Directors of Photography earn a higher salary than the
production designer and so, for the sake of budget, are given less preparation time.
They get involved in planning the look of a film with the design process already
underway. If possible, bring the DP on board early so that he can have input into the
design process. Remember that the look of a film is a collaboration between the
director, DP, and production designer, and it needs to be solidified by the team from
the outset of a production. When the DP comes on later, the design process may suffer, not only because the DP is behind in contributing input, but also because practical aspects like the functionality of the set and approach to color and texture may
require changes that could have been resolved during early planning among the three
collaborators. If sets have to redesigned, rebuilt, or repainted because of color interpretation issues, it will cost the production time, money, and most important, cohesion. A vision or look of a film must be an interlocking collaboration of design and
photographic composition.
Like all production collaborators, the director of photography first reads the script
for story and then begins to crystallize photographic concepts concerning light, composition, and movement, color, and texture. The cinematographer’s primary tools—
the camera, lenses, lighting instruments, film stock, or video format—will all be
applied to photographically create the vision and look of the film.
The director, director of photography, and production designer meet to discuss the
script in detail. The story, characters, and the director’s point of view toward the
material must be clear. Everyone must be making the same movie.
A Production Designer’s Credo

• Craft must interpret the script.
• Cinema style should be loyal to the intent of the story.
• Style for style’s sake is only style and not content. Eye candy is pretty to look at
but is not narrative substance.

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Content = ideas, information, and narrative interpreted through the film crafts.
A good script properly visualized is paramount in making a good film.
Skillful casting and high-caliber performances are essential in making a good film.
Craft gives meaning, interpretation, and emotional and psychological depth to the
story and to the actors creating the characters.
• The production design must serve the story and the characters.

Everyone working on a film begins with the screenplay. Notes, sketches, storyboards, and discussion are the means of communicating visual ideas. The trilogy of
the director, director of photography, and the production designer should screen
films and look at paintings and photographs to communicate ideas, likes, dislikes,
research, and interpretive insights, and to look for inspiration. For The English
Patient (1996), production designer Stuart Craig visited the archive of the Royal
Geographical Society and studied files of documents and photographs of the real
Count Almasy, who was fictionalized in the film. A photograph of a street became a
reference for the Cario Bazzar set in the film. Production designer Patrizia Von
Brandenstein researched the world of faith healers, psychics, and crystals for Leap
of Faith (1992). The film starred Steve Martin as traveling tent show evangelist. For
her Oscar winning design on Amadeus (1984), Von Brandenstein examined Mozart’s
tax rolls for insight into his extravagant life style. Letters revealed he had tremendous gambling debts and that he spent his money on expensive clothes. She learned
that Mozart had moved from house to house ten times. This would have been cumbersome to portray in the film so one apartment was used in the film and it was
designed to gradually empty as Mozart lost what he owned to pawnbrokers.
After the production designer reads the screenplay for content and overview, the
script is broken down. A detailed list of each location is created, with the following
information included for each new location:

Interior (Int.) or Exterior (Ext.)
Identification of the actual location; for example, Ext. Farmhouse, Int. Jazz Nightclub
Time period
Destination—in what city, state, town, or country is the location situated?
Time of day or night
Season/weather conditions
Breaking Down the Screenplay

The following script page is from the author’s unproduced screenplay, The
Barbière. This period story begins in the 1940s in a barbershop, where a little boy is
learning his father’s trade. The last shot of the opening montage is a backtracking
shot of the father’s shop as the boy, Michael, is now working his own chair as a barber. When a full view of the old barbershop fills the screen, there is a match cut to
the following scene:

16 / CHAPTER 2

2. It is the grand opening of Michael’s unisex salon. The CAMERA continues to
move now TRACKING FORWARD. 3. EASY LISTENING MUSIC plays in the background over the P.A. system. All of the chairs are filled with customers. 4. Assistants
bring towels and haircutting capes to their operators. One of the SHAMPOO GIRLS
goes from station to station with 5. a tray of Italian pastries.
6. The MAIN ROOM has five chrome and glass haircutting stations on each side.
The hydraulic chairs are covered with white Naugahyde. The spacious floor is white
linoleum, cut to look like Italian ceramic tile.
7. In the back is MICHAEL’S old station from his father’s shop. The antique chair
and station is MICHAEL’S way of bringing a bit of the past with him to this venture in
a new world. He works on customer while overseeing the activities on the floor.
8. MICHAEL TORDELLI has grown up to be a very handsome man. Dressed in a
tailored suit, his salt and pepper hair is cut in a sharp European style. His eyes are clear
and demanding. His relaxed smile is framed by a dark, full but well-trimmed moustache. MICHAEL has a charisma that has made him popular with women and commands respect from men. He emits an aura of old-world elegance with a touch of New
York City street toughness.
9. Past a wooden lattice partition is the SHAMPOO AREA. There are five sinks and
shelves filled with supplies. Customers are getting their hair washed by SHAMPOO
GIRLS. Opposite the sinks is a door with a 10. sign that reads, MR. MICHAEL
To the right of the front door is 11. A WAITING AREA where 12. coffee and wine
are being served while customers sit on 13. three designer couches reading the latest
newspapers and magazines. 14. The walls are decorated with silver-framed photographs of new hairstyles.
In front of the door is 15. A tall, white, marbleized Formica RECEPTION DESK,
which is covered with 16. gift plants and cards congratulating MICHAEL. People wait
to make appointments. MARIE, the receptionist, is busy skillfully handling 17. the telephones, intercom, appointment books and customers with a polite diplomacy. 18. She
is single, very pretty with feathered-back hair like Farrah Fawcett Major. She wears
designer disco clothes and is unconditionally loyal to MICHAEL.

Detailed lists of each location, décor, props, and costumes are made by the production designer, art director, set decorator, property master, and costume designer,
then approved by the director. The following notes for The Barbière indicate what
information can be extracted from the script concerning the production design.

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1. This scene is an interior. The decision will be made whether to build this set or
find a suitable location. The Barbière is a period film taking place in 1976. Brooklyn,
a borough of New York City, can be seen outside the front window, and exteriors are
needed for other scenes in the film. If a set is created, the exterior view from inside the
shop must be accurate. A location is a possibility here. The designer may elect to find
a haircutting salon that has retained its look from the 1970s. If not, the location scout
will look for a salon that can be easily transformed into an exact period replica. It is
daytime, but the time of the year or season is not indicated. Warm weather would probably be preferable for this story. The characters can wear the disco finery typical for the
time period and environment, when unisex haircutting salons took the place of the barbershop for men and the beauty parlor for women—at least for young people and those
wanting to be au courant, 1970s style. The name of the salon, The Perfect Touch,
would be displayed on signs and business cards, and possibly be printed on the front
window (which means it would read in reverse from an interior view). An overhead
sign might be simpler than removing the name from a location window and painting on
the new one. As to the issue of whether to build in the studio or find a location, much
of the action in this film takes place inside the shop. Building a set would give complete control to the filmmakers and avoid scheduling problems that would come up with
a functioning location. Another possibility would be to find a salon no longer in operation that still has equipment and décor, and refurbish it. The ultimate decision is based
on a balance of economic, time, logistic, and aesthetic issues.
2. The architectural layout will be described. Knowing the rooms in the shop, their
arrangement, and connection to each other will help the designer to create a floor plan
for a set if it is to be built.
3. To justify the easy listening music that will be added in post-production, speakers for the shop’s sound system and a record or tape player can be on set, as well as
tapes or record albums that reflect the musical tastes of the characters later defined as
Disco and Frank Sinatra.
4. Specific props, towels, and haircutting capes are indicated. Research will uncover the kind of scissors, combs, brushes, hair products, and other supplies used to dress
the set and for hand use by the actors.
5. The pastries are going to be eaten by actors and extras on camera, so they will
have to be real and there must be enough on hand for multiple takes and camera setups.
6. The description of the main room implies that the shop is modern, state of the
art. The materials for the old-world barbershop were porcelain, leather, and Italian
ceramic tile. This shop is made out of artificial, faux materials, such as Naugahyde and
linoleum. The culture that created the old shop came from Italy; this one is ItalianAmerican, glitzier, and less permanent in nature. The style of The Perfect Touch is the
latest and doesn’t have a sense of tradition.
7. Michael’s old barber station is the one from the early scenes that took place in
the 1940s. It should be aged and in direct contrast to the brand-new shop it sits in. The
old station reflects Michael’s character. He still embraces his roots as he strives for success in a rapidly changing America.
8. This description provides important information for the costume designer and
the hair and makeup department in helping to create the character of Michael. Because

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the characters in the film are haircutters and the customers are being freshly styled, a
haircutting consultant would be helpful. Also the hair and makeup departments need to
be expanded to handle the large cast. They will also need to do research on hairstyles
of the time to give the film authenticity.
9. Wooden, painted-white lattices are crosshatched fences used in gardens. They
became a popular décor element in 1970s hair salons. Lattice was featured in Richard
Sylbert’s design for Shampoo, where it served as a metaphor for the Garden of Eden
surrounding the womanizing hairdresser portrayed by Warren Beatty. In The Barbière,
lattice is not used as a metaphor but as a period décor element. In the 1970s, lattice was
used as a room divider and created a friendly, atmospheric mood rather than the isolation of a solid wall. The open design of lattice allows a view through the fence-like
structure yet still defines the space. The shampoo sinks would largely have to be operational so customers can be seen getting their hair washed. If working plumbing is a
problem, actors could be wet down prior to shooting and the shampoo hose could be
rigged so water could spray out on camera.
Props: The shelves should be stocked with uniformly designed bottles of shampoo
and hair conditioner labeled with products of the era. There should also be stacks of
clean white towels and large combs for combing out the hair after the shampoo.
10.The scenic artists would be responsible for all signs. The sign for Michael’s
office should be designed to represent Michael’s ego and demand for respect.
11.The style of the working door must be determined, as should be the shape and
design of the waiting area.
12.Props for the waiting room—such as coffee and wine sets-ups—can be placed
either here on view or in a back room. The style of the coffee cups and wineglasses are
to be determined. Because it is opening day it may be appropriate to use real ceramic
coffee mugs and wineglasses that would speak to Michael’s sense of class. Another
choice would be to use Styrofoam cups for the coffee and plastic cups for the wine to
establish that Michael is a product of his environment and his sense of worldliness is
only a façade.
13.The three designer couches should be expensive but made of manmade materials, maybe Naugahyde, to relate to the haircutting chairs. The arrangement of the
couches will be determined by the design of the room. A table to hold the magazines
and newspapers is not mentioned but necessary. The reading material should be added
to this, as well as a book made up by Michael’s staff containing photos of models wearing the current hairstyles featured in the shop. This helps to sell customers on a hairstyle before they get to the chair and allows the shop to become associated with a signature hair-styling look.
14.These are professionally posed and photographed pictures to decorate the shop
and again to promote the shop’s hair fashion sense.
15.The reception desk could be rented or purchased from an industry manufacture
or distributor. One may exist in a location. Building this unit allows the designer to create to the character of Marie and contribute to the overall atmosphere of the production
design for The Final Touch salon. Marbleized Formica signifies that the surface pretends to be Italian marble but is an imitation. This is another metaphor: while Michael
imitates integrity of his father, a hard-working, honest man, he is power-hungry, will-

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ing to do anything to succeed but is attached to his family roots. The result is something
that is not what it is supposed to be. Formica is not marble—and Michael is not his
16.Props are used to indicate that the shop has just opened. Plants with colorful
bows sporting small identification tags and congratulatory greeting cards line the desk.
Not mentioned but period-accurate would be the shop’s first dollar, framed or taped to
the wall.
17.The reception desk has telephones and an intercom that do not have to be practical. The sound for this equipment will be added in post-production. The appointment
book or chart should be large and made out in pencil detailing every half-hour of the day,
the haircutter’s names, and the names of their clients. This is Marie’s power to control
who gets appointments with whom and when. The book should be large and imposing.
18.This description of the character Marie will aid the hair, makeup, and costume
team to help the actress create the role.

The filmmakers then share and make comments and notes addressing the atmospheric, architectural, and stylistic specificity of the locations. The script will give
some information in the prose description. The nature of the story and characters will
also help flesh out indicators from the script. The creative team then adds its own
observations about the look of the location and the purpose it serves in the narrative.
Authenticity, imagination, and creating the right audience perception are of the highest import. “Real” isn’t always best for the film; creating a world with its own innerlogic and truth is. The design must play dramatically and be believable to the audience no matter how surrealistic, fantastical, or imagined it may be. Does the location
require or need to be built on a stage or can it be found? If an actual location will be
used, does it have to be altered, aged, or restored?
You may be able to find a location, but it may not be suitable for film production.
Space is required for the camera, sound, lighting, and crew. If a set is built, the walls
can be made wild, allowing them to be moved. The set must be designed and built
to accommodate the personnel and equipment necessary for production.
It is important for the director of photography and the production designer to
meet with the director before the process of location scouting or building studio sets
begins. A production deal to shoot in Canada or another county may have been made
by the producer or director for budgetary reasons. The decision to shoot the film
entirely in the studio may have been made. Martin Scorsese decided to shoot Gangs
of New York (2002) on sound stages in Italy. Oliver Stone informed production
designer Bruno Rubeo that sequences set in Massapequa, Long Island, during the
1960s, for the film Born on the Fourth of July (1989), would be shot on location in
Texas due to a two-picture deal made with the Texas Film Commission. That decision required a massive effort on the part of the production designer and the art
department. Shooting on location in Texas meant a restoration effort to recreate
Massapequa in the 1960s. It demanded a total transformation that included façades
covering existing houses, the uprooting of trees and landscaping, the importation of
trees, plants, and bushes indigenous to Long Island, and the refacing of several
blocks of a Texas town’s shopping district.

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Set Decoration

On a major or independent production, the set decorator, a member of the art
department headed by the production designer, executes the set decoration. The set
decoration begins after the set has been built or after a real location has been selected. The set consists of the walls, floor, ceiling, windows, doorways, and doors.
Decoration includes rugs, furniture, wall hangings, and window treatments. The
script will give some indication of the décor, but the set decorator will be influenced
by the aesthetic decisions made by the director, director of photography, and the production designer and the way in which the actual set and characters have been realized.
The set decorator makes a list of what décor elements are necessary for each location in the script. They include paint, wallpaper, floor coverings, furniture, paintings,
photographs, books, magazines, newspapers, appliances, and audio-visual equipment.

Items handled by the actors are designated as props, including pens, weapons,
cigarette lighters, eyeglasses, and wineglasses.
They are gathered, designed, or purchased by the property master who is
responsible for their placement and care during the shooting phase of a film. The
property master is, of course, also acting under the supervision of the set designer.
The script will indicate specific props necessary for the story and representation of
the characters. Often it is the unique and specific prop that will enhance the visual
texture of the design and bring verisimilitude and imagination to the story. The red
paper lanterns used in Raise the Red Lantern (1991), a film designed by Cao Jiuping
and directed by Zhang Yimou, identified which of his many wives he wanted to bed
on a particular night. The designer considered the lanterns as witnesses of the
tragedy that unfolds throughout the film in the courtyard of the estate. The most
significant prop in American film history is the children’s sled in Citizen Kane
(1941). Initially it is a gift given to Kane by Thatcher, as he is about to take the boy
away from his parents to an affluent world they couldn’t afford but can now give to
their son, as young Kane’s mother has come into a stock fortune. Kane’s dying word
“Rosebud” becomes a mystery that may be a key to his complex personality. In the
final seconds of the film, when many of Kane’s personal artifacts are thrown into a
furnace, we see that the name of the sled was Rosebud and that for Kane it represented a childhood he was never allowed.
Every visual element should complement, support, and develop the cinematic
narrative and fit into the overall design plan. The property master lists the props
needed for each scene, and includes necessary items that will give the film, via the
design, distinction.
These “shopping” or “laundry” lists are an instrumental part of designing your
film. They organize your approach to the design and stimulate ideas and creativity.
The lists will be used to find, create, build, rent, and execute the design.

V I S U A L I Z AT I O N O F A S C R E E N P L AY / 2 1

Special Effects

All special effects need to be added to their own laundry list, and the consequences of special effects sequences need to be taken into account as well. Practical
effects like the walls in Brian DePalma’s Scarface (1983), designed by Ferdinando
Scarfiotti, had to be replaced after each take when they were riddled with bullet
holes. Many replacement walls were prepared in advance.
Digital technology has made a tremendous impact on production design. For the
Oscar-winning Gladiator (2000), the decision was made to create the stadium and
backgrounds of Rome with CGI, or computer-generated imaging. The production
designer can and should be involved in this process. When the industry used handpainted mattes for matte shots, the production designer conferred with the matte
artist. CGI, like matte shots, are a tool that should serve the design. Computer graphic artists and special effect creators have to understand the needs of the production
designer. Currently CGI is employed for budgetary and logistical reasons, to create
impossible shots and to augment, change, and enhance. Roman Polanski’s The Ninth
Gate (1999) features a very traditional-looking design that recalls the Hitchcockian
sense of artificiality. The design looks old fashioned and very low-tech. Polanski’s
DVD commentary for The Ninth Gate reveals that almost every shot in the film has
a CGI element—though most of the alterations were admittedly motivated by the
filmmakers’ desire to experiment with the miracle toy, not because CGI was necessary for substantive contributions. Richard Sylbert and other major designers have
expressed concern over when and where CGI should be utilized in creating film
design and when traditional methods are most effective.
Finding the Look of a Film

The look of a film comes out of the content and the director’s conception of the
story. Pre-visualize the film. Translate the script into visual images. Details come out
of concepts. Don’t proceed until you have a working metaphor, a specific psychological, atmospheric, and emotional image of what you want to visually project.
The key to the look of the film is not in an imposed or personal attitude toward
visual style—the story will lead you there. Some questions to answer:
• What emotional impact does the story have? Carnal Knowledge (1971), directed
by Mike Nichols and designed by Richard Sylbert, follows the sexual obsessions
and failed relationships of two males from college to middle age. Sylbert saw the
film as a chamber piece. The sets were designed to drive the characters into the
corners of the rooms by putting every door in every room in a corner. All of the
windows look out to another window. The walls were bare and only decorated with
light fixtures. The physical environment emphasized the emptiness of their lives.
• How does the environment of the narrative reflect the characters? The vivid characters in the screenplay for Ingmar Bergman’s Fanny and Alexander (1984) suggested settings that evoked their personalities. The grandmother had been a diva
of the theater. She behaved as the queen of the family. Production designer Anna

22 / CHAPTER 2

Asp designed an environment that conjured up power and a sense of theatricality. This was accomplished with heavy drapes that suggested a theater curtain, lush
carpets, sophisticated paintings, a crystal chandelier, oversized potted plants, a
bookcase full of fine volumes, and hand-crafted furniture. The home of the
Bishop reflected austerity with white stone walls, a single tall candlestick holder
and white, lit candle, and a music stand with instrument and sheet music. The
ascetic nature of the bishop created an environment the designer saw as a
metaphor for a prison for the children. The home of Jacobi, the puppet-maker,
was warm and magical, filled with red and a large puppet stage that allowed the
children to escape from their puritan environment into an enchanting world of
• What is the psychological nature of the story? In Andrey Tarkovsky’s last film,
The Sacrifice (1986), a catastrophic event takes place during the birthday celebration of the main character that impels him to search for an act of faith. The
great director’s theme was the lack of spirituality in modern life and the importance of the exploration of belief. The design of the man’s house developed out
of a collaboration between Tarkovsky and designer Anna Asp. The result was a
timeless atmosphere that could have been set after nuclear devastation. The scale
of the exterior of the house was four times the size of the interior to emphasize
that it sat surrounded by total ruin of rock, polluted water, and dirt with no sign
of life around it. The trees were nearly bare, tall, and thin as crooked pencils. The
design interpreted the psychological state of mind of its main character.
• How can the atmosphere of the architecture and physicality of the settings contribute to telling the story visually? The Name of the Rose (1986), directed by
Jean-Jacques Annaud, was based on the novel by Umberto Eco that took place
during the inquisition in the thirteenth century, where a monk is entwined in the
strange happenings in a mysterious Italian abbey. Production designer Dante
Ferretti was taken with the way Eco had evoked the atmosphere of the Dark Ages.
Ferretti started with the concept of a “subterranean, mysterious quality” and came
up with the idea of vertical labyrinth. The design was inspired by M. C. Escher,
a Dutch graphic artist who used optical illusion and the ambiguity between flat
and three-dimensional shapes to create surrealist effects, like staircases that
seemed to run both up and down in the same direction. Ferretti made graphic use
of high medieval arches and interconnecting staircases and passageways to visualize Eco’s vision of this dark period of history.
• What is your attitude toward the story? Federico Fellini created a fantasy world
in his films. To him, films were like dreams, not reality. Dante Ferretti designed
many films for the maestro. During an early collaboration, Ferretti designed a set
with a sink. He presented Fellini with his drawing, which encompassed all of the
details of the basin, the water taps, and the pipework. Fellini ordered the pipes out
of the picture. He wanted to maintain a dream state and felt that particular detail
of realism would shatter it. For And the Ship Sails On (1983), the two men spent
hours studying the seaside just outside of Rome for inspiration on how to recreate it on the sound stage. As they drove back, Fellini noticed a tomato field covered with plastic that moved in the wind and picked up the light of sun. In

V I S U A L I Z AT I O N O F A S C R E E N P L AY / 2 3

Fellini’s imagination it looked like the sea and that is what they used to create the
sea set of the film.
• What is your point of view? Working Girl (1988), directed by Mike Nichols, was
a message comedy about a working-class secretary who tries to move up the societal ladder. Production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein had a specific point of
view toward the story. The young woman took the Staten Island Ferry to work in
Manhattan every day. To Von Brandenstein, the boat trip was like immigrants
coming to the new land, or Dorothy coming to Oz. This point of view influenced
Von Brandenstein’s approach to the way the character saw Manhattan and the
office building that became her yellow brick road route to success. The office set
was built in a Lower Broadway building with a square corner and curved front
facing the harbor. Von Brandenstein had to create the geography of how to get the
protagonist from the elevator, through the pool of secretaries, to the power office
she craved.
Exercises to Develop Visualization Skills

• Read a screenplay of a film that you have not seen. Breakdown the script into
lists of sets and décor. Make notes about the color and texture. Develop a working visual concept based on the story and its intent. When you are confident you
are ready to begin the design process, screen the film. How close did you come
to the film director’s concept? Do you understand the approach? If your visual
concept differs, would it succeed in maintaining the integrity of the story and
characters? Does it have a directorial point of view?
• Study your personal environments. What do the architecture, furnishings, and
décor communicate about time, space, place, and the people who live there?
• Read a short story or novel. Visualize the literary work as a film. Put it down on
paper in words and sketches.
• Read a novel or play that has been adapted to a film. Then, see the film. How has
the cinematic process transformed the story visually?
• Select a painting that depicts a scene before the invention of photography. How
has the artist visually rendered the scene in color, form, and environmental detail?
What story does it tell? What does it reveal about the figures depicted?
• Keep a visualization diary. Make notes on every film you see. How is the physical world of the film visualized? How does the production design define and
inform the story and characters? What is the role of cinematography in the overall result?

24 / CHAPTER 2

Chapter 3

A production design metaphor takes an idea and translates it visually to
communicate or comment upon the themes of the story. An object or an image is
transformed from its common meaning and stands in for or symbolizes an aspect of
the narrative, and thus adds poetic complexity to the story. The metaphors evoked by
images may be complex and be comprehensible to varying degrees, but often the
viewer easily reads a latent meaning. Unlike the intangible words in poetry that conjure up multiple meanings and symbolic imagery in the reader’s mind, images in
movies are concrete. Using an object or image to transcend the purpose of its physical reality is a challenge, because the metaphorical intent may appear vague. It may
be difficult to get the audience to understand the narrative objective of the metaphor.
A visual metaphor in a production design may communicate to only part of an
audience or only be accessible to a critic or theorist. A visual metaphor may act on
the subconscious level, while the viewer consciously follows plot, character development, and the physicality of the design. These subconscious visual metaphors
work on another level, presenting subtle layers of poetic imagery that can impart
ideas, concepts, and significance in the narrative.
By nature, production designers visually interpret screen stories both into a physical design that is easily comprehended and through poetic metaphors that communicate on an intellectual, subconscious, psychological, and emotional level. For the
designer, the metaphor may be a conduit for various design decisions concerning the
myriad details that have to be addressed in architecture, color, space, texture, and
spatial relationships.
The Graduate (1967) takes place in suburbia and concerns two families. For production designer Richard Sylbert, the classic 1960s youth-culture film—directed by
Mike Nichols and starring Dustin Hoffman, Katherine Ross, and Anne Bancroft as
the legendary Mrs. Robinson—was a modern version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and
Juliet. Sylbert’s metaphor was a variation on the notion that the families were like
the Montagues and the Capulets. The Montagues and Capulets were antagonists, the


Braddocks and the Robinsons are not—they are much alike. Sylbert designed both
family houses in an identical architectural style, but inverted. One faces left, the
other, right. Sylbert’s intent was to visually imply the suburban rat race metaphor of
keeping up with the Joneses. The houses were designed and then built on a sound
stage. Benjamin Braddock’s family’s house is white with black detailing, the staircases are straight, and all the openings are square or rectangular. Elaine Robinson’s
house is black and white, too, but with a round staircase, arches, and openings. The
Braddock house has a pool and the Robinsons’ has a solarium. Mrs. Robinson wears
leopard skin, a symbol for her sexual prowess and attitude toward young men like
Benjamin, while Mrs. Braddock is attired in the traditional manner of a wife and
mother of the time.
Richard Sylbert and producer and star Warren Beatty intended Shampoo (1975),
directed by Hal Ashby, to be a modern retelling of Jean Renoir’s Rules of the Game
(1939). Sylbert researched Hollywood beauty salons and came up with the metaphor
of the salon setting as the Garden of Earthly Delights. The main character, a womanizing hairdresser, perceives his workplace as a Garden of Eden where he is surrounded by beautiful women he can have his way with. Earlier I mentioned that
white lattice was a popular décor element in the 1970s, found in most hair salons of
the era; it is also emblematic of a fence surrounding a garden. Sylbert carried the lattice motif over to the design of the outside deck at the Goldie Hawn character’s home
and into the wallpaper of a dining room and The Bistro. (The fashionable restaurant
was selected because the lattice motif was already a part of its design.) Sylbert also
visually indicated the social status of characters by their placement in the landscape.
Jack Warden’s office was high up, Hawn’s home was halfway up a hill and Julie
Christie’s house was further up on Hutton Drive. Beatty was always on the bottom.
In Silkwood (1983), designed by Patrizia Von Brandenstein and directed by Mike
Nichols, the management of the plutonium plant scrubs down exposed employees
with wire brushes, flaying the employee’s skin. Karen Silkwood is put through the
brutal assault. When the officials of the plant send workers to her home to check
radiation levels, they scrape down the walls, turning the paint and walls into a
metaphor for Karen Silkwood’s skin and body. They flay the walls of her home in
the way they had scraped down her flesh.
Rush (1991), directed by Lili Zanuck and produced by Richard Zanuck, was
designed by Richard Sylbert’s identical twin brother Paul and is the story of two
police officers, one a junkie. Paul Sylbert judged the story as about two naturally
repellent elements, police and drugs, likening this to oil and water. The Zanucks
wanted to shoot the film in Austin, Texas, but Paul Sylbert suggested Houston,
Texas, which is on the coast, because it was near oil and water. Another metaphor
Paul Sylbert discovered in the story was the male drug addict as a sacrificial figure.
Paul Sylbert saw Rush as a descent into hell. For hell imagery he used oil installations because oil comes from the bowels of the earth—the oil shoots out in bursts of
flames from the mouths of the wells. He also wanted to use railroad tracks as a
means of transportation. The imagery of the shiny train tracks and lines evoked
mainlines associated with cocaine use. Paul Sylbert shot photographs of oil on the
ground of a gas station after a rain. When light hits the ground at twenty-eight

26 / CHAPTER 3

degrees it causes a rainbow to appear. The set decorator and costume designer
employed the rainbow oil colors in their work. Rush was a period film that took place
in 1975, and the metallic properties of the oil and watercolors both fit the metaphor
of natural repellents and was period accurate.
The method of finding a design concept and a poetic connection between content
and visual style defines the job of the production designer. Taking the script literally will give you an accurate but soulless result. Illustrating the screenplay with
images will not establish a thematic relationship between the story, the characters,
and their environment. The production designer can accomplish this by obeying the
rules of style that pertain to the period the story takes place in, by finding the metaphors and resonance of the story, and realizing them through the art and craft of art
A design metaphor is a visual image employed by the production designer to
make a poetic analogy that informs the story and characters; specifically, it is an
associative allusion to the character. In The Untouchables (1987), directed by Brian
DePalma, production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein perceived Al Capone as a
Sun King, an extraordinarily powerful man who controlled Chicago. Von
Brandenstein conceived the idea that the city revolved around Capone and created a
floor mural visualizing the mythic image of a powerful sun figure. She placed the
mural on a barbershop floor where Capone gets his haircut.
Design metaphors can be seen and interpreted by the audience or can be a hidden
avenue for the production designer to subconsciously impart ideas. Chinatown
(1974), directed by Roman Polanski, takes place during a drought. Production
designer Richard Sylbert removed the color green from the design, except at the
home of the murder victim—where the grass is green because the murder victim has
secret access to water. The door to investigator J. J. Gittes’ office has a wooden frame
surrounding thick pebbled glass. The materials here are period correct, and in addition, Sylbert perceived that the textured glass was evocative of frozen water. Spike
Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989) takes place on the hottest day of the year, the setting for a violent confrontation of the different races that cohabit in a Brooklyn
neighborhood. Production designer Wynn Thomas created a hot color palette. The
color scheme expressed the heated emotions of the characters and was supported by
director of photography Ernest Dickerson’s use of oppressive, broiling summer light.
Thomas used a street location devoid of trees so the characters had no relief from
shade. Even sound designer Skip Lievsey contributed to the metaphor by creating
sound effects and backgrounds that were dry in nature.
The Psychological Nature of Production Design

Design is not only a physical representation. Environments can have a metaphysical impact on how the audience perceives the story and the characters. Do you want
the viewer to feel claustrophobic? Do you want the viewer to experience a sense of
massive space? Do you want the viewer to feel frightened? Comfortable? Uneasy or
enveloped in dread or doom? The story can be visually interpreted to convey a myriad
of psychological states generated by the narrative and point of view of the director.

D E S I G N M E TA P H O R S / 2 7

For Joel and Ethan Coen’s film Barton Fink (1991), production designer Dennis
Gassner received an Oscar nomination for his visualization of Hollywood in 1941.
This tinsel town recreation concentrates on the squalor behind the glamour, as the
title character, a Broadway playwright based loosely on Clifford Odets, deals with
the personal horror of encountering writer’s block and selling out in the netherworld
that filmmaker Kenneth Anger identified as “Hollywood Babylon.” This city of broken dreams, booze, murder, and moral deprivation enters the heart, mind, and soul
of Barton Fink as he struggles to write a wrestling picture on studio demand. Fink
lives in a decrepit hotel that becomes the prison for his mind. His room is confined,
stifling, and squalid, and the hall outside the door is cavernous and spooky. The environment envelops Fink as he pounds his typewriter in vain and suffers torture by
mosquitoes. He also encounters a mysterious neighbor whose back story results in a
fiery hell that drives the writer into the fantasy of a beachside painting on his wall,
signifying his escape from the confines of Hollywood’s formulaic prison of commercial product into a world of art and beauty.
In The Servant (1964), directed by Joseph Losey and designed by Richard
MacDonald, a servant and his master slowly change social roles. The tense blackand-white film is dialogue- and behavior-driven. Losey’s metaphor for the environment where this psychological shift of power takes place is to feature the masters’
house as the shell of a snail. MacDonald visually interpreted this concept as a threestory structure with a spiral staircase that went through the entire space, encapsulating and swirling the characters in a vortex of confrontation and transformation.
MacDonald’s design creates an atmosphere that seals the destiny of the two men.
Atmospheric Qualities of Production Design

The design of a film can create a sense of place. The atmospheric qualities of the
sets, locations, and environments are essential in establishing a mood and projecting
an emotional feeling about the world surrounding the film. Atmosphere contributes
aesthetic properties and visceral fabric to the film. The director of photography can
bring atmosphere to a set by applying color gels, through choice of lenses, lighting,
and with smoke and diffusion, but the production design must provide the physical
elements. The architecture, use of space, color, and texture are the physicality of the
design. The contributions of the production designer and the director of photography
can work together to impart an emotionally evocative sense of atmosphere.
Dead Presidents (1995), directed by the Albert and Allen Hughes, is the story of
a young middle-class African-American man who goes to Vietnam instead of going
on to higher education. When he returns and experiences societal rejection, a life of
crime seems the only way out. Director of photography Lisa Rinzler approached the
story as a “three-act experience.” The first act before Vietnam was bright, saturated,
hopeful, and sunny. Act two, Vietnam, was “hot, frenetic, urgent, and confusing.”
The conclusion that takes place back in America is “colder, drabber, more dangerous and mysterious, with more darkness.” Studio work on Dead Presidents was
accomplished at Empire Stages in Queens, New York, where production designer
David Brisbin created a poolroom set as part of the environment responsible for the

28 / CHAPTER 3

young man’s descent. The space looked old, a place where a lot of the life had been
lived. Brisbin did the room in a russet orange palette and a checkered linoleum floor.
The ceiling was patterned tin, representing a culture gone by. At another site a character dies of a drug overdose. When Rinzler first read the scene she decided to
express the emotion of the moment with green and asked Brisbin for a green lamp.
The designer provided a lamp with an oval light green shade that motivated the use
of green light later gelled a darker shade of green to visually interpret the dread of
death by overdose.
Seconds (1966), directed by John Frankenheimer, is a contemporary, socially critical horror film about a middle-aged, upper-class suburban man dissatisfied with his
life who is offered a second chance at youth in exchange for his wealth. The director’s central theme was that society had distorted this man’s values, and the nameless
company performing the transformation further corrupted his morals and sense of
reality. A visual metaphor for distorted values was achieved by extensive and creative
use of wide angle lenses by the veteran cinematographer James Wong Howe, who
shot the black-and-white film in canted angles with controlled but disturbing optical
distortion. This motif was supported and enhanced by production designer Ted
Haworth, who designed some sets in distorted perspective to be photographed with
normal focal length lenses and others in normal proportions that were shot with
extreme wide-angle lenses. The result was a warped visual presentation that created
a paranoid, hallucinogenic atmosphere expressing the man’s nightmarish experience.
Haworth’s set for the company’s mazelike offices consisted of a long corridor
with interconnecting offices, a waiting area, and an operating room. Shooting with
9.7mm and 18mm lenses, Howe was able to bend the walls of Haworth’s labyrinth.
For a scene where the man experiences a drug-induced hallucination in which he
imagines he is molesting a young woman, Haworth designed a bedroom with heavily textured walls raked at extreme angles, creating a false sense of perspective. The
floor undulated beneath black-and-white checkerboard tiles, bringing the specter of
Franz Kafka to the mise-en-scène.
Translating the Narrative into Visual Ideas

In addition to creating metaphors the production design of a movie can also serve
the purpose of identifying the places inhabited by the characters. In the early days of
Hollywood filmmaking this was a principal function of art direction. The content and
intent created by the screenwriter on paper awaits visual translation. The contemporary moviemaker must be aware of the many tools and palettes available through
production design to accomplish this task. One must be specific and precise in a
number of areas:

Emotional truth of the story and the characters, through their environment
Interpreting the director’s intent
Defining space
Details and details within details

D E S I G N M E TA P H O R S / 2 9

Interpreting the Characters Visually

The production designer must create a breakdown of the characters, in the spirit
of the screenwriter who created them, and focus on how the following aspects are
translated visually:

How old are they?
What is their ethnic and social background?
What social class do they belong to?
What is their role in the story?
What is their personal style?
What is their physicality?

The screenplay holds the answers to be deciphered by the production designer.
Where we work and live is a reflection of who we are. Therefore, production designers must apply their understanding of the characters to create their environments. A
production designer is not an interior designer or decorator, however. The latter primarily creates a sense of style based on fashion and practicality to create a visual
harmony and consistency, while a production designer is a storyteller. Most environments represent spaces assembled by the inhabitants over a period of years; what
they own has been purchased over time. Many characters have a complex sense of
style. Not every character lives in a contemporary time frame—some remain in, or
are attracted to, the styles of an earlier era. All characters within the same age group
will not have the same social status, and not all characters in the same social group
have the same sense of style.
The actor playing the part has an influence on your choices. Costumes, hair,
makeup, and accessories are all design decisions that, when combined with all of the
visual elements of a design, create an environment that fills the frame and signifies
the life around it.
The last thing a production designer wants to do is create a generic design. Every
space has its own nature and character. Think of all the homes and apartments you
have visited. What personality do they project? How are they related to the people
who live there?
Establishing an Environment for Cinematic Storytelling

If the filmmaker considers each location where the story takes place as a set—a
literal representation of what is indicated in the script—that is all it ever will
become. Rather, consider each location as an environment to reveal the lives of the
characters and for the story to unfold. An environment surrounds and embraces the
characters. There is a direct relationship between the environment and the characters. Are the environments hostile? Confining? Comforting? Chaotic? Claustrophobic? Vast? Warm or cold?

30 / CHAPTER 3

Visualization Exercises

• Keep a diary of places you visit. Detail their characteristics. What makes them
special? In your design diary, capture, in prose, diverse environments—an urban
city scene, a desolate beach, a library filled with students studying, a studio apartment, or a restaurant kitchen on Saturday night.
• Observe environments.
• Read poetry and literature to understand how words can translate form into
metaphoric, symbolic, and poetic ideas, which impart meaning beyond story and
plot. Keep notes on phrases that become metaphors the author uses to create layers of rich meaning. What are the metaphors? What do they represent?
• Look for visual metaphors in the production design of the films you see. List
them. Analyze their purpose and impact on the narrative and the characters.

D E S I G N M E TA P H O R S / 3 1

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Chapter 4

Research your film—to avoid generic design. Research and development of the production design will enrich the material in the same manner that the
specific emotions and behavior an actor discovers when working on a script enriches a character. The screenplay will inform you about where and when the story takes
place, but that’s only the beginning. Researching a project is a multifaceted, in-depth
process. Research reveals specific design information and presents the scope of history so the production designer can select what elements are needed to express the
content of the film’s design. The production designer has to read and interpret the
research in reference to the story. But don’t be a slave to research—always keep the
objective of the design concept in mind.
Production designer Christopher Hobbs told Peter Ettedgui for his Screencraft
volume (Focal Press, 1999) on production design and art direction that, “One should
never seek to recreate a period—one should attempt to reinvent it. The primary function of design in film is to comment on and boost what’s in the story. It’s a theatrical medium. One telling detail in how a set or location can suffice to evoke a whole
period.” For Velvet Goldmine (1998), the Todd Haynes film about glam-rock in the
1970s, Hobbs created a painted wall mural for the front of a boutique of an American
Indian face with red and white angled bars emanating from the head. This helped to
recall the style of Kings Road area of England in the 1970s, the home of British
Glam, where such a mural once existed. Once rooted in the period reality, Hobbs,
who designed most of visionary Derek Jarman’s film, used his design imagination to
illustrate and narratively enrich the story.
As the design concepts and metaphors are created, research to nurture and elaborate your plans. Research is one of the most exciting aspects of the production
designer’s job. It is a time of possibility, and of attaining knowledge and fulfilling
the potential of the project.
Experienced production designers and studio art departments have a working
library built up through years of acquired research from earlier projects. Each film


explores new areas and expands the designer’s knowledge in subjects and places visited in the past. Over the years of his long and successful career production designer Mel Bourne has developed a library of research for the films he has designed. He
has notebooks filled with details concerning the lifestyle of families that live in
Newport for Reversal of Fortune (1990). For background on baseball for The
Natural (1984), he had a researcher compile data and make arrangements with baseball equipment manufacturers for additional research and props. The baseball museum at Cooperstown also provided information. To build a carnival from scratch in a
field for a scene where Hobbs pitches against The Whammer in 1919, massive
research was done on carnivals from the period. Bourne found a Toronto company
that outfits carnivals all over the world and went through their entire stock. He
amassed a major collection of photographs of baseball stadiums. He found a book
on psychiatry at the turn of the century and collected research on hospitals for
Woody Allen’s Zelig (1983). Bourne has files on lofts from his research on FX
(1986), and 250 photographs of lofts for Fatal Attraction (1987). He maintains files
on bars, saloons, supper clubs, and period bars, and he has scores of photos of
firehouses, from the contemporary to houses with old oak trim to those with tile
The research period is the most fertile aspect of the production design process. It
is a time for discovery. Be expansive in your search—decisions will be made later
after much thought and consideration.
Design Files

Create an alphabetical series of file folders labeled by subject: Chinese
Restaurants, Independent Bookstores, Laundromats, New York Apartments, Outdoor
Swimming Pools. The files of an experienced production designer will have photographs from magazines, illustrations from books, and original location photographs
of a wide range of sites. Specificity is key. Don’t think in generic terms but for
atmosphere and detail. What sort of Chinese restaurant is necessary for your story?
Is it a Chinatown restaurant with simple tables, minimal décor, and an emphasis on
authentic food? Is it a suburban up-market Chinese restaurant with oriental vases and
Ancient art? Is it a down-market restaurant, small, frugal, with faux décor? Is it a
take-out with a few tables or a vast modern space with several eating areas and a full
bar? Do you need a lounge area or the kitchen for the story? Do you need an exterior view? Is the name of the restaurant important? Can you locate it, or will signs and
menus have to be created? Are windows necessary? How about the table settings and
the style of service? Is it a family style restaurant or one that specializes in intimate
couples seating? What neighborhood is the restaurant in? Economic class is always
a consideration, as it speaks to the sophistication of the taste and style of the characters, as well as the reality of their lifestyle.
Pictures in a design file do more than just capture an image of the location for
research. A well-developed design file will document historical eras, which is necessary for designing period films. Each picture contains vital information for the designer concerning materials and texture. Color or the gray scale is represented. The color

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will give the designer information as to the shade, value of each color and its relationship to others, as well as the psychological impact. The pictures will reveal the
overall mood and atmosphere of the settings so the designer can determine if it is right
for the story or if there are elements that can contribute to the look intended for the
film. The pictures will document props, furnishings, vehicles, and set dressing elements, all critical to understanding the world the designer is creating.
If this is your first movie or you don’t have a research library—start now. Scout
and photograph the locations you need. Cover the location in full shots from various
angles, and then methodically in details, for future study.
Cut out photos from magazines, collect books, photocopy library materials, go on
the Internet. Don’t be selective. Put in your folders any image that clearly depicts a
location, setting, prop, articles of furniture, architecture, color, texture, or time period. These will come in handy on future productions and can be helpful to fellow
filmmakers. Your design library could become a source of income. Subscribe to
Architectural Digest, Home and Garden, to any magazine that features design and
environmental ideas. Comb through your personal and family snapshots for reference.
On Dead Presidents the Hughes Brothers utilized snapshots of their father and his
friends taken during the 1970s to communicate their impressions of how they wanted the film to look. The pictures captured the period, style, mood, and atmosphere
the brothers were looking for. They became a visual bible for the twin directors,
director of photography Lisa Rinzler, and production designer David Brisbin. The
photos, along with other specific research from the art department and Rinzler’s
choice of film stock, exposure, color, and compositional approaches, determined the
style and look of the film.

If the project takes place in a time frame before the development of photography,
paintings are a prime research source. Every large city has museums filled with valuable inspiration and historical information. Familiarize yourself with their permanent collections. Get on mailing lists and Web sites so you can track upcoming exhibitions. Paintings can be an excellent resource. Unlike photographs, which may
seem to offer a true reflection of reality, paintings offer unique ways of seeing and
interpretation. Representational works contain information about architecture, clothing, status, attitude, social mores, and history. Nonrepresentational paintings can
provide psychological and atmospheric inspiration, in addition to ideas about the use
of frame, spatial relationships, color, texture, and composition. Libraries are a great
resource for books on art. Many bookstores carry a good selection of volumes containing excellent reproductions of paintings. They are a good investment for the
filmmaker’s art department. Rembrandt and Edward Hopper are especially important
artists to study for their affinity to filmmaking. There is a direct connection between
Rembrandt and the design and photographic style of The Godfather. Pennies From
Heaven is just one of many films inspired by the art of Edward Hopper. Hopper’s use
of natural light as a sole, realistic source, and his photographic sense of composition


in framing street scenes and landscape in his work as a painter make him a major
influence on cinematographers. Hopper’s inspiration to cinematic creators has been
so great that in the 1990s a traveling exhibit highlighted the connections between his
work and the medium. Bernardo Bertolucci, his production designer Ferdinando
Scarfiotti, and director of photography Vittorio Storaro were so inspired by the work
of painter Francis Bacon, images from his paintings appear in the title sequence of
Last Tango in Paris (1973), in addition to illuminating the actual design. The tortured deformed human figures surrounded by massive space became a metaphor for
Bertolucci’s directorial attitude toward the story and characters.
Throughout art history there are painters whose work can be valuable to reference
when developing the production design of a film. Here are examples:
Winslow Homer (1836–1910)—American landscape and marine painter.
Homer’s work is naturalistic but personally expressive. His bold and powerful watercolors are an excellent reference for depicting the pioneering spirit of America. He
painted the sea on the rugged coast of northeast England and on the Maine Coast.
Winslow Homer is best known for works that demonstrate the power of the sea and
man’s battle with the forces of nature.
Giorgio de Chirico (1888–1978)—this metaphysical painter contrasted the common with the fantastic. His work set architecture into new and mysterious relationships. A surrealist whose work greatly influenced the films of Federico Fellini, de
Chirico is a principal reference for altered reality.
Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841–1919)—French impressionist best known for beautiful flowers, children, idyllic settings, and especially paintings of beautiful women.
Hieronymus Bosch (1450–1516)—this Netherlands artist painted half-human,
half-animal creatures and demons in imaginary environments. Bosch is an excellent
reference for the themes of the grotesque, evil, temptation, greed, the consequences
of sin, and religious allegories.
Michangelo Marisi da Caravaggio (1571–1610)—this highly influential artist is
known for his homoerotic imagery, deep color style, and striking use of chiaroscuro.
His large-scale religious work offended the clergy by its lack of decorum and what,
today, might be called political correctness. Caravaggio rejected the notion of ideal
beauty that dominated his era and was accused of being obsessed with the smut of
Edward Hopper (1882–1967)—American scene painter whose theme was the
loneliness of city life. Hopper painted motel rooms, filling stations, cafeterias, and
deserted offices at night. His work had a psychological impact in evoking modern
city life. Many of his paintings capture settings rather than groups of characters or
action, which makes him especially influential as a cinematic reference for production design.
George Groz (1893–1959)—German-born painter known as a caricaturist who
expressed his disgust for the military regime. A social satirist, Groz depicted a
decaying society obsessed with gluttony and depravity, contrasted by poverty, disease, prostitutes, and hustlers.
Jean-Antonine Watteau (1684–1721)—French Rococo artist who painted per-

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fectly dressed young people in romantic and pastoral settings. Watteau was associated with the theme of young lovers in a Garden of Eden, or parkland settings. He
created an atmosphere of melancholy in his paintings, a poetic depth that expressed
the feeling that youthful pleasures of the flesh are fleeting.

Photographic research is an effective source for planning production design. The
art department utilizes two categories of still photographs, archival and original. Still
photographs are a medium that directly relates to how the film or video camera will
render the design.
Archival photographs: Historical shots of interior or exterior locations are a valuable and accurate reference to study, understand, and determine physical space,
architecture, details, dimension, texture, and color. Archival photographs are available in libraries and museum collections, magazines, photo houses (for a fee), on the
Internet, and in book form. It is helpful for filmmakers and designers to have a working knowledge of the history of photography and what subject areas specific photographers have concentrated on. Matthew Brady’s superb photographs of the Civil
War have been invaluable to projects from Gone with the Wind (1939) to Glory
Original photographs: The art department can take their own photographs to
record scouting trips, document locations, and other reference materials.

Magazines are an excellent and accessible research source. A range of magazines
covering every conceivable contemporary subject is currently on the market. Most
topics have a multitude of titles to select from, especially the areas of home design
and decorating. Libraries are a good source for back issues, and older magazines
such as Life, Look, and the Saturday Evening Post are excellent repositories of history, culture, and style across many decades. These three magazines in particular are
key. Life and Look magazines were photo story oriented so they provided pictorial
coverage of their subjects. Both focused on cultural, social, and lifestyle development of America from the 1940s on and are a standard reference for U.S. films as a
source for fashion, architecture, trends, food, travel, and a scope of regional
America. Stanley Kubrick began his career as a staff photographer for Look. His
short films Day of the Fight and Flying Padre (both 1951) were developed out of
photo stories he shot for Look. His second feature film, Killer’s Kiss (1955), was
inspired by the photos of the middleweight boxer Walter Cartier who was the subject of Day of the Fight. Killer’s Kiss is filled with images of New York that have the
tabloid sense of street grit taken from Look, which give the film a realistic design
environment. Steven Spielberg is an avid collector of Norman Rockwell’s paintings.
The artist’s painted covers for the Saturday Evening Post created iconic images of
the innocence of America. They have influenced the design of many Spielberg films,
especially E.T: The Extraterrestrial (1982) and Always (1989). In designing Volker


Schlöndorff’s expressionist adaptation of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman
(1986), production designer Tony Walton fragmented the world of Willy Loman as
his mind underwent the same process. “It’s sort of like an exploded Norman
Rockwell—the ungluing of America,” Walton explains.
Just some of the information to be found in magazines includes images of appliances, architecture, fashion, food, furniture, geographical locations, hair, makeup,
props, and vehicles.
Magazines are also good reference sources for color, texture, and materials. Go
through your own magazine collection and clip out and file. Haunt used bookstores,
antique shops, and the attics and cellars of relatives and friends for back issues—the
treasure hunt is fun and rewarding. Images and samples from magazines can be
mounted on a display board to present the color palette, architectural ideas, and other
design concepts to the director.

Design ideas can come from all the visual arts, but fictional literature and
nonfiction literary works are important sources, too, because words stimulate visual
ideas and deliver prose descriptions that contain details about a time and place.
Period novels and contemporary works of literature will provide background that
can bring insight to the visualization. Reading will bring literary intelligence and a
poetic sensibility to your ideas for the movie.
Writers who evoke a strong sense of place include these below:
Jane Austen (1775–1817) wrote about domestic life in middle and upper class
Britain of the nineteenth century. Her novels include Sense and Sensibility (1811),
Pride and Prejudice (1813), and Mansfield Park (1814).
Charles Dickens (1812–1870) wrote about the evils of Victorian industrialized
society. His prose displays an encyclopedic knowledge of London. His novels
include David Copperfield (1850), Great Expectations (1861), and A Tale of Two
Cities (1859).
William Faulkner (1897–1962) is the Southern master who created the mythical
Yoknapatawpha County, peopled with families representative of the South. Faulkner
covered the region from the days of the Indians through the pre–Civil War era to
modern times. He wrote about the psychological depths of poor white families, the
effects of flood on the lives of hillbillies, moral awareness, and race relationships.
His works include The Sound and the Fury (1929), Light in August (1932), and
Absalom, Absalom! (1936).
Marcel Proust (1871–1922), a French novelist, wrote A Remembrance of Things
Past, a seven-part social panorama of France just before and during World War II.
His principal themes were love and jealousy, and the relationship of art to reality.
Marcel Proust’s exquisite prose evoked images of memory in detail that translates to
vivid imagery in the reader’s mind.
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), in War and Peace (1865–69), set against the
Napoleonic Wars, explored complex characters in a turbulent historical context.

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Anna Karenina (1875–77) is a study of an aristocratic woman who leaves her husband and searches for meaning to her life.
Anne Tyler (1941– ) is American novelist whose fiction is often set in small
Southern towns. Her recurring themes are how families deal with separation from
isolation and death. Her work includes Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant (1982),
The Accidental Tourist (1985), and Breathing Lessons (1988).
Tom Wolfe (1931– ) is an American journalist and novelist who documents in
exacting detail contemporary American culture. Wolfe has written about the counterculture of the 1960s, U.S. astronauts, architecture, and the pretensions of the art
world. His novels The Bonfire of the Vanities (1987) and A Man in Full (1998) use
his florid journalistic style to satirize the greed and personal obsessions of the rich
and powerful and those who aspire to that life. His nonfiction books include The
Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test (1968) and The Right Stuff (1979).

If you have a camcorder, regard it as an invaluable research tool. It will enable
you to capture images on location-scouting expeditions and to create a library of
architectural styles, terrain, backgrounds, cities, towns, and countries you investigate
in search of the film’s design. Video also gives you the opportunity to see design elements on camera, in motion, and within a movie frame. There is a wealth of archival
material available on tape and film to study. Documentaries are also a valuable asset
in investigating a wide range of subjects.
Since the 1980s, production designers have made extensive use of portable video
to create a motion picture diary of locations scouted for films. The digital revolution
of the 1990s has produced compact, inexpensive, and easy to use digital video cameras that have made the use of video during the scouting process even more common. Often the director, producer, production designer, and director of photography
are unavailable for preliminary scouting. By reviewing the tapes, these key members
of the production team can begin to pre-select the locations that they will later visit
on site. The late director of photography Ralf Bode (Saturday Night Fever, 1977;
Coal Miner’s Daughter, 1980), made widespread use of digital video in his work on
projects like a television adaptation of the classic American musical Gypsy, which
starred Bette Midler. Bode personally shot rehearsals on video to work out camera
blocking and for visual ideas on how to shoot the set.
For Saving Private Ryan (1998), Steven Spielberg and his production team
screened archival material of World War II, much of it available on video, to create
the combat photography, cinematographic style, and realistic production design used
so effectively in the dramatic opening recreation of the D-Day invasion.
Most film archives have their collections on video so production designers and
their researchers can easily go through material relating to their films. For independent, low-budget, and student filmmakers, video documentaries on a myriad of
periods, topics, and subjects are available for free in public libraries and on television. Cable television is especially valuable. Outlets like the Discovery Channel, the
History Channel, and A&E, as well as public broadcasting stations, are a fine


resource for documentary research. Most book and video stores have a documentary
and nonfiction section of video and DVD selections that can be inexpensively purchased and become part of a design research library. The Internet has many outlets
for a wider and more eclectic catalogue of this material.
Oral History

When production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein set out to research Silkwood
(1983), based on the true story of whistleblower Karen Silkwood who exposed the
dangers of working in a plutonium plant, she was confronted with the dilemma of
plutonium plants being off-limits to outsiders. There were no visual records, and
access was impossible. Von Brandenstein sought out a retired plutonium plant worker, and as he described the facility in detail, she sketched each separate element of
the factory. The details were rendered into full-scale sketches that recreated the plutonium plant. Working drawings and architectural plans were developed and the set
was built on a sound stage. The result, when photographed by Miroslav Ondricek,
was a realistic environment that looked like an actual plutonium plant.
The testimony of real people can often be of valuable assistance in visualizing a
film. Interview subjects can relate details of time and place with accurate specificity.
There are oral history archives across the country, which compile human histories of
neighborhoods, events, and places. Start by reading the collected works of Studs
Turkel, the dean of oral historians who has interviewed hundreds of people, documenting a wide range of experience, memories, and information with a personal,
humane point of view.
The Internet

The Net is like having a research library at your fingertips. In addition to surfing
Web sites that feature the subject you are interested in, you can connect with libraries
and archives that provide a wealth of resource for production designers. Print out
images from Web sites, file them, and use them for reference and presentations.
Clearance and Permissions

During the research process, be careful to check if any design element is trademarked or copyrighted. In such cases, you must get clearance or permission. These
are often negotiable. If your film is a student project or a short for the festival circuit
you can make a deal in which you pay the full fee only if the movie is sold for commercial distribution. Unauthorized use of a design element can result in a lawsuit
against the film company by the owner of the trademark or copyright. If such an item
is used as an inspiration and is not an exact copy or the actual original piece, no
clearance or permission is necessary. Many if not all objects and décor have a copyright or trademark. It is always helpful—if not imperative—to have legal counsel in
entertainment law available for the production of a film. They are experienced in
knowing what items need clearance and permission. Common sense is also helpful.

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All contemporary photographs are automatically protected by a copyright held by
the photographer, professional or otherwise. Check all paintings and sculpture for
ownership. It is unlikely that you will have any problems using general purchased
items such as furniture, appliances, or vehicles, but tapestries and rugs can require
permission. To acquire permission, determine the owner of the copyright or trademark by the name on the product or the company that manufactures or distributes it.
Artists and photographers are generally represented by galleries, agents and lawyers.
If the project is independent and low-budget, appeal to the owner for permission
without fee in return for an on-screen credit or deferred payment should the film
make a profit in the future. Always get clearance and permission in writing, stating
the production company, object, use, fee, or waiver of fee. It is a good idea to have
a lawyer draw up or check your documents. Mark Litwak’s book Dealmaking in the
Film and Television Industry: From Negotiations to Final Contracts is particularly
helpful and useful.
Product Placement

During the research and design process the filmmaker may choose to bring
income into the project though product placement deals, which occur when a company pays the filmmaker a fee to clearly feature its product in a film. This may seem
like a good resource for income, but it has its artistic downside. The product must be
part of the design style of the film and part of the lives of the characters and their
environment. Cereal boxes, snack food, or beverage bottles with their labels directly facing the camera often stick out as planned advertisement and pull the viewer out
of the narrative. If you involve such companies, try to negotiate a reasonable use so
that the artistic integrity of the film is not compromised.
Guidelines for Conducting Research

• Use all resources, photos, paintings, books, video, film, the Internet, personal
accounts, museums, libraries, and location scouting. Each will bring a specific
facet to your knowledge.
• Explore all possibilities you discover and their tributaries.
• Think out of the box. Don’t dismiss anything without consideration. Keep organized access to all the information you come across during the research period; you
never know when something that seems irrelevant will become central in the
design of a film.
• Screen every film that relates to your project. Study how other designers have
handled the subject of your film to understand the concepts and ideas. Don’t imitate—be inspired to discover and innovate.


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Chapter 5

All sketches, illustrations, models, and drafting are produced in the art
department, and most studios have set up functional and fully equipped art departments that productions can use. For the independent filmmaker, the art department
can be set up almost anywhere: in the studio, in a storefront, a rented space, a loft,
or in an apartment. Some basics you will need are a drawing board or table, pencils,
markers, supplies to build models, drafting materials, ink, pens, and watercolors, or
other paint mediums. Become acquainted with a reliable art supply store. Budget the
items you will need.
The Design Team

The production designer supervises a team of artisans and craftspeople who execute and produce the work generated by the production designer’s plan. The nucleus of the art department staff consists of the art director, set designer, set decorator,
and property master followed by a support staff that includes a buyer, construction
coordinator, construction crew, production illustrator, scenic artist, set dresser,
greensman, draftsman, location manager, painters, carpenter, and location scout.
The costume designer and hair and makeup crews are separate departments all under
the supervision of the production designer. Because the production designer is
responsible for the look of the film, hair, makeup and costume design must be coordinated in order to achieve a singular design result. Just as a director needs to understand all the crafts to be able to communicate his vision, the production designer
must be aware of how hair, makeup, and costume design integrate with the overall
design of the film. The amount and intensity of supervision varies. If the makeup,
hair, and costume designers are highly experienced, basic meetings may be all that’s
necessary. If they are not, the production designer must get involved in careful supervision of research, style, and execution of these crafts.


Art Director

The art director runs the show during production. He supervises the art department crew on set and reports directly to the production designer. Depending on the
relationship between the production designer and the art director, the production
designer may remain off-set and continue designing and coordinating, meeting with
other department heads while the art director works with the shooting crew on a dayto-day basis. The art director, an executive assistant to the production designer on the
film, fields phone calls and is responsible for dealing with vendors and the logistics
of getting materials to and from the set. If there is no production designer on the film,
the art director is responsible for the design of the movie. The title of production
designer is honorary.
Prior to William Cameron Menzies’ groundbreaking accomplishments on Gone
with The Wind in 1939, art directors were responsible for the visual look of the film.
It is now recommended that the person in charge of what used to be known as “art
direction” be assigned the title “production designer.” This status encourages the
designer to be a partner in the visualization team and acknowledges the role of art
direction in films as a craft with storytelling capabilities. If you are producing or
directing a small, low-budget production, make sure the person who has the title of
“production designer” has a clear sense of the importance of that position’s input.
The scope of the job will motivate the designer to be an active part of the trinity that
creates the look of the film.
Set Designer

The set designer is responsible for designing and supervising the construction of
sets based on the ideas and input of the production designer. A set designer can be
brought in for one or all sets to be designed, or on a small production, this job can
be done by the art director or production designer.
The set designer, brought in by the production designer to plan and create the elevation drawings used to construct a set, drafts blueprints based on concepts, descriptions, or conceptual drawings and then oversees construction of the set and any
modifications ordered by the production designer or the director. The set designer
collaborates with the director and director of photography to plan how the set will
be employed and photographed.
Established set designers collaborate with many production designers and directors. Set designer David Klassen has worked on many projects including The Blues
Brothers (1980), director John Landis, production designer John J. Lloyd; Beverly
Hills Cop II (1987), Tony Scott, Ken Davis; The Toy (1982), Richard Donner,
Charles Rosen; and Blade Runner (1982), Ridley Scott, Lawrence G. Paull.
On Blade Runner Klassen worked directly under Lawrence G. Paull and with
Ridley Scott, drawing plans of back lot streets, vehicles, and other design elements
for this massive production. Klassen moved up to art director on many films including A Few Good Men (1992), Radio Flyer (1992), Dave (1994), Waterworld (1995),
Six Days, Seven Nights (1998) and Lethal Weapon 4. David Klassen became a pro-

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duction designer on House on Haunted Hill (1999). Often the position of set designer leads to a career in production design.
Set Decorator

As noted earlier, the set decorator is responsible for the décor of a set or location.
Décor includes rugs, practical lighting fixtures, furniture, window treatments, wall
hangings, and all details of the interior decoration of the space. The décor must
reflect the period, characters, and intent of the story.
Lead Man

The lead man, or assistant set decorator, locates objects, furniture, and other
décor elements used to dress the set.
Swing Gang

The set dressing crew, also known as the swing gang, works under the supervision of the lead man to find, gather, and collect décor elements.
Hair and Makeup

Hair and makeup design and application can be performed by one or two craftspeople, or by a team. The hair crew researches, creates, and administers the proper
hairstyles for the characters, story, place, and time period to serve the director’s point
of view toward the story.
Robert Altman’s M*A*S*H (1970), is based on a novel that takes place during the
Korean War in the 1950s. When the film was conceived and produced it was 1969. The
Vietnam War was raging, American soldiers were dying in the bloody conflict, and at
home the country was experiencing massive antiwar protests. Altman’s point of view
was that the film, which took place in a mobile military medical unit, was an antiwar
message pertaining to Vietnam. Altman and his design team took out all references to
the Korean War. The text had a 1960s counterculture attitude. Period hairstyles for
Korea’s 1950s would have been short tapered haircuts for the men, with no facial hair.
To visually communicate the 1960s era, many of the characters had long, layered,
shaggy hair cuts, and Elliot Gould sported a busy Fu Manchu– style mustache, done
up in a style popular in the Age of Aquarius. The women of the Korean War wore their
hair either up or in a short teased look set on rollers. In M*A*S*H, the female characters had short, natural or blown-dry hairstyles, or long, straight hair worn down.
M*A*S*H has a large ensemble cast and their hairstyles, and the hairstyles at the time
of the film’s release, clearly connected the audience to Vietnam and the tribal culture
popular with hippies of the time. Ironically, the studio, Twentieth Century Fox, was
angry at Altman’s political message and forced a crawl at the beginning of the film that
identifies the scene as taking place in Korea. The corporate message had little impact
on audiences of the time, who totally “got” Altman’s political statement.

T H E A R T D E PA R T M E N T / 4 5

An on-set hairdresser is invaluable to cut, style, color, set, and maintain the hairstyles. If your film needs special styles, and hiring a specialist is not viable, make an
arrangement with a salon to create the hairstyles at the shop. Have the salon’s hairdressers instruct the actors as to care and maintenance of the characters’ hairstyles.
Wigs, hairpieces, and hair extensions can transform an actor into the character. The
visual image that is projected by an actor wearing the right hair will help the audience “buy” the character, and it will also help the actor in the process of “becoming”
the character. Hair is a critical design element. The reality of many a period film has
been shattered by inaccurate or insufficient hair design.
The haircuts on the men in Spartacus (1960) look more like late 1950s crew cuts
and the slicked back hipster look of the time than the Roman Empire period in which
the film takes place. Iconic actors such as Steve McQueen, Clark Gable, Robert
Redford, and Julia Roberts rarely allow their signature hairstyle to be cut and styled
to the exact standards of a period film. War films and Westerns often fall prey to
anachronistic locks. This is due to a number of factors: a desire to attract a contemporary audience; a lack of attention to detail; or to a reluctance on the part of the
actors to cut their hair, fearing it will prevent them from getting another role before
their hair grows out and can be restyled for another part.
Talk to your actors in advance. Costume, hair, and makeup are essential tools for
the actors. If they are unwilling to change their hairstyle for a role, or can’t agree on
the way the character should physically appear, they may not be right for your
Makeup for film can also be transformative. The makeup artist on a movie must
understand how the tools of foundation, rouge, lipstick, and eyeliner will read on
film. Makeup is corrective and additive. A makeup artist should be on set to apply
the makeup before shooting each day and for touch-ups during the filming. If you
can’t find a trained film makeup artist for your production, search for a salon makeup artist or a person familiar with and talented at applying street makeup. For prosthetic makeup to age, create a creature, or for special makeup effects, a qualified person familiar with the proper materials, tools, and techniques is necessary.
The use of prosthetic character makeup was an integral part of the production
design of Dick Tracy (1990). One of the challenges of this film based on the famed
comic book crime fighter was how to depict the villains seen in newspapers by millions of people for decades. The makeup design and execution by John Caglione, Jr.,
Hallie D’Amore, Richard Dean, Doug Prexler, Lynda Gurasich, Virginia Hadfield,
Kevin Haney, Ceri Minns, Ve Neill, Craigh Reardon, and Roland Blandcaflor
brought Flattop, Pruneface, the Brow, and Lips Manlis from ink to three-dimensional life by transforming the actors into these bizarre, freak-faced characters. The
comic book look the makeup achieved worked perfectly with Richard Sylbert’s
Oscar winning primary color, generic architecture production design, and the
expressionistic matte paintings that helped create Tracy’s city environment.
Science fiction films such as Star Wars and Star Trek also depend on transforming
character makeup to render the characters and universe of the narrative believable.
Aging makeup is necessary for films where a young actor is playing an old character, like Stacey Keach in Robert Altman’s Brewster McCloud, or when a character

46 / CHAPTER 5

ages throughout a film, like Robert DeNiro in Raging Bull, F. Murray Abraham in
Amadeus, and Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man. Recent films Hannibal and Vanilla
Sky use transformational makeup to create the illusion a character has been horribly
deformed by an attack or accident.
Makeup and hair are visual elements that impact on the look and personality of
the character and help establish period, mood, and atmosphere. They must be
designed and created within the overall design of the film. The final word on hair and
makeup comes from the director and production designer. Often a designer will have
long associations with hair and makeup artists they have worked with in the past and
will be instrumental in hiring them.
As with hair, makeup directly concerns the actors. Talk to them in advance about
makeup and be clear about what is expected of them. Have sketches of the makeup
design prepared, do makeup and camera tests, and schedule accordingly. Makeup
applications and hair styling take time to apply and require patience and careful
scheduling for the actors to be prepared for each shooting day. Most actors will need
an hour or two depending on the character work to be done on them. Extensive prosthetic makeup for aging, transformation, and creature makeup takes much longer to
apply. A complex application can take up to four to six hours each day. The daily call
sheets for cast and crew are coordinated by the production manager and line producer. They will schedule time for the actors, makeup, and hair teams to begin the
appropriate time prior to the day’s first shot so that the cast will be character-ready
when shooting begins. Many actors, especially those trained for the stage, are knowledgeable and have experience with applying their own makeup.
The production designer should have an initial consultation with the makeup and
hair department during pre-production to discuss issues concerning the visual interpretation of the movie. The discussion will vary depending on the film, as some will
have more emphasis on special makeup and hair design (especially horror, science
fiction, and fantasy films), but there are basic issues to cover.
• Period. When does the story take place? What’s the point of view toward the period? Is it realistic or stylized?
• Region. Where does the story take place? Discuss the locations, mood, and
atmosphere of the environments, and the personal styles of the people who reside
• Characters. Who are the people in the film? What are their social/economic circumstances? How do they wear their hair and makeup? Are there hair and makeup transitions throughout the story? Where do the characters have their hair done:
barbershop, beauty parlor, at home, in an exclusive salon, or a neighborhood
Unisex shop? How does the hair and makeup of the characters reflect on their personality? Are they neat or casual? How do the characters maintain upkeep of their
hair and makeup? Do they do it themselves? What methods do they use? Natural,
blown-dry, set with rollers? Do they use hair spray, gels or mousse?
• Time frame of the story. Do the hair and makeup styles progress or maintain the
same look during the narrative? Is aging involved or some other transformation,
like hair color or facial hair?

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• Costumes. Hair and makeup directly interact with the dress of the characters.
Production designers should share their views, but it is essential that hair and
makeup talk to the costume designer about style and coordinating a total look for
each character.
• Logistics, materials, and budget. The production design goes through the shooting schedule with the hair and makeup departments. Who is being photographed
on what day? When do the actors need to be in full makeup? Where will makeup
and hair be done? In a studio facility, a private shop, or a makeshift area? Will
there be hair and makeup people on set for touch-ups? Do any of the actors have
their own personal hairstylist and makeup artist? The production designer controls the total art department budget and, along with the producer, supervises
spending and purchasing. This is a critical issue: The hair and makeup department
must know what is available and expected from them and whether they can deliver the result intended based on the existing budget.
Makeup and hair will have read the screenplay and have begun preliminary drawings of hair and makeup design, color, and texture so those issues can be discussed
with the production designer, who then gives his notes and suggestions.
Construction Coordinator

The construction coordinator, responsible for the building of sets, follows the
working drawings and drafting of the art department and supervises the construction crew. The set is built to the exact specifications of the plan. There are professionals who specialize in construction coordination for film production design. Set
construction differs from conventional construction in several distinct ways. A set
is not a permanent structure; it often is a two or three wall construction. Many sets
are built with flats, wooden frames covered with stretched canvas or board. Not
everything in a set is practical (meaning operational). Materials for sets differ in
quality and authenticity. Sets can be a section of a structure that is the only element
needed to create the illusion of a larger building or a detail that implies a larger
space around it.
In Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), designed by Robert Boyle, there is a
sequence that takes place in the United Nations building. The exterior was established with a shot of the actual building. A matte shot shows an expanse of the interior with several open floors heading upward, creating a feeling of size and grandeur.
The Cary Grant character walks across the floor in this wide shot, which then cuts to
a medium shot of Grant walking, and finally to a shot of a woman at a reception
desk. The shot is tight. The blue walls match the wide shot. There is the indication
of a desk, a microphone to make announcements over the public address system, and
a wall divider to create the illusion of depth and angled walls. This is a separate set.
Small and simple to build when intercut into the other footage, it gives the impression of a large reception area, although we just see hints of it. The scene did not
require that the whole reception area be built, so the small set was an inexpensive
and effective solution for this part of the plot.

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Sets are built directly on a stage floor, not on a foundation. The low-budget independent filmmaker can utilize friends who are familiar with building techniques or
local construction workers. Reference books on theater stagecraft are useful if you
are not using a professional crew. Safety of the cast and crew is essential. The set
should not be built for permanence but must be stable enough to work in; it must
withstand the opening and shutting of doors and windows and other aspects of physical endurance. Since sets are built to be photographed, many have wild walls that
can be removed for a camera position and special effects.
Wild walls that can be moved are common and essential aspects of designing and
building a film set. Logically, the camera requires more room for maneuvering than
that part of the set that actually ends up in the picture, especially for wide and full
compositions. The camera and crew take up room, and some lenses need distance to
achieve their effect. The director of photography may be using a dolly or a crane that
needs the additional space to operate in.
Production designer Kristi Zea had to incorporate wild walls for the scene in
Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas (1990), when characters walk through the Copa.
Filmed in a single uninterrupted Steadicam shot, the scene follows them from the
street, through the basement and kitchen, then into the club’s showroom itself.
Scorsese wanted the impression that Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco were moving
through a long passageway. The famed Copa had been renovated, so Zea and the art
department had to transform the location to suit Scorsese’s wish to execute a long,
continuous Steadicam shot that followed the characters getting out of their car and
walking into, then through, the backstage maze of the Copa, until they were seated
by waiters to hear Henny Youngman say “Take my wife” from the stage. “It was constructed so that as the camera was following them through the hallway, there were
carpenters off on the right getting rid of two or three of the walls that were going to
be in the way when they came into the Copa,” Zea explains. The long hallway seen
in GoodFellas didn’t exist at the location. Zea and the construction team built the
long corridor, so that when they got down the stairs there would be a long corridor
that led through the kitchen. In reality, after going down the back staircase seen in
the film, you arrive right into the Copa showroom.
Construction Crew

The construction crew is made up of many artisans:
• Carpenters: The majority of sets are constructed out of wood. Skilled carpenters
are necessary to build sets and also to be on call during shooting to provide solutions for problems that may come up concerning the set.
• Painters: Sets must be painted; existing locations are often repainted to create the
proper design objectives. Specialists in movie work understand how the camera
reads color and texture and how lighting affects the surface. Again, permanence
is not essential here, and the choice of paints and texture materials should be
based on the intended result, budget, and the aesthetic properties sought.

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Remember, it is the design process and its results that are important. Big-budget
films have a person or team for each of these jobs. If those resources are not available
to you, combine these jobs and aspects of the production design process. Get your
crew to multitask. It is the purpose, intent, and result that will enrich the design of
your film, not an art department army. Wear many hats or delegate, but understand the
nature of the craft of production design and the visual storytelling tools in your power.
Property Master

The property master is responsible for objects and props handled and used by the
actors. He works with the set decorator and production designer to identify all necessary props and is responsible for obtaining them. The property master consults and
collaborates with the production designer to identify and then go out and get all the
props needed for the story. Veteran production designer Albert Brenner explains,
“The little things like the eyeglasses somebody wears, or a wristwatch, or the plate
of food—that’s the prop master’s job. He will take care of that, but what he hands
the actors for the most part is decided by the art department.”
Sources for props include industry prop houses for film and theater, specialty
stores, antique shops, pawnshops, and private collections. Studio art departments
may have a prop department that can be utilized. Experienced property masters have
a working collection of basic props. Often multiple copies of one prop will be needed as a backup in case of wear or damage from repeated use. During production, the
property master is in charge of all props and sees that they are in place for each
shooting day.
Filmmakers should always have a backup plan and backup equipment if possible.
It’s a good idea to have a selection for each prop in case minds are changed on set.
It’s a good work ethic to have an identical backup for any prop, but there are categories of property items that need reserves because they get used up or damaged.
Bottles, glasses, or dishes that are broken on camera, and food and beverages that are
consumed during the story, need a backup supply. Calculating the exact amount
needed is based on how complicated the action or shot is, the take ratio the director
is required to shoot at, and the available budget. Fresh flowers seen in a location shot
over a long period of time, candles, practical pens and pencils need reserve. There is
also the issue of continuity. Props must match from shot to shot. If they are used up
or worn down during shooting, replacements need to be at hand.
Firearms and weapons are handled separately by an armourer who supervises
safety at all times and instructs the actors on how to employ the weapons. To avoid
confusion and misunderstanding, always notify police officials when using weapons
on a set, whether the location is interior or exterior. Never use a real loaded weapon
on a film, and practice the utmost care when working with any weaponry on set.
Location Scout

After discussions with the director and production designer, the location scout
searches for the places indicated in the script. He takes still photos and shoots video

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to aid in the search process and reports back what he has found to the production
designer. After locating and documenting a selection of choices and disseminating
the material, the location scout takes the production designer and the director to the
sites he has found. Once a location is selected, a deal is struck with the owner or
managers of the property. Kristi Zea has designed many films, such as Married to
the Mob and GoodFellas, that require location work. “First, I have a conversation
with the director, and the general look of the picture is discussed,” she explains.
“Once that’s determined, then I go out with a location scout and usually the location
manager. We drive around for days, going to a variety of locations that have been
found previously, or we start from scratch. I’ll say, ‘Stop here; let’s look at this for
a second,’ whether it’s a street or a building, a rooftop, a palatial mansion or a store.
Once I like something, then we take pictures and show it to the director. Then we
take the director to see it. If he likes it, we go back a third time with the technical
crew. They talk about what they need in terms of lighting, electrical equipment,
where we’re going to house all the necessary back-up personnel, where to put everybody between shots, and if there are enough parking facilities. A deal is struck
between the production company and the people who own the property.”
There are many arrangements between filmmakers and proprietors. Of course, the
best case scenario for the production is when permission can be obtained for no fee.
However, home and shop owners have become less willing to allow filmmakers to
use their space for a variety of reasons. Understanding these issues can help supply
solutions. Moviemaking can be a long and disruptive process. Be prepared and don’t
overstay your welcome. When you are using someone’s living space, offer other
quarters to the inhabitants, if necessary. If they are going on vacation, that would be
a good time to schedule shooting. Work around their schedule. If they are staying in
part of the space, do not violate their privacy; keep to your work area. The producer, unit production manager, and the location manager should be the liaisons
between the film company and the landlord of the space you are using. Often the production designer is the person who makes the initial contact and arrangements. He
must see to it that what has been promised to the owners is carried through by supervising the art department and working closely with the production manager and the
director of photography on the set during shooting to make sure that the crew works
carefully, respecting the location. Good diplomacy is important for the reputation of
the production designer and the company. The location manager is the person on
duty during the shoot. It is his job to make sure everything goes smoothly; he is
responsible for maintaining the safety of the location. When trust is violated with the
public it damages the reputation of all filmmakers—student, independent, and commercial—and makes it more difficult to secure future locations.
The filmmakers must be covered by an insurance policy to repair or compensate
for any damage done to the property. Make sure the production crew is respectful
and careful, especially when taping lights to the walls. Let the owners know about
all production design plans in advance. Advise them about any structural changes or
repainting and make sure the location is left just as you found it when shooting is
Check to see that the neighbors know about the production. Late night shoots,

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chaotic, violent, or loud scenes, or scenes involving nudity, can disturb and offend
neighbors. Also inform the local police if the film contains action depicting drug use
or any illegal activity that may be misconstrued by observers. If a block or area needs
to be cordoned-off, have enough staff to assist. Make sure they are polite and helpful. Let the community know in advance—put up notices. Personally inform all parties concerned.
If a location can’t be found or there is no budget for the original conception of the
production design, alternate plans must be developed and realized. The glitzy, showbiz conclusion of Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz production designed by Tony Walton is
a Broadway-like production number, and is actually a fantasy in the mind of the
dying director/choreographer, Joe Gideon, an autobiographical character based on
Fosse. The original ending was the opening night of Gideon’s production N.Y. To
L.A. “We had planned to film at the Opera House at SUNY, Purchase,” Walton
remembers. “They owned a gargantuan organ given to Carnegie Hall by Holland, but
it turned out to be too big.” The opera house had constructed a building next door to
house the giant organ, then created a track so the organ could ride onto the stage at
the Opera House. Walton had designed a New York skyline for the production number that matched the profile of the massive organ pipes. The skyline would be painted on a scrim so that they could cross fade from the images of the skyline through
the organ pipes. On cue, the organ would track off stage to expose a palm tree representing Los Angeles. “I had worked on computer adjusted imagery of the recurring
images, the eyedrops cuts and ‘It’s showtime, folks,’” Walton explains. “They were
supposed to segue from the hospital monitor via hallucinatory medical imagery to
the big opening night showbiz, ending the way Fillmore East and West had used
organic liquid projection in the sixties, but we couldn’t even afford the projectionist
to project the footage.” None of this material was ever shot by the production. When
the original plans were put to a halt by the studio, Fosse and Walton relied on design
elements from earlier sequences where Gideon and the angel talk about his life, in a
surrealistic set that represents an attic of his memories. Walton was able to use many
of those design elements and tests for the planned ending, including translucent
paintings of the heart and abstract heart operations, to film the final concert sequence
staged in the Black Box theater at Purchase. At the time, Walton was designing a ballet that utilized a half-mirrored material, Mirrex Mirror Scrim. When Walton showed
Fosse that the material could present the illusion that Lange was with Gideon in the
reflective surface, though at times seemed to be in front of the mirror and at others,
behind it, Fosse found it the perfect visual representation of an angel. When
Columbia Pictures shut off the budget, the Mirrex saved the day.
Often the public and business community, under the erroneous impression that all
filmmakers are well financed and will make money from the project, will overcharge. If their fee is too high, offer a film credit, publicity, or points or percentages
if the film turns a profit.

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Location Manager

The person responsible for the location in pre-production and during shooting
until the crew is finished is the location manager, who is accountable for the security of the property and equipment.

The greensman is responsible for the care, maintenance, and style of grass,
shrubbery, flowers, trees and plants. Locations can be transformed with creative
landscaping that deals with continuity and regional specifics. Sixty North African
palm trees Kubrick selected for Full Metal Jacket (1987) were shipped from Spain
to England to recreate Vietnam during the war. The trees were purchased through a
nursery and cost the production £1000 per palm tree and an export permit for them
to make the trip. On many films, lawns and topiary are maintained in a manner similar to that provided by a commercial gardener or landscaper. Other projects, like
Tim Burton’s Edward Scissorhands (1990), involve artistry from experienced film
landscaping experts.

This member of the art department purchases furniture, décor, clothes, props, and
other design elements. Buyers must know vendors and sources well and have good
negotiation skills. Items can also be rented and loaned. The low-budget filmmaker
must rely on networking skills and the gift of getting others to participate and contribute to the project.
Scenic Artist

An art department specialist who creates all painted backgrounds, prop paintings,
signage, any illustrative material, magazine covers, book jackets, and murals indicated by the story, a good scenic artist can paint out hot spots, shadows, or other factors that may interfere or concern the cinematographer during production. Scenic
work is also necessary to touch up and maintain the set on a daily basis. Bertolucci’s
The Last Emperor (1987) required skilled calligraphers who recreated the work of
China’s Forbidden City. The scenic artists on Pollack (2000), directed by and starring Ed Harris, meticulously recreated hundreds of paintings including the seemingly impossible task of copying the landmark drip paintings of Jackson Pollack. In this
film the scenic artists played a major role in the plausibility of the story and the principal character.
Costume Designer

The costume designer creates or selects the clothing to be worn by the actors. The
costume designer must have an in-depth background in period dress and an in-depth

T H E A R T D E PA R T M E N T / 5 3

understanding of character and story. The costumes may have to be conceived,
drawn, and then manufactured from scratch due to the nature of the narrative, the
characters, and the actors playing the parts.
Historically the costume designer comes onto a film after the production designer, who begins early on in the process. The color and texture concept has been established and agreed upon by the director and production designer. When the costume
designer comes on the project, the production designer tells him the parameters of
the colors the film will be set in. The costume designer takes samples of the color
scheme and begins to draw designs for the characters’ costumes.
Most production designers let costume designers work from their own inspiration, based on their interpretation of the story and characters. If the designer is established and highly experienced—such as Ann Roth (Midnight Cowboy, 1969, The
Unbearable Lightness of Being, 1988, and The English Patient, 1996); Patricia
Norris (Days of Heaven, 1978, Victor/Victoria, 1982, and Blue Velvet, 1986); or
Albert Wolsky (Grease, 1978, Sophie’s Choice, 1982, and Bugsy, 1992)—there is little back and forth necessary after talking to the director and production designer.
With an inexperienced costume designer, supervision may be more intense, especially if the production designer comes from a British tradition of theater and has
designed both the costumes and sets, like Tony Walton, or has worked in film as a
costume designer first, such as Kristi Zea and Patrizia Von Brandenstein. Directors
may also have long relationships with costume designers, and in this case they, are
the ones to hire them—not the production designer. Milena Canonero was the costume designer for many films directed by Stanley Kubrick and Jeffrey Kurland has
worked with Woody Allen for almost twenty years.
The costume designer designs directly to the body type of the actor playing the
part. The project is cast by the time the costume designer is hired, so the costume
designer takes measurements and begins to design for each actor and character. An
example of how the actor can influence the costume design can be seen in Paul
Schrader’s American Gigolo (1980). The main character, Julian Kay, is an L.A. male
hustler who makes his living performing sexual favors for women. Julian is in his
mid-twenties, handsome, and lives in a sparsely decorated but very chic apartment.
He is highly fashion-conscious and well groomed. The original actor cast as Julian
was John Travolta. Giorgio Armani was brought in and personally designed everything from suits, shirts, jeans, and overalls tailored to the actor. However, when
Travolta had to leave the film before shooting began for personal reasons, Richard
Gere was cast in the role. It was decided that since Gere was a “real person,” as
opposed to the iconic movie star Travolta had become, he should not be dressed by
one designer. “I told Schrader, ‘Let’s keep Armani, but let’s mix it up with other
designers. Let’s go real American,’” production designer Scarfiotti explains. “If he
wears jeans, they should be Levi’s; they can’t be designer jeans.” Scarfiotti also had
to make changes in the apartment set already built for Travolta. The wall color was
changed to suit Gere’s personal style.
To create the costumes, costume designers use many of the same criteria as the
production designer. They are also storytellers. The period, region, social class, pro-

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fession, and personality characteristics of the characters are the costume designer’s
guide. Fantasy or otherworldly characters demand imagination and an understanding of the world the characters live in.
The costume and character design for the title character in Tim Burton’s Edward
Scissorhands (1990) came from a drawing the director made years before. He
thought of a character who wanted to be able to touch but couldn’t, one who was
simultaneously creative and destructive. The result, as designed by Coleen Atwood,
is a young man with a formfitting, dark skin-suit with belt buckles, protruding points,
and straps all over his body. Edward has a high neck collar and long, multiple length
working scissors for hands and fingers. This extreme fantastical visualization projects the personality and inner-life of a lonely, confused man unable to make human
The famous white suit designed by Patrizia Von Brandenstein and worn by John
Travolta in Saturday Night Fever (1977) transformed middle-class working kid Tony
Manero from his everyday life in Brooklyn to a disco dance king at night. The tailored suit was made for the dance and gave Tony the supreme confidence and sharp
silhouette that defined his angular ever-changing movements on the brightly colored
disco floor.
The red Eisenhower zip-up jacket designed by Moss Mobry and worn by James
Dean as a tormented teenager in Rebel Without a Cause (1956), expressed the rage,
sexual repression, and emotional upheaval of the character of Jim Stark.
In a low-budget situation, the actors may own clothes appropriate for their character. The costume designer should work closely with the performers to participate
in the selection process, whether it’s in their home closet or the mall. Up-and-coming fashion designers welcome exposure in a film. A deal can be negotiated for a
fashion designer to dress one or more of the characters for an individual credit, in
addition to designing the other clothes needed for a film. If you are coordinating a
low-budget or student film, visit schools with a fashion or costume design course to
find burgeoning costume designers for your project.
Production Illustrators

Production illustrators are artists who paint or draw a conception of the production designer’s ideas for a set or a design moment for the film. They are helpful in
fantasy or sci-fi films such as Star Wars (1977), for which Ralph McQuarrie created
illustrations. Production illustrators are not often used in low-budget filmmaking.
The added cost is not a necessity, but production illustrations can be a valuable tool
when trying to raise money for a specific set that needs to be built.
Ralph McQuarrie’s concept paintings for Star Wars (1977), which included color
illustrations of the droids C-3PO and R2-D2 and Darth Vader, helped to get muchneeded seed money from Twentieth Century Fox when the script was put into limbo
at the studio.
The cliché that a picture is worth a thousand words is applicable here. A full-color
illustration of the set will sell it faster than any pitch or rough sketch.

T H E A R T D E PA R T M E N T / 5 5


The draftsman makes technical drawings that detail a plan to build a set. They are
precise, uniform technical drawings created to exact scale. Drafting for a film is the
same as any architectural plan, so any competent draftsman can assist your project.
Set Dresser

The set dresser works under the supervision of the set decorator and is responsible for putting the décor on set. An experienced set dresser has a background in furnishing and decorating, a sense of style, and understanding of the role of design in
storytelling is necessary.
The Production Designer’s Responsibility
to the Art Department

The production designer supervises the entire design team. All of these details
flow from the production designer’s vision, skills, and leadership. The production
designer answers to the director for creative issues and to the producer for fiscal matters. Art and commerce go hand in hand in moviemaking; production design must be
carefully planned and budgeted so the film gets the look it deserves and doesn’t fall
victim to the red pencils of the front office.
Understanding the Role of the Art Department
During the Early Stages of Pre-production

• The final draft of the screenplay during the pre-production period is a shooting
script. This blueprint for the production process includes detailed information
concerning use of the camera, the physical action, and dialog. Each scene and
shot in the screenplay is numbered consecutively.
• The production manager breaks the script down into individual components,
determining what days in the shooting schedule each scene and each shot is to be
photographed. The art department must plan accordingly to have the locations
ready for these specific dates.
• Pay careful attention to the credits of all the films you screen. The team assembled for each film will give you insight into what resources were necessary to create and produce the production design. Seek out productions that resemble the
circumstances and conditions concerning your project and use them as a guide
and model.

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Chapter 6

The pre-production process is a time of discovery and invention. This is
when the production designer and the art department develop ideas and create the
blueprints for the design of the film. The production designer enters a systematic
process of planning stages to create the design of a film.
Concept Drawings

Production designers think by drawing. The first stage of the design process, after
absorbing the screenplay and understanding the director’s point of view toward the
visual style of the film, is the process of physically designing the production.
Concept drawings are impressions of the sets drawn with pencil, charcoal, or marker. Concept drawings put the visual ideas on paper. They then are shown to the director for approval. Beginning with shapes in a sketchy, broad-stroked fashion, the
designer is thinking out loud on paper.
Visually oriented directors often draw their own simple concept drawings. Alfred
Hitchcock, Martin Scorsese, and Brian DePalma have been known to pass their ideas
on to production designers, who then develop them into full, detailed drawings or
paintings of the proposed set, which they present back to the director for approval.
For Vertigo (1958), Hitchcock gave production designer Henry Bumstead a
sketch comprised of just a few pencil lines of what he wanted to see outside the window of the Jimmy Stewart character’s apartment in San Francisco. The sketch
showed a tower on a hill. Hitchcock wanted a view of Coit Tower, which for him represented a phallic symbol. A monochrome wash sketch of the apartment was worked
up by the art department and outside the large window was a view of San Francisco
and the historic Coit Tower in the background. When the director okayed the proposed set, construction plans were drawn, and the set was built on the studio stage.
A translight was also created with the image of the Coit Tower and lit from the back
to appear like the outside view.


For the Francisco club attended by the villain, Hitchcock’s conceptual sketch had
large ribbed columns, a door, and men seated in chairs and at a table. The art department sketch developed the set but retained the design principles of Hitchcock’s
thumbnail. The approved sketch depicts an old-world, wood-paneled room with
antique chairs, overstuffed chairs, a chandelier, fireplace, and the columns suggested by the original concept.
Many drawings can be made for each design element. For the shack outside the
city in Dick Tracy (1990), production designer Richard Sylbert made over fifteen
conceptual drawings. This one location was key to helping him understand the world
of the film (for which he won an Academy Award). Concept drawings can be small
with many possibilities on a page or can be full-size charcoal sketches, as created by
Ken Adam when he designed the early James Bond films. Adam’s work established
the visual atmosphere for the franchise that has lasted over forty years.
The rumpus room, used by the master criminal who is the title character of
Goldfinger (1964) to entertain and plan nefarious capers with international mobsters,
was developed by Ken Adam in sketches that define the massive space. The ceiling
is supported by angular beams that are set in dynamic angles that create an atmosphere of power and the expansive reach of the criminal mastermind.

After a presentation of the concept sketches, the director and the designer enter a
discussion about the ideas. A single drawing may communicate and capture the
director’s intent, or elements from several drawings may be combined to achieve the
design’s objectives. An idea from a concept drawing may be altered or the designer
may be sent back to the drawing board to come up with additional approaches.
Director Stanley Kubrick immediately approved Ken Adam’s triangular shaped,
bilevel presentation of the war room set for Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to
Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb (1964). As Adam prepared to move on to the next
stages of design development that would eventually lead to construction, Kubrick
had second thoughts and about what to do with staging in the upper level. Kubrick
ordered Adam to come up with a completely different concept. Designers must be
prepared to move away from their original ideas and may or may not be given
specific guidance from the director. Some directors are very design-oriented and
remain part of the process, like Ridley Scott, a former production designer on commercials. Scott worked as part of the design team on Blade Runner (1982) with production designer Lawrence G. Paull. Throughout his career, Stanley Kubrick spoke
repeatedly about not always knowing what he wanted until he found it by exploring
seemingly endless possibilities. Before arriving at the shape of a monolith in 2001:
A Space Odyssey (1968), described in Arthur C. Clarke’s short story The Sentinel as
a slab, designers Tony Masters, Harry Lange, and Ernest Archer conceptualized the
marker from an alien power as a transparent cube, a pyramid, and a tetrahedron.
Each object was discussed, logically analyzed, and ultimately dismissed until the
monolith appeared in a sketch presented to Kubrick.

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Three pages from the storyboard to Reckless (1995), directed by Norman Rene, drawn and designed by
production designer Andrew Jackness. Courtesy Andrew Jackness and the Samuel Goldwyn Company.


60 / CHAPTER 6


What are directors looking for? How do design ideas evolve? When Ken Adam
came up with a new concept for Dr. Strangelove’s war room he sketched the large
oval table with circular light fixtures. Kubrick asked about the texture of the table.
“Could it be covered in green baize?” Adam said “yes,” knowing the film was to be
photographed in black-and-white. Kubrick was sold. The U.S. president, Russian
ambassador, and pentagon officials were “playing poker for the fate of the world.”
The metaphor fit Kubrick’s directorial concept of the scene—it was a visual
metaphor and presented dramatic possibilities for camera positions and overhead
lighting effects.

Storyboards visualize a film shot by shot. The storyboard can be drawn by a storyboard artist who specializes in the craft or by someone who can visually interpret
a story and understands cinematic grammar. The storyboard can be comprised of
expressive drawings or little more than stick figures. The ideas should generate from
the director, director of photography, and the production designer. On a low-budget
film the production designer may storyboard the entire film. The storyboard clearly
shows the relationship between the characters and their environment; it is a guide
that reflects the director’s visualization of the project and how the director of photography will photograph it. For the production designer, the storyboard will indicate
how the design will appear in the frame and what has to be created by the design
Production illustrations can visually communicate a particular set or location. If
a fantastic, experimental, or highly inventive design needs to be created, a detailed
illustration will help visualize the idea and is a great tool to generate capital in a
fundraising campaign.
After the concept drawings and specific design direction is agreed upon, more
drawings, in pencil, pen, or marker are done; then a plan is made. A draftsman executes this architectural drawing. The construction crew will follow the drafting plan
to build the set.
Scale models of a set, which present the physicality of a set in three dimensions,
can be built out of cardboard or other materials. The construction crew can examine
the architectural structure by studying a model. The model can be used to sell the
design to producers to obtain financial resources. The director and director of photography can plan shots, camera positions, and the blocking of action by working
with the model. A member of the art department, a specialist, or the production
designer can build models. The model visually displays the architecture and sense of
space intended by the design in three dimensions. Production designer Anna Asp,
who has worked with Ingmar Bergman and Andrey Tarkovsky, makes extensive use
of models in her work. A scale model is built for each set; then the models are painted exactly the way they will look as completed sets. Experiments with lighting can
then be made on the model, and camera movements and compositions can be
planned. Asp finds this process satisfying and effective. “When the set is constructed on the stage, it’s like walking into my model,” Asp explains.

62 / CHAPTER 6


Drafting is an exacting art with specific equipment and standards, though you
may have to assign this job to someone who is not an experienced, trained draftsman. The most effective and thorough way to learn drafting is to take a course as part
of a design or architecture curriculum or in a continuing education program.
Drafting can be self-taught with the aide of an instructional book, supplies purchased
at a local art store, and the time to learn and practice this exacting craft.
Drafting does not involve freehand drawing; it is a mechanical skill executed with
pencils guided by a ruler, T-square, compass, and other tools that help produce precise and uniform lines for creating design plans. The purpose of drafting is to draw
objects to be constructed. Drafting is practical drawing not intended to be displayed
and enjoyed as art. There are many methods employed in the drafting process; the
most commonly used is called Orthographic Projection, which allows the drawing of
objects that have depth, although the paper used has only length and width. Length,
width, and height are words used to describe the dimensions of an object. In drafting terms, basic dimensions are shown by width, height, and depth.
Drawing paper used in drafting can be bought in pads or rolls. Vellum is a common drawing surface, and white paper is most often used in drafting. Finely grained
cream or light green paper is also used, as are transparent materials, such as linen
and glass cloth.
To arrive at the proper scale of a drawing, the size of an object and the space available on the paper are the primary considerations. A draftsman starts with the overall
dimensions, then measures the drawing space. A single object ten feet wide and four
feet deep using one-half-inch scale will take five horizontal inches on the paper. The
side view is two horizontal inches. If the object is six feet high, the front view will
be three vertical inches, the top view two vertical inches. The three required views—
front, top, and side of the object—will take a total space of five vertical inches and
seven inches horizontally. There must be room in between to organize the drawing
and make it pleasing and clear to the eye. To create more space between the three
views, a smaller scale may be desirable.
Sample Exercises

Before any real drafting can be done in creating a plan or view of a set, getting
comfortable and skilled with the tools is necessary. Begin by making clean lines,
consistent in weight, one below another or next to each other. Drafting or technical
drawing is not like freehand drawing; it must be precise and clean, free of smudges
and inconsistencies.
As you get familiar with the various grades of pencil leads and rulers, experiment
with the pressure applied from pencil to paper and the angle of lead to paper. In creating line after the line, the order in which lines are created and where the ruler and
your hand are positioned is critical in not smudging the work you have already


Once good results have been achieved, move on to connecting lines at right and
left angles until you can make a perfect join. Practice curves with a French curve and
circular lines with a compass.
Next, readable, consistent lettering is necessary to identify aspects of a technical
drawing. Practice basic block lettering using a soft, sharp pencil. Use clean-cut, dark
strokes, and accent the ends of each line. Lightly drawn top and bottom guidelines
are necessary to create uniform letters and word.
To set up a drafting space, the necessary tools include:
• A stable drafting table with adjustable height and tilt of angle. A 30" × 46" table
can accommodate 24" × 36" paper, with room to work with a T-square.
• Another table or space to hold the drafting tools. A tabouret functions as a table
and also has drawers to store drafting tools.
• The drafting table covered with a rubberized material that will give the pencil a
flexible surface to draw on.
• A drafting machine, also called a parallel, that allows the draftsperson to draw in
any angle.
• A parallel straight edge attached to the drawing table by a cable system allowing
it to glide up and down so the designer can draw straight parallel lines.
• A T-square, which can be moved up and down the drawing to facilitate drawing
straight lines.
• A French curve, which allows a range of complex curves to be drawn.
• An adjustable triangle, which takes the place of having a series of fixed triangles.
It can be set at any angle.
• A bow compass that has a sharp point to secure it to the table and an arm with a
piece of lead to draw circles.
• A lead holder to hold drafting lead that comes in seventeen different degrees of
• A lead pointer, used for sharpening the lead, but not on a standard pencil. A
wooden drafting pencil can be sharpened in a pencil sharpener.
• An eraser shield, which is a thin, aluminum sheet with cutout shapes of various
sizes. It allows for precise erasing.
• A white plastic eraser, manufactured for erasing drafting vellum.
• Drafting dots and drafting tape to secure the drawing to the table without causing
damage to the corners when removed.
• A triangular architect’s scale rule that has twelve measuring scales on six sides.
• A stomp, which is a stick of compressed fiber that is used to add shade and texture to the drawing.
• A lettering guide to aid in drawing letters.
• A furniture template to allow the quick and accurate drawing of furniture in plan
views for one-quarter-inch or one-half-inch scale.
• A circle template, which is the only effective way to draw precise ellipses.
• A square template, used for drawing multiple of squares repeatedly with consistent accuracy.

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Additional drafting supplies include drafting powder, an electric eraser, and a
drafting brush.
Every line in a technical drawing represents meaning and information to the reader who will eventually build from this blueprint. The American National Standards
Institute has endorsed these standards. A line gauge showing all the established
weights from .005 inches (.13 mm) to .079 inches (2.00 mm) should be purchased.
In a technical drawing, all lines must be dark, cleanly drawn, and uniform. To reproduce the drawing lines should be spaced at least .06 inches (1.5 mm). The width of
a line is established by the smallest size the drawing will eventually be reduced to.
Three weights of lines can give the drawing a clean look. Thin lines can be drawn
with one weight, then another, to represent parts of the set that will not be visible to
the viewer of the completed set but which must be shown in the drawing in order to
explain the mechanics of the design. A still thinner lead weight is used for lines other
than the main ones. These include centerlines, extensions, and lines indicating
dimensions. Thick lines should be drawn in a softer lead than thin lines. H or F grade
pencils are recommended for this work.
Drafting Requirements and Standards

• Lettering should be one-sixteenth or one-eighth inch high.
• Guidelines should be created first. Letters should be consistent in style throughout all the project drawings in a low wide form that is easy to read.
• The title describing the view and subject and title of the project should be onequarter inch high.
• A stamp can be made with the title block that can be used for each drawing. The
block should include these details: the title of the project, the company logo,
space for union stamp to indicate if the film is a union production, set title, date,
sheet number, name of producer, director, production designer, draftsman, date of
production, date drawn, and the scale of the drawing. Detailed information for
each drawing can be added in pencil to the prepared stamp block.
• The thickness of a drafted line communicates specific instructions and is called
the line weight. Line weight is controlled by the degree of pressure, lead weight,
and overlapping lines to create a thicker line.
• Soft leads will produce very thick black lines. Leads to achieve this are 8B, 7B,
6B, 5B, 4B, or 3B. The higher the number in the B series used for sketching and
drawing, the softer the lead. 2B, B, and HB produce a thick black line used for
thick lines and for indicating scenery. F and H leads give a dark gray line and are
used for lettering. 2H, 3H, 4H, 5H, 9H, and 10H are hard leads that make light,
thin lines. A dimension system utilizes arrows to specify all dimensions throughout a drawing.

A staging plan, used to visualize how the set is laid out on a sound stage, should
include the following:


Two examples of title blocks. A Beautiful Mind (2001), directed by Ron Howard. Courtesy production
designer Wynn Thomas, Imagine Entertainment, Universal Pictures, and DreamWorks Distribution LLC.
Analyze That (2002), directed by Harold Ramis. Courtesy production designer Wynn Thomas, Warner
Bros., Baltimore Spring Creek Productions, Face Productions, and Tribeca Productions.

• The stage dimensions and space
• Where the set walls, platforms, and stairways are laid out
• Drawn and labeled furniture, rugs, and décor
• Indications of drops, backings, and cycloramas
• Labels for any scenery intended to fly
• The title block in the lower-right-hand corner
A floor plan is a view of all scenery. A platform plan, drawn in one-half-inch scale
for the construction of platforms and stair units, should include the following:
• The breakdown of a larger platform built in smaller sections.
• Construction and material details.
• Any openings in the stage floor and platform.
• All dimensions.
• Radius of curved platforms.
• Moving platforms—type of casters, swivel or rigid—wheel diameter and caster
• Tracks, turntables, and control devices to move elements on the stage. Each element must be fully dimensioned.
All drawings must have title blocks.
Elevation Drawings show a particular angle of a portion of the floor plan elevated to a direct flat view of the front, side, or rear of the set. The elevation is a no-perspective view of the set.

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A series of elevation drawings of a living room set may be created as follows: a
straight-on full view of the window wall with hanging mirror, radiator cover, and
plant table. The opposite long wall would be presented in a separate elevation with
a fireplace in a dimensional protruding three-sided section coming out from the main
wall, doorways on the right and left, and built-in L-shaped shelving units on both
sides of the right doorway. Side or short wall elevations have connecting, matching
architectural elements. The side wall elevation view of the wall next to the built-in
shelves would present the shelves on the left, an upright piano, and a doorway on the
right leading to a short entrance hall and front door.
An elevation drawing lists all construction information, all details concerning
paint, moldings, and windows. The drawing should be made with a medium pencil
line. The title block should reflect all the necessary information. There should be a
three-quarter-inch border around the drawing. If needed, create elevation drawings
for the side, rear construction section and details of a set.
Elevation drawings give the construction crew a detailed plan of the architecture
of each wall of a set with all its dimensions and seen in isolation from a straight-on
view—not at an angle that would distort or obscure this view.
A section view drawing is a sliced-through view of a portion of a set that may be
complex in its design and construction aspects. A revolved section is a slicedthrough view of the set or a detail of the set revolved 90 degrees. Textures and materials are indicated with pencil shading techniques put in with a stomp—for instance,
pressed paper formed into a pencil shape is used to blend lines and create shaded
A section view of a plywood box would reveal the inner-structure of the box. A
removed section view would make an imaginary slice through the box, turned 90
degrees. This would show that the box is hollow and has 45-degree angle corner supports at each joint. An extra thick line is drawn to indicate the parts of the drawing
where the imaginary cut was made. These lines are called section lines.
Textures should be drawn using a photograph as a guide, not from memory.
Pencil drawing technique can indicate rough stone, brick, concrete block, wood paneling, lumber, wallpaper, clapboard, concrete, cut stone, and glass. The camera view
method of drawing is camera specific and shows the set from a particular aspect
ratio. A camera lens MM/field-of-view chart is necessary to create these drawings.
The chart is a transparent sheet with a selection of superimposed rectangles that represent a field of view related to a specific millimeter lens and camera distances. This
allows the drawing to be made in the proper scale to represent the chosen lens for
the shot.
A scale plan is drawn to determine the dimensions of the designed set and how it
will fit in the studio space. This plan is drawn with a drafting ruler on tracing paper
in scale that can range from a one-quarter inch up to twelve inches, depending on the
size of the set.
A series of overlays show the studio plan, an overhead view that includes the
dimensions of the sound stage, the set, furniture, and décor. Each element is on a
separate sheet of tracing paper. When combined, they present the composite of the
design allowing control over each individual drawing element.


Drafting plans from Malcolm X, (1992), directed by Spike Lee, created by production designer Wynn
Thomas. Courtesy Wynn Thomas, Spike Lee, 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks, Warner Bros., JVC
Entertainment, and Largo International N.V.

68 / CHAPTER 6


The approved staging plan indicates each flat, all doors and windows, furniture,
props, window treatments, platforms, and sets of stairs. This plan will be used by the
director of photography to design the lighting plot and establish camera positions
and movement, as well as sound equipment positions.
If the project is being produced at a professional studio with sound stages, a basic
studio plan can be obtained upon which you can overlay your set plans. The studio
plan available from the studio where you are working will include:

Location of studio entrances and exits
Location of storage areas, dressing rooms, shop space, and restrooms
Layout of power sources, electrical outlets, and water
Rigging and hoists to raise lighting equipment and scenic pieces, as well as the
track used to hang a cyclorama
• Blue screen/green screen for matte effects
The studio plan is numbered. The numbers relate to marks on the studio walls.
These are used to precisely locate the position of all scenery, décor, and sets.
The furniture plot, which details where all the furniture pieces will be positioned,
and the prop plot, which details the location of each prop, are used by the set decorator, the assistant set decorator, and the set dressing crew and property master to
plan, prepare, and organize their work.
Location Scouting

When embarking on a location scout, preparation is necessary. The scout should
have available some specific items, as detailed below, on all trips to record and
retrieve information, to properly represent the production, and to negotiate with the
proprietors of a location. A basic location scout’s kit should always be readied with
a number of items necessary to evaluate and document the locations visited during
the scouting process in pre-production.
Location scouts should carry a Polaroid camera with a flash to make a photographic record of the location. Pictures should be taken from all angles necessary to
cover the space in detail. Take full shots and close shots of specifics, moldings,
fixtures, doorways, and windows. When the scout returns, the Polaroids will be
shown to the producer, director, production designer, and the director of photography for their inspection, input, and decision on the feasibility of using the location
for filming. Each of the team members will assess the pictures for their specific
responsibility, among other issues. The producer will look at the economic aspects
and production values inherent in the location. The director is concerned with storytelling and visual potential. The production designer will examine the photos for the
period, architecture, and stylistic elements that are part of the design plan. A location may be usable for a particular room or section that can be combined with other
locations. So the designer is not only looking at the long view but for the components and details as well. The director of photography is interested in the photographic opportunities, light sources, size of space where the camera, equipment, and

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lighting instruments can fit, and intriguing camera angles. A video camera is also
helpful to capture the scope of a location, present how rooms or areas connect, and
to see the location in a motion picture medium.
The scout should have Xerox copies of the storyboard and production design
sketches. These are essential to determine if the location will satisfy the requirements of the film and meet the artistic and technical standards of the director, director of photography, and production designer.
Location releases must be available during scouting. These official forms contain
the production letterhead and contact information that, when signed by the owner or
representative of the location, gives the film company permission to use and photograph the location for the movie.
Business cards should be given to the landlords, owners, and contact people of
locations visited by the scout. A professionally printed business card will aid in
building business relationships with vendors, suppliers, and independent contractors,
and bring legitimacy to the production company. Keep it simple; fancy logos and
typefaces are often the sign of an amateur.
The production must carry insurance to cover any damage or loss occurring while
working on location. A document known as a certificate of insurance should be
shown to owners and representatives to acknowledge insurance coverage is in place.
Location scouts must navigate in any area they are exploring. A compass will
assist in plotting travel routes and keep the scout aware of their location. A cell phone,
pager, lap top computer, and palm pilot are all important communication devices
helpful in maintaining contact with the production office and the location site.
The scout must accurately measure the location in detail for the production
designer to determine if the space is adequate and to plan the design. A reliable professional retractable tape measure, which can be purchased in a hardware store, is
necessary for this task. A series of metal rulers, from one foot to a foot and a half in
length, with the smallest fractions that can be found, are needed for measuring fine
point dimensions and to get into small or inconvenient spaces.
The scout must have maps of the area to be scouted. A general collection of maps
is helpful to plan scouting trips, to determine travel routes, and to get an overall
understanding of an area’s logistics and resources. Digital maps are available on the
Internet and in software. A vehicle with OnStar or other navigation services would
be helpful but is an added production expense and not necessary. The scout should
be an experienced driver and have a backup plan or alternate routes if necessary. The
Automobile Club of America (AAA) has detailed maps for the entire United States
available to their membership. It is also a good idea to be a member in the event of
breakdowns, as they provide repair and towing services. If the trip involves going out
of state or out of country, the scout needs the proper transportation information and
schedule and ticket arrangements to be made.
Stationery Supplies are essential. The scouting kit should contain notepads, pens,
pencils, erasers, Scotch tape, scissors, Post-It notes, paper clips, and a stapler.
The scout should always carry petty cash for gas, tolls, meals, and lodging
expenses. A production credit card comes in handy. If the production vehicle has EZ Pass, it is economical and efficient in this time-is-money business.


The scout needs to have an accurate timepiece to record travel time and to coordinate schedules. Mileage to and from the production office and the location must be
recorded in writing. The time it takes to get to and from locations can be an important decision factor in selecting a location.
Location fact sheets should be prepared in advance and put into folders labeled
for each location needed in the film. The forms are available from production service companies but can easily be created on a word processor and copied in bulk. This
would allow the production company and production designer to tailor the information to their prerogative.
The following information is absolutely necessary to document during a location
• Name, address, phone number, and e-mail address of the owner, property manager, electricians, janitors, doorman, elevator operators, and other relevant contacts. While working at a location, these people are essential in the smooth running of a shoot.
• Parking availability. Does the location have its own parking? Can parking permits be obtained? Is there a municipal lot or private parking garage nearby?
• Back entrance for delivery and pick-up access. Most locations have strict rules for
this. Locate and note them for all concerned. Make contact with anyone involved
in supervising these areas.
• Freight doorways. Measure the dimensions of the doorway and note all accessibility information.
• Stairways. Document the location, width, and height of all stairways to be used
during production.
• Elevators. Examine the passenger and freight elevators. Take dimensions and
note weight and number of passenger restrictions. Find out the hours of operation.
If the shoot is an overnight, arrangements for a night operator may be necessary.
• Doorways. Carefully measure the height, width, and depth of all doorways.
• Location of restrooms, dressing areas. Note which restrooms can be used by the
film company. Does a portable unit have to be brought in? Is there a room that can
be designated for dressing the actors? Also consider space for hair and makeup.
If not, a trailer may be necessary.
• Diagram of location floor plan. This will be used by the production designer in
planning decoration or restoration work. The camera and sound crew will use it
to plan their work. The unit production manager and the location manager need
to have location floor plans of all locations to organize and supervise all work
done on location shoots.
• Floor and ceilings. Examine surfaces for floor problems that may affect camera
placement and movement. Check and test ceiling for lighting and sound conditions.
• List all equipment that can be supplied by the location owner. Are there telephones, fax machines, and computers on the premises? Can they can be used by
the production company? Is there refrigeration, heating, air conditioning, tools, a
working kitchen?

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• Note any construction projects taking place in the area. Check the area surrounding the location for anything that may disrupt production.
• Note what days and time surrounding lawns are mowed. This activity would disturb sync-sound recording.
New York, Los Angeles, and other cities with active film production have many
support services available for production designers and art departments. Although
the production often has to pay for these services, they may be necessary for the
design of the film. The plethora of services and set dressings available to the
filmmaker in these production-oriented cities runs the gamut, from airline and aviation mock-up to candelabras, from firearms to taxidermy.
Organizing the Property Department

The prop master makes a list of props needed based on the script, discussions
with the production designer, and their collaborative decisions, and then designates
them into distinct categories:
• Personal props are worn or directly used by the actors—eyeglasses, rings, and
wallets, for example
• Props such as appliances that are not used on camera are listed as nonpractical.
They do not have to be in working condition, just look like they can operate.
• Hand props are used by the actors—for instance, wineglass, cigarette lighter, and
• Practical props are fully operational and in working order.
• Any prop that is not directly used or operated by the actors does not have to be
• Key props that are often used or visible should be backed up with replacements
in case they’re needed during production. The back up props must be an exact
match not to disturb continuity.
Before shooting begins the production designer and the art department go through
a final checklist.
Final Steps of Pre-production

Each shot in the storyboard and on the shot list is checked to make sure the camera will not be shooting off set. The production designer goes through the compositions, lenses to be used, and planned camera movements, making sure that the set supports all angles to be employed. The set is scrutinized for its ability to project its objectives; when lit and photographed by the cinematographer, final corrections are made.
• Are there any hot spots? The simple solution is for the camera crew to adjust the
lighting or to spray down the area with dulling spray. Often a scenic artist can
spray the appropriate color paint and finish on the area to resolve hot spots. In an








extreme case, the production designer may have to replace or substitute materials
on the set that are causing problematic glare on camera.
Any reflections? Glass, shiny, and mirrored surfaces can be sprayed down with
dulling spray by the camera crew. The materials can also be replaced by the set
dressing crew with nonreflective ones.
Are the colors too dark, too light? This should be resolved before shooting begins
by consultation between the director, director of photography, and the production
designer. Colors should be camera tested in pre-production. If the problem arises
on the set, the painters and production designer must resolve the problem by making the necessary changes.
Will the camera cables or equipment obstruct a shot? Often the camera crew can
resolve this, but more serious problems should be handled during pre-production.
The design might have to be altered to accommodate the production crew or the
director of photography may have to use other equipment or method of routing
Are the details on all surfaces the right pictorial balance? A model built to scale,
painted, and decorated to match the set, will give the designer the best chance to
check if the pictorial balance is correct. The final test is examining the completed, constructed set. The production designer should schedule time before the set
is to be shot so that it can be checked and adjustments can be made before shooting, without causing costly production delays.
The placement of every piece of furnishing should be checked. Is the environment
too busy or too sparse? Is it effective from every camera position? The set decorator examines all furnishings and décor. The production designer, director of
photography, and director inspect the set dressing from every camera position and
lens application.
What is the overall impact of the set? Is it too dark, producing an oppressive
impression, or too light, causing the surroundings to look vacant? The director is
the final judge of the look of a set. It is the director’s vision, and he is the principal storyteller. The production designer should have the director sign-off on each
set as it is finished, still allowing time for changes. Steven Spielberg made major
changes to aspects of the sets for Hook after the sets were built but before production. Production designer Norman Garwood, who received an Oscar nomination
for his work on the film, redesigned Spielberg’s requests in time for the shooting.
Is the set completely stable and safe for the cast and crew? It is the responsibility of the construction coordinator and the construction crew to guarantee the set
is safe to work on. Everything must be braced and supported.
Doors and windows should be checked for sticking and mobility problems by the
construction crew. Any sticking problems can be resolved with silicon spray or
three-in-one oil.
The props are checked for arrangement, placement, color, texture, and authenticity by the prop master.
The aging is adjusted so the set doesn’t look too old or new for the story. The
painters and scenic artists enhance or reduce aging effects with paint, asphaltan,
dust, dirt, India ink, and water solution, powder, and other materials.

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• The height and brightness of all practical lighting fixtures should be adjusted.
Lighting is the domain of the camera crew. Practical lamps are chosen and placed
on the set by the set decorator. They are wired and bulbs are augmented by the
electrician. The height and brightness of all practical lamps is adjusted by the
gaffer under the supervision of the director of photography.
• Is the furniture stable? Are the actors able to work with it comfortably? The set
decorator is responsible for making sure the furniture is safe and user-friendly for
the actors.
• Does the set work for the characters, performers, and story? After all the collaboration and consultation, the director will determine whether the set is right for the film.

The art department must plan a detailed schedule, coordinated with the shooting
schedule and with appropriate arrangements for rental and access of the studio space.
The art department should estimate the time every step will take, so a starting date
can be determined by backdating everything involved.

How much time will it take to acquire all materials necessary to build the sets?
How long will it take to get all of the props, furniture, and décor?
How long will it take the construction crew to build the set?
How long will it take to transport the set to a studio, assemble it, and secure
everything for the first day of shooting?

Other aspects that affect the art department schedule include:
• Riggings for the cinematography team
• Special effects that concern the set, such as fire, water, explosions, gunshots,
snow, and digital effects
• Tests for camera: lighting, color, and texture
• Tests for special effects
• Tests and accommodations for sound
Keeping Ahead of the Company

When the schedule is tight, the crew will shoot as soon as the first sets are ready,
so the production designer and the art department try to stay at least one step ahead
to maintain the shooting schedule. That schedule must be maintained throughout the
shoot. If problems arise with the preparation of set and location, let the production
manager know immediately so the schedule board can be rearranged. The production designer never wants to be the cause of delays once shooting has begun.
The extensive and impressive sets designed by Norman Garwood for Steven
Spielberg’s Hook (1991) required a long pre-production period and many changes
were demanded of the art department. Spielberg made major changes in studio sets
that he had originally approved as he came up with new ideas. This involved


redesign and new construction. These changes could have delayed production and
extended pre-production, but when shooting started, the film remained on schedule
due to the diligence of the art department.
A check and balance system should be in place between the art department and
the production team so details or major plans don’t fall through the cracks.
Filmmaking is a creative endeavor, but it is also a business and demands military
precision regarding logistics. Don’t even think about beginning production without
at least plans A, B, and C in place. Always have a contingency plan and be ready to
solve problems.
Cover Sets

Lost time is lost money. In the event of inclement weather, a cover set—an interior space where the company can shoot if prevented from shooting on location—is
crucial. During pre-production designate cover sets and have them available before
shooting begins on exterior work. Have crew on call to support the cover sets during
outdoor production so when rain and snow hit you will be prepared to make the shift
indoors without losing valuable time and money.
Pre-production Advice

The following suggestions are critical for all filmmakers and projects but especially on a first film where the production team is not experienced. The producer,
unit production manager, and production staff are responsible for planning and
scheduling. The director must be fully prepared by the end of pre-production. The
production designer is directly affected by the plans and schedule made during preproduction. Read the screenplay again. Certainly the director needs to do this, but
the production designer also needs to maintain objectivity and re-think his work
before shooting begins.

Schedule plenty of time for the pre-production phase of the project
Don’t shoot until you are totally prepared
Have as much backup and as many alternate plans as possible
Plan for cover sets where the company can shoot in the event of inclement weather
Check and recheck everything
Read the screenplay again with an objective eye for perspective, details, and clarity toward the production design of the project

Most of the work of the production designer is completed before shooting begins.
During production the art director runs the day-to-day operation of maintaining the
sets and dealing with issues that come up.
If the entire production is not designed by the first day of shooting, the production designer will continue with the process of creating concept drawings, working
drawings, and plans, and overseeing construction.

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Chapter 7

Color performs many functions in production design. Color is not only
used to achieve verisimilitude in the images; color can communicate time and place,
define characters, and establish emotion, mood, atmosphere, and a psychological
sensibility. In visual storytelling, color is one of the moviemaker’s greatest assets. As
in all areas of filmmaking, the color design must be given serious thought and must
be carefully planned. You are not just presenting pretty or eye-catching colors; you
are telling a story and defining the characters. A set, location, or environment is
interpreted by its use of color. Color is a powerful design tool that often works subliminally. Many colors come with an intrinsic symbolic meaning. In Silkwood, production designer Patrizia Von Brandenstein made notable use of the color yellow in
the plutonium plant. When it appears on road signs and in urgent public messages,
yellow signifies a warning of danger. The yellow in Silkwood had a metaphoric
power. The plutonium plant Karen Silkwood and her friends worked in was a great
threat to their health and safety. The yellow was both a warning and a dramatic foreshadowing of what was to come in the story.
The production designer creates a color palette for a film. The chosen range of
color is a way of expressing and defining the world of the film. Color allows the
designer to create a tonal context that can complement or contrast with the narrative.
The goal is not to color-coordinate as an interior designer might when decorating a
living space but to consciously select each color for its dramatic impact.
On Dick Tracy (1990), production designer Richard Sylbert used the primary colors red, yellow, and blue to signify the comic book world of the story.
The Last Emperor (1987), designed by Ferdinando Scarfiotti, featured golden
tones and rich saturated reds for the Forbidden City sequences that presented the
magical, insular, old world of the young emperor. For scenes where the adult emperor is placed in a prison camp, director Bernardo Bertolucci, director of photography
Vittorio Storaro, and Scarfiotti dramatically shifted the color palette to somber blues
and grays to indicate the change in China’s political climate.


In Married to the Mob (1988), directed by Jonathan Demme, production designer Kristi Zea employed an eclectic juxtaposition of bright colors to illustrate the
downtown New York scene. For the ornate and tacky Florida hotel room scene,
which concludes the film, Zea used the color turquoise to demonstrate the mob’s lavish and cheesy taste in décor. Tony the Tiger’s office is all wood, old-world, with
overt masculine hues and materials to represent the power of the mob boss.
The Color Palette

To create the color palette, start with markers, paint, color swatches, or any color
media, and make samples. Color illustrations can help plan the color scheme.
Richard Sylbert painted small square wooden boards to plan out the color scheme
for Dick Tracy. The boards were labeled Dick Tracy Red, Dick Tracy Blue, and Dick
Tracy Yellow, and were used as references for the design team.
The color palette should be defined before you proceed. Controlling the mood with
color has a great impact on the audience. Be certain that the director, the director of
photography, and production designer are all in agreement on the color approach. Will
the cinematographer be using color gel, a film stock, or developing process to alter or
affect the color negative? Is the movie going to be shot on video? What format—digital video, Beta, PAL? How does the format render the color and texture?
The critical difference in how color is recorded is between film and video. Film
has a high contrast range and the ability to present highly saturated color. Video as
a medium has improved enormously over the last ten years but inherently doesn’t
render contrast as well as film. Areas of image on the high and low end can lack contrast and detail. Very saturated colors tend to blossom and lose definition. In film,
stocks vary in their ability to render contrast and grain pattern, which ranges from
fine to grainy. Fine grain produces sharp, clean colors that are desirable for many
photographic styles. Some films require a grainy look. Heavy grain creates a dark
mood, soft-edged color that is great for edgy, raw subject matter. Low-end video is
used for low- or no-budget productions. The color, sharpness, and contrast is quite
good, considering how inexpensive the cameras are, but any commercial production
striving for good production values should consider at least a three chip camera or
high-end professional video camera, not what is now considered prosummer equipment. New high-definition digital cameras come close to achieving a film look.
Panavision and Sony have developed a state-of-the-art digital camera that runs at the
film standard of twenty-four frames per second. One of these cameras was used to
film Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002), which comes even closer to capturing
color the way a 35mm camera can. Most feature films are still shot on film. Kodak
still dominates as the film stock of choice, but some filmmakers prefer Fuji film
stock that produces what cinematographer Ed Lachman (Desperately Seeking Susan,
1985; The Virgin Suicides, 1999; and Erin Brockovich, 2000) calls “juke box colors,”
which have a candy color quality appropriate for projects with a bright, post-modern
photographic approach. The production designer should talk to the director of photography, screen examples of these results, and know what shooting medium is to be
used, before beginning to design the color scheme.

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Color gels have a significant effect on the color scheme of the production design.
Gels come in all colors and have a wide tonal range within each color. A subtle use
of a gel on a light or on the camera lens can heighten or slightly augment the color,
but extreme use of a saturated red or blue gel will override any color palette inherent in the production design. It is critical that the production designer and the director of photography discuss this so the design will stay within the original concept
once filmed. Gels can help accent a location in lieu of painting a wall and could be
an inexpensive and quick solution. Gels can benefit both the production design and
the cinematography when both members of the team understand each other’s tools
and the best result for the story.
If the director of photography has a problem with the color of a set, the time to
resolve it is in the planning stages, not at the onset of production.
Because the production designer historically is brought on before the director of
photography, this collaboration starts late—after color decisions have been made
between the designer and the director. “I was hired to do a TV movie that later
became a series called The Flash,” director of photography Sandi Sissel remembers.
“It was a $6 million TV movie, which was almost unheard of, but when I came onto
it, we had two weeks before production started so all of the locations had been chosen and they were great, really wonderful lofts. The production designer described it
to me as ‘the thirties meets the nineties.’ We had a relatively short shooting schedule, but the gaffer, key grip, and I were going around looking at locations, and we
said, ‘This is really weird, why do we have all these white lofts? What does this have
to do with a cartoon character?’ So we went on to the director and said, ‘You’re
going to think we’re crazy, but what if we put colored gels on all the lights and
washed all these sets so that they were no longer white but were absolutely bright
colors?’ This idea came to me because I had been reading about Dick Tracy at the
time, and how Vittorio Storaro and Richard Sylbert were doing all these sets with
primary colors. So it just seemed logical that this cartoon character would be something like this. It didn’t make sense that it would be white because that was so unreal, such a fantasy. So we literally turned the offices into yellow, green, red, purple,
and these bright colors. Later on the production designer was nominated for an
Emmy for his colorful work on this film, none of which was in the production
design—all of it was the gels on the lights. Now, had he not given us white sets, we
wouldn’t have been able to do that at the last minute, and perhaps had he given us
weird colors, it would have been even more difficult to do. It worked out collaboratively; he was very nice about it. He loved what we did and the way that we did it.”
Colors should be used to visually transcribe the layers of feeling and meaning that
are in the script. Color should not be imposed on the design to convey the story, or
the audience will be aware of the manipulated mechanics of the color and only see
it, rather than feel it. An effective color design operates on a subconscious level and
allows the colors to impart ideas and feelings separate from the conscious story and
physical setting.
On Bernardo Bertolucci’s Little Buddha (1993), scene after scene is bathed in
blue. At first it establishes the spirituality of the story and the isolation felt by this
young American boy believed to be the next Dalai Lama. However, the overpower-

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ing presence of this single color application eventually tires the viewer, becomes
self-conscious and obvious. The color is a distraction rather than a complement or
an integral element in visually illustrating and narrating the theme and story.
Ridley Scott’s Black Hawk Down (2001) utilizes a limited color scheme executed
in the production design, cinematography, and costumes. The film is based on a true
story concerning a U.S. mission in Somalia. The predominant colors are green and a
sand tone. The military is associated with green, so the uniforms and artillery are this
color. The buildings and terrain in Somalia are sand-colored. So the color scheme is
consistent with the environment and characters. But Scott and his creative team go too
far. The color approach extends to the final color correction when the color of a print
can be adjusted and altered. Black Hawk Down is so heavily green-toned that the
color extends to the sky and skin tones. Part of the motivation is that when the massive attack against the Americans begins, and the blood begins to flow, red has a visceral power it might not have achieved if warm or hot colors had been introduced into
the overall design. In the example of Black Hawk Down, the green palette is so overwhelming it distracts from the characters and action. The viewer wonders why this
color dominates, consciously looking for a metaphor or meaning that is never delivered. The film quickly begins to look more like a music video than a dramatic motion
picture story. Subtle use of a wider palette, at least in some locations and scenes,
would have tempered this obvious exercise in style as style and not as storytelling.
Production designer Richard MacDonald utilized color to create vibrancy in his
designs. His technique was to first paint a wall gray or a cold brown color, such as a
raw umber. After the cool color dried, MacDonald splattered the surface with a warm
color. Although the camera primarily records the warm color, the splattering technique allows the cold color underneath to show through. In MacDonald’s design for
The Addams Family (1991), directed by Barry Sonnenfeld, he designated the house
as a character in the film. In a variation of the splattering technique to achieve optical vibration, one wall in the spooky fun house was painted a light ochre-yellow on
encrusted paper with a textured pattern. MacDonald then rubbed a very light lavender blue over the ochre that transformed it into a gray but also projected a vibrating
aura that burst forth with vitality when photographed.
During the pre-production stage of The Morning After (1986), director Sidney
Lumet told production designer Albert Brenner that he interpreted the color of Los
Angeles as a tube of Necco Wafers—a candy that combines a palette of light, dustycolored pastels, encompassing a range of colors from warm to cool. Brenner ran with
Lumet’s color metaphor. He went back to the script and made a list of the exterior
locations where the Jane Fonda character walked. Brenner assigned pastel colors to
specific shots and scenes and then searched for each color scheme on location.
Although this concept and process involved a little more traveling for the company
during the shooting of the film, Lumet was convinced it was worth the effort for the
contribution the color choices made in emotionally interpreting the environment, as
he perceived it. The production design supported the director’s vision of the film.
Tony Walton had designed the original Broadway production of the play A Funny
Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). Richard Lester, who directed the
film adaptation, wanted a different impression of Ancient Rome than the scrubbed-

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and-polished look often presented in movies. Walton’s design solution for the 1966
film version was to employ reds, oranges, and yellow-golds that were linked to the
terra cotta hues popular in Ancient Rome. The designer also accentuated the vaudevillian roots of the play. During their research, Lester and Walton found that in the
Ancient Roman era, statues were painted. Moreover, architectural landmarks such as
the temples in the Roman Forum, were polychromatic; they were colorfully painted.
Slaves from the same household, played by Zero Mostel and Jack Gilford, were referenced by colors that conflicted with the interior coloring of the house, to emphasize they were in a different social class than the residents. The background characters were presented in muddied, sludge colors, but the principal characters were displayed in radiant, jewel colors.
For the design of Last Tango in Paris (1973), the theme of isolation and desolation boldly captured in explicit human horror by the painter Francis Bacon
influenced director Bernardo Bertolucci. The principal apartment utilized in the film
had been selected when Bertolucci and production designer Ferdinando Scarfiotti
visited a retrospective exhibit of Francis Bacon paintings. They left the museum
deciding that the flesh color that often dominated Bacon’s paintings would be effective in the apartment to express the psychological state of mind of Marlon Brando’s
character. Scarfiotti painted a series of color tests on large sheets of cardboard. The
designer always envisioned creating a color gradation on the walls. The Francis
Bacon paintings inspired Scarfiotti to paint a burnt sienna color on the top of the
walls that gradually blended into a flesh tone and then a cream tone at the bottom.
The environment evoked the color of flesh and became a metaphor for the tormented sexuality of the Marlon Brando character.
In Woody Allen’s The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985), production designer Stuart
Wurtzel used color to contrast with the glamorous world of the black-and-white
Hollywood movies that enchanted the Mia Farrow character, who lived in the downtrodden world of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The movie palace provided her
comfort, and the world outside was dark, cool, and green. Colors in the apartment
she shared with her belligerent husband were dreary, heavy, and somber. Wurtzel and
his art department painted the exterior of every building in the actual town used as a
location for the film, to cast the pall of economic and social strife. The exterior locations achieve this with a palette of dull, dreary blues, dark colored wood, beige,
shades of subdued gray, brown, black, and the color of dark, worn brick. The main
character’s home is done in dark greens and muted browns. The movie theater that
is a haven to the woman has cherry-colored wood; the interior of the spacious,
majestic theater is lush red, orange, and glowing amber. The original black-andwhite movie within The Purple Rose of Cairo was carefully shot as a separate photographic element by Gordon Willis so it would glitter like a 1930s Hollywood entertainment film. It was projected onto the screen in the movie theater, which had been
restored to its glory years by the art department team. It created the illusion that the
picture palace captured the character’s heart and soul and gave her hope and the
strength to escape her dead-end life.
Color can be very subjective, but particular hues and palettes do represent, indicate, and communicate narrative messages to the audience. Warm colors tend to rep-

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resent tenderness and humanity. Cool colors represent cold, lack of emotion, and distant feelings. They can also express power and force. Hot colors represent sexuality,
anger, and passion, as well as physical and visceral heat. A monochromatic palette
is a limited range of colors that can establish a colorless world, sameness, masked
emotion, or a sense of simplicity and unity. Earth colors communicate a sense of
home and environmental stability. Red is a color with many symbolic meanings
attached to it—fire, Hell, Satan, sexuality, and rage. Blue shades can represent water,
sky, ice, or a remote emotional state. Green is associated with trees and rolling fields
of grass. White can suggest cleanliness, sterility, or spirituality. Black can characterize mystery, evil, darkness, or luxury. Yellow signifies the sun or danger. Gray can
reflect a state of calm, lifelessness, or neutrality. Bright colors represent happiness,
frivolity, and joy, or they can be loud and garish.
A Concise Lesson in the Nature of Color

Combination of colors, hues, and tints are unlimited in what they can express and
communicate in the production design of a motion picture. Color can be sublime,
indifferent, or overwhelming. For the low-budget production, color is an inexpensive
and effective medium to create a visual style and to embellish and emphasize the
The six basic colors of the spectrum are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The principal hues are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green,
blue-violet, and red-violet.
A value is the light-to-dark variant of a color. A hue on the spectrum is either
lighter or darker than other hues. The natural value alignment of a hue can be raised
in value by adding white and darkened by adding black. The eye can see about seven
separate steps between black and white.
Color Theory

The science, art, aesthetics, and application of color theory is divided into two
distinct areas: light and pigment. Light is the science of how the spectrum creates
color. Pigment is the study of how colors are physically created with paint. The production designer deals in pigment. The director of photography works in light. Both
must understand the application to achieve the desired results.
Personal perception of color is subjective. Everyone has a unique emotional reaction to a particular color; even descriptive language can vary as it codifies what is
seen and felt about a color. Several theorists have devised systems of notating color.
Many of the defining terms used by color theorists are similar, and the language of
color notation is employed by the designer to communicate the use and purpose of
color in the design process.
The principle concepts of color can be seen in most theories on the subject. What
follows are the basic principles of the Munsell Color Notation System. When the
light of three primary colors are together in the correct proportions they can produce
any color in the spectrum.

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The primary colors of light are blue, red, and green. Complimentary colors, also
known as secondary colors, are produced by overlapping two primary colors. The
light of a primary and secondary color mixed together produces white. When two
complimentary color paint pigments are mixed together, they produce black.
Luminance is the light reflected from any color. Luminance designates the brightness or darkness of a particular color.
A hue is the predominant sensation of a color—the viewer’s perception of it as
having, for example, the qualities of red, blue, or green. The spectrum is created by
the refraction of light through a prism, with the sun’s white light creating several distinct hues. Each theory has a different number of hues. The Munsell theory is based
on ten principal colors, the Ostwald Color Theory has twenty-four hues, and the
Pope theory starts with twelve principal colors. A six- to twelve-color system is recommended for mixing pigments for scenic painting. The basic colors of the spectrum are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The intermediate hues create
the twelve principal colors. The intermediate hues are yellow-orange, red-orange,
red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green. A shade is a hue mixed with
black. A tone is a color grayed by the addition of white.
A value is the brightness of a color, the light to dark variants. The seven value
steps of each color in the spectrum are:
• White
• Medium
• Black

• High light
• High dark

• Light
• Dark

• Low light
• Low dark

Primary colors are three spectral colors that when mixed together in the correct
proportions, produce any other color in the color spectrum. A tint is a hue that has
been diluted with white. For example, pink derives from red and white, beige from
brown and white.
In paint, saturation describes the intensity of a color—so, 100 percent saturation
is the color in its pure form. Desaturation is the process of graying-off a color by
adding white, which produces pastel colors. In cinematography, saturation is
achieved by exposure rate, choice of film stock, developing of the negative, and
development and printing of the release print.
The chroma of a color refers to its hue combined with its saturation. The intensity of a hue or the intensity of a color is referred to as chroma. A color that is free of
white or gray properties has chroma. The following are some principles of color psychology and the cause and effect of color application:
• Warm hues such as orange, yellow, and red appear to be closer to the camera than
cool colors like blue, green, and purple. Cool colors make objects look larger and
farther away.
• A smooth surface will give the impression that colors are more saturated than
they would be if the same color were applied to a dull, matte texture that makes
them appear desaturated.
• The lighting has a critical impact on how color appears on film. All colors can be

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checked and tested on film or videotape. Reflections caused by the lighting can
dim the luminance and hue of a color or crush the density of the color. Diffusion
desaturates color and gives the area a consistent level of brightness.
A background and foreground color can modify each other. In contrast and relationship, an individual color can be modified by other colors appearing within the
same frame.
Colors appear lighter against a black background.
Colors appear darker against white. The intensity (chroma) of a color is the
degree of pureness.
Limiting the palette to cool or warm, or even monotone color, is effective in communicating sameness, calm, and a lack of identity or unification.
In designing the color scheme for a space where a group of characters live or
work, the designer must decide the point of view. Does one of the characters dominate the stylistic tastes of the environment? Are they responsible for the color
scheme? The color palette can represent the individual’s emotional state or it can
express a sense of doom, happiness, or sexual tension that will become a platform
for the characters and story.
To plan the color scheme, production designers use a painter’s elevation that
shows the colors in their true form without the influence of lighting. A scale drawing of the set is created in a line drawing, and a boxed grid numbered on the top
and lettered on the side is put over it to identify each box. A notion of the actual
color and the painting technique is indicated.
Black-and-White Filmmaking

Designing black-and-white productions is an art and craft in itself. During the
classical Hollywood studio era, production designers and art departments were well
trained in working in the black-and-white medium. The principal difference in
designing in black-and-white as opposed to color is that the designer’s palette does
not consist of the color spectrum. The black and white designer is working within
the gray scale and must understand how each color translates to a value from black
to white.
If your film is being photographed in black-and-white, watching other films in the
medium will motivate and inspire, but it will not help you to learn how colors are
interpreted in the gray scale. Practicing and experimenting with black-and-white still
photography will give you an understanding and feeling for how black-and-white film
records a color scene. Since a bright green and a bright blue of the same hue may read
as the same tone on the gray scale, colors in a black-and-white film are not chosen for
their color value but for their tonality on the gray scale. To the untrained eye, the colors of a well-designed set prepared for black-and-white photography will look unbalanced and may appear to be garish and to clash in relationship to each other. The production designer works to achieve balance, contrast, and a sense of space and dimension, using the range of the gray scale. The architectural silhouette is the same, but
the detail and modeling must be projected through gray scale values.
After each value is tested, the set is built, then carefully checked and tested with

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the black-and-white film stock to be used. Camera tests are made to discover the
tonal range. During shooting, a black-and-white video assist system will help the
designer to see how the set will look in black-and-white. The art department must be
prepared to make corrections and changes to enhance, augment, or correct the design
so it can best serve the characters and story.
Color Correction

Color correction is a process where the color of the original negative or master
video tape can be corrected for hue, tone, intensity, and value to achieve the original
intent of the director of photography, or altered to achieve special, specific color
effects that create, mood, and atmosphere.
Historically, color correction was done at a film laboratory where a color timer
would time each individual shot and correct flesh tones and the overall color feel, be
it warm or cool. A new film print was then struck from the negative using the corrections.
A film negative can be transferred to video and the color correction can be done on
a video console that provides more latitude to the specificity of altering areas of color.
Now, digital tools are revolutionizing color correction. Many non-linear editing
platforms, such as Final Cut Pro and Avid, provide the ability to correct and alter the
color of images digitally. Sophisticated digital color correction consoles allow the
moviemaker to make major changes to the color palette of projects shot originally
on film or video. This role of color correction has gone from a generalized application, to the ability to literally paint the image at will.
Color correction occurs during post-production and is supervised by the director
of photography and the director. The production designer has not officially been a
part of this process but color correction and augmentation can have a major impact
on how color is used and perceived in the production design.
It is recommended that the production designer be consulted during the creation
of the final version of the project. More and more moviemakers are buying their own
non-linear editing systems, making it easier to utilize color suggestions from the production designer during the color correction process. Moviemakers are no longer
confined to expensive supervised sessions at labs and editing suites where the color
correction is done in marathon sessions paid for by the hour. The access of home digital technology now empowers filmmakers with greater control over the color in their
Developing a Color Sense

Study art history. Painters were the first artists to use color to express both reality and creative impressions. By familiarizing yourself with classical and contemporary art, you will develop an eye for the application, use, and purpose of color in creating images.
Pablo Picasso (1881–1973) was an artist of great range. In 1890 he arrived in
Paris from his native Spain and began to paint beggars and outcasts. Picasso

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expressed his own sense of isolation in a series of paintings later identified as his
Blue Period. Picasso applied a palette of cool, blue colors to express melancholy and
despair. The Old Guitarist, painted in 1903, is a fine example of this approach. The
old man is seated on the street bent over his instrument; his white hair, face, arms,
and exposed legs are tinged with blue; and his expression communicates that he
accepts his face as an outcast of society. The Blue Period paintings are an excellent
reference for how color can create an overall somber, depressed mood.
Expressionism is a vital source of influence for filmmakers wanting to use color
in a nonrealistic manner to express deep emotions. In 1905, a group of young
European artists created a radical style. They were called Fauves (wild beasts). The
style combined violent colors, such as those seen in the work of Vincent van Gogh,
and the use of distortion such as executed by Paul Gauguin. This radical movement
was lead by Henri Matisse (1869–1954), whose work presented flat planes of color,
heavy pulsating outlines, and primate forms. The painters of Fauvism used pink,
orange, green, and dramatic, clashing contrasts of color that created an expressive
emotional atmosphere that stimulated a physical upheaval in the viewer. The German
Expressionists include Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880–1938), Erich Heckel (1883–
1970), Emil Nolde (1867–1956), Oskar Kokoschea (1886–1980), and Wassily
Kandinsky (1883–1970). Their work with color and texture vividly evokes emotional states through a nonnaturalist application of color to figures and nature. German
filmmakers introduced this style in film during the 1920s, and its impact influenced
film noir and contemporary films that evoke the deep emotional state of their characters and story.
Piet Mondrian (1987–1944) is an excellent reference for post-modern design.
This abstractionist painted flat hard-edged squares and rectangles using primary colors, creating exciting spatial and optical relationships. His work is a lesson in how
colors and shapes create movement and rhythm strictly through their contrast and
relationship to each other.
The area of color field painting contains significant lessons concerning color,
mood, and atmosphere. The large block-like color fields of Mark Rothko
(1903–1970), demonstrate the power of large color fields, which can be applied to
landscapes and to the overall color feel created in the film frame by deep-hued, softtextured color relationships. Helen Frankenthaler (1928– ) poured thin consistencies
of oil paints to get a watercolor wash effect. The color work of Willem de Kooning
(1904–1997) addresses the interior life of a character and altered states of emotional reality.
Discovering Color

Purchase an inexpensive watercolor set and explore how colors are created
through mixing and blending. Practice hues and tints. Create color schemes that
project specific moods and emotional states. When you feel more adventurous, move
on to oil or acrylic painting, for a more complex investigation into color creation. Fill
a brush with one of the primary colors—red, yellow, or blue. Make your application
of paint to paper as opaque as possible to get the deepest hue. The better quality

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watercolor sets will give a better result in achieving a vibrant opaque color. Create a
two-inch square of the opaque color. Then create a series of tints by painting additional squares and adding a little more water each time to lighten the color until the
final square is clear water. Study each square. How do the various tints of the original colors impart mood? Write a line or two of prose to capture your emotional and
psychological reaction to each tint. To develop skills in creating mood, select a
specific mood, whether it’s somber, joyful, sad, or happy. Then, using one color,
paint a background that captures the mood. Experiment with different colors; try
gray, green, or blue for sadness. Try red, yellow, or blue for happiness.
Research, study, and learn how to photograph, develop, and print color still photographs. Sit in on a film or video lab timing session to understand how color can be
rendered and manipulated on film and video. Create a color diary filled with color
samples you come across your travels. Identify each color and note its derivation,
properties, and capacity of expression.

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Chapter 8

Texture is critical in creating authenticity; evoking age, wear, use, and
passage of time; and reflecting the results of environmental conditions on a surface.
The Europeans call it patina. The surface of an object must reflect that it has been
lived-in or has existed in time. Dust is a common aging agent, easily accessible to
the filmmaker.
On the West coast, dust has an earthen, clay color due to the geological properties of the landscape and the quality of reflected light in the region. The nature of
East coast dust is often black and sooty. The properties of the soil, car, industrial pollution, and chimney soot in a crowded, architecturally cramped metropolis contribute to the color and texture of the dirt and dust.
The purpose of texture in building materials, fabrics, and furnishings is to provide
contrast and complement and to add realism and a tactile sense to the design. The
materials chosen for the production design serve many purposes. The textures of
building materials communicate the properties of the structure: wood, metal, glass,
brick, and tile. If the texture is believable, whether real or created by the art department, it will contribute to veracity of the story.
One of the missions of the production designer is to create the appearance of real
materials through art direction. A set built of wood can be transformed by covering
the surface with other materials to create the illusion that it is made of stone, any
variety of high quality wood, or sheet rock.
Materials and texture are storytelling devices. They inform the audience about the
economic status, time and place, and social and political conditions of the story’s
environment. Materials can become metaphors. In Terminator 2: Judgement Day
(1991) the Terminator and T1000 are made of metal. The production design by
Joseph Nemec III is filled with metal surfaces of all varieties, even molten metal. All
the metal structures in the film are related to the power of the cyborgs.
Part of the art of production design is using materials that are available, easy to
work with, and sensible for a film production. All the metal materials in the design
of Terminator 2: Judgement Day are not exactly what they look like. Surfaces are


treated, painted, and textured. To use real metal in every case would be difficult to
manage in building and working on a film set during construction and production.
The following examples demonstrate how the texture of set construction materials can convey a specific look, mood, and atmosphere to a scene by aging new material so that they appear to be old and worn.
Aging Wood

The wood is painted with a coat of asphaltum, a tar-like substance that dries slowly. The surface is then painted the color of driftwood. As the paint and asphaltum mix
and dry together, the texture of the treated area begins to look like unpainted or raw
wood. In a matter of hours, this technique can create the illusion that a structure built
with new wood appears to be seventy or eighty years old. Acrylic paint is a quicker
drying medium, and is another method of aging wood. The technique involves
applying a base coat color and then creating the highlights of the wood with a second coat painted on by brush. The result is not as naturalistic as the asphaltum technique because the acrylic paint leaves visible brush strokes.
Aging Stone

To age or weather a lightweight stone prop created by the production designer out
of dried or baked clay, concrete, or compressed paper, first apply a base color of gray
or brown depending on the variety of stone intended. This color will indicate areas
where the stone is dark from picking up dirt from the outdoor elements. Then apply
a coat of a light color of the first coat all over the stone. The stone is then carefully
wiped down with a cloth until the dark sentiment of the base color settles into the
dimples of the stone, and the light color forms highlights and contrast. The result
looks like aged stone where dirt has built up over the years and settled into dimples
and crevices, while other parts of the stone are lighter in tone.
A set comprised of surfaces painted with acrylic paint can be quickly aged with
a mixture of 2 percent black India ink and 98 percent water. When sprayed onto the
set, the black tone sinks into the texture of the surface. Do not wipe the surface
down, because the natural runs of the ink will replicate natural dirt lines.
The Role and Purpose of Aging in Production Design

Aging must appear authentic on camera. A badly aged set looks like a new structure smudged with dirt, not a real location naturally and organically aged by environmental elements.
Director Sam Peckinpah was meticulous about the aging of the sets in his movies.
Peckinpah’s Westerns demystified the romantic, poetic westerns of John Ford and
Howard Hawks. Peckinpah made movies that depicted the Old West as it really
was—dirty and dusty towns put together for functionality, not architectural beauty.
The materials are raw—a Western bar is made of untreated wide wooden planks, not
the shiny polished surface of a high quality wood. By adding layers of aging to pro-

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duction design, Peckinpah was able to recreate the period, as he perceived it.
Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch (1969) and Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973) are
textbook examples of authenticity in aging production design elements of the real
West to reveal those elements without romance and myth.
To age the exterior of a home or building, production designers employ painters
in the art department to apply several coats of paint, each in a different, distinct
color. When the surface is carefully chipped and scrapped, the layers of color show
through the final coat, giving the impression the façade is old and has been painted
many times over the years.
Production designers use Fuller’s Earth, a clay with absorptive properties, to age
surfaces. It has been used for litter and bedding for poultry and pets, and is a soil
conditioner for greenhouses and golf courses. Fuller’s Earth is widely used on film
sets. Sold packaged, and more sanitary than going out and getting real dirt, Fuller’s
Earth is rubbed into wood to create a dusty, age-worn look. It can also be spread out
on a floor to create a dusty dirt floor. Fuller’s Earth comes in especially handy when
designing a Western or in aging down an old or haunted house.
The look of dirty, grimy windows can be achieved by applying several layers of
dulling fluid or a wax spray. If the windows are in a deserted location subject to years
of neglect or are in the residence of a character that has not kept his home clean, they
should be grimed up in this fashion. Fuller’s Earth or dirt can be applied while the
spray or fluid is still wet. This will create the illusion that dirt has been kicked up
from the outside and has adhered to the smeary, grimy glass.
Cobwebs can be created with fine, white cotton thread or with an aerosol spray,
available at theater- and film-supply houses, that simulates spider webs. These supply houses also carry cobweb guns that contain a fan that blows a rubber solution
into fine filaments that cling to the set. When talcum powder or Fuller’s Earth is
sprinkled onto any of these methods, the spidery patterns are more visible to the
camera eye. Cobwebs are essential for haunted houses, deserted locations, and to
indicate that an area has not been cleaned in some time.
The production can purchase photographic wallpaper that comes patterned in a
variety of materials: wood, stonework, brick, and tile. Dry brushing or spraying a
dark tone in areas can age the paper.
It is especially important to age newly created costumes to give the appearance
the clothes have been worn, laundered, and lived-in. Many period films destroy any
sense of believability by presenting costumes that look too new, like they’ve come
out of a costume shop.
On Blade Runner (1982), production designer Lawrence G. Paull used warm
grays and applied dust to naturally age the set. Costume designer Charles Knode
designed some of the costumes and found others in used clothing stores. “Charles
Knode and I talked about the costumes,” Paull explains. “Deckard wore a wonderful
shirt that had all these colors in it, but they were so tied into one another that it had
a muted plaid effect. All the costumes were very browned over, very heavily aged,
and crusted over.” Knode achieved this effect by laundering the costumes in a washing machine filled with strong black coffee. (A basic method of aging costumes is to
wash them repeatedly, until the desired effect is achieved.)


Costume designers shop in used clothing stores where they can purchase garments that have been naturally aged by wear and time. Costumes that are seen outdoors and have been soiled can be treated with Fuller’s Earth, mud, food stains,
artificial bloodstains, or whatever the situation calls for. If the character’s clothes
need to be torn, have missing buttons, loose threads, or some other form of disrepair,
the costume designer would execute this as part of the pre-production process.
Aging sets for a period movie is a team effort from the production designer, costume designer and director of photography. Master cinematographer Gordon Willis
(The Godfather Trilogy, Pennies From Heaven, Zelig) offers great insight into why
many period films may look pretty but not all realistic.
“Period movies are a tableau form of filmmaking,” Willis explains. “They are like
paintings. If you’re going to move, don’t move with a zoom lens. It instantly lifts you
right out of the movie because it’s such a contemporary, mechanical item. It’s not
right for the turn of the century. Tracking can work. You lay it in at the right level
and you’re not really aware of it. On a period movie, you should put distance
between you and the audience visually. They usually do this great wardrobe job on
period movies, and everybody shows up with their pretty cars or horses, and the
props are great. Then along comes some guy who’s going to photograph this on the
very latest Eastman stock and with the very sharpest lens, and when he’s done, the
visual is so defined, it’s so immediate, it looks like it came out of the one-hour photo
service. The visual is so contemporary it looks like a party with everybody dressed
up walking around in period clothes; it does not put you back to where it belongs.”
Contemporary life doesn’t always look new. Age is character, a sign of life and
experience. This must be applied to every film design with special care given to period works where the design team is using new materials to create the illusion of what
life, a lived-in life, looked like in another era.
Texture does not only apply to age. Surfaces, clothes, and architectural materials,
like most other elements of production design, involve texture: smooth, rough, patterned, ribbed, nappy, shiny, dull—the full range as found in life. It is texture that
brings life to a design. If a set is flat in tone and texture, it will appear as artificial.
Texture represents materials, status, wealth, and poverty.
Learning About Texture

• Observe and study the texture of the surfaces around you. Identify their patterns
and nuances.
• Create a texture diary of photos, clippings, and samples of materials.
• Visit lumberyards, masonry, hardware stores, and other resources that carry construction and building materials. Learn to recognize the physical properties of
each variety of the major materials; wood, stone, brick, glass, tile, and metal.
• Paint several test boards an off-white color. Practice aging by spraying the surfaces with India ink. Create a range of results from new to old; control the gradations by the amount of ink and water mixture you apply.

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Chapter 9

Production design in film was born out of collaboration between three
separate art forms: the decorative arts, theater, and architecture. The decorative arts
have a long tradition tracing back to the beginnings of many cultures. Theater stagecraft traces back to the Ancient Greeks and Romans, continuing through
Shakespeare, to the beginnings of vaudeville, burlesque, and Broadway. Both these
artistic disciplines influenced film art direction, but the most significant influence on
production design was architecture. At the beginning of the twentieth century, as film
was being born, an artistic revolution was being forged in modern architecture.
Most early filmmakers maintained a theatrical style of simple painted backdrops
with little cinematic relationship between the characters and their settings. In 1897,
Georges Méliès, a magician turned filmmaker, opened Star Films Studios and
brought the art of theatrical illusion to the cinema. Méliès went beyond his contemporaries during the days of early cinema. He applied with cinematic technique his
magical stagecraft of trap doors, chutes, revolving panels, flats and backdrops painted with architectural elements. A conjurer, Méliès used special camera effects to
make scenic elements magically disappear or transform into each other. In 1899, he
created an elaborate staging of Cinderella and one of Jeanne d’Arc in 1900. His most
famous film, Le Voyage dans la Lune/A Trip to the Moon, was made in 1902. Méliès
stunned viewers with an image of the human-like face of the moon struck by a flying
rocket ship. Among Méliès’ experiments with design and cinematic storytelling is an
underwater scene accomplished by photographing a woman costumed as a mermaid,
through the glass plane of a decorated aquarium, with several moving backdrops
painted with sea monsters behind her. For another film he turned music hall beauties
into the astral constellation of the Great Bear. Méliès created a mechanism to animate giant, moving, designed tableaux and had elaborately painted backdrops featured in his films, which often called for multiple costume changes.
Architecture was brought to the cinema in full force in the 1910 Italian production of Cabaria. A complete architectural approach was applied to this film, includ-


ing the construction of stairways, platforms, and walls built out of wood and then
surfaced with a plaster and fiber composition to bring scale and texture to the set
construction in a recreation of third-century Rome. It was the first time the term
“film architecture” was applied to a film production. Prior to Cabaria, filmmakers
used painted backgrounds and hand drawn décor to illustrate the setting and had not
yet discovered the application of physical three-dimensional design to cinematic storytelling.
The Development of Shot Design and Sequential
Storytelling Through Production Design

The Russian director Sergei Eisenstein is best known for his landmark work in
editing structure known as montage, but Eisenstein was a trained architect who also
experimented with dynamic design ideas in his films, and composed shot by shot to
reveal the elements of settings through composition and editorial montage.
Eisenstein began directing theater and mounted productions of Ibsen’s Brand and
Peer Gynt, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, King Henry IV, and King Richard III,
Molière’s Tartuffe, and Strindberg’s Erik XIV. He created architecturally dynamic
drawings of the productions in his own hand. They stressed movement, angles, and
sharp curves. Eisenstein continued to incorporate design throughout his film career.
In depicting the Russian Revolution, October (1928) made dramatic use of the
Winter Palace and towering statues of a horse and a soldier.
Eisenstein came to Hollywood in the early 1930s and prepared productions that
never made it before the cameras. One, Sutter’s Gold was to be a reconstruction of
the San Francisco docks. Eisenstein sketched buildings, boats, and details of elaborate fountains, supplemented by copious notes on the production design. Examination of these materials in Eisenstein at Work, by Jay Leyda and Zina Voynow, demonstrates Eisenstein’s deep understanding of production design as an integral element
of cinematic storytelling. The drawings and notes are typical of a designer’s precision and dedication to scope and detail. Eisenstein’s architectural training allowed
him to think like a designer and to make design a part of each frame, to tell the story
by relating design to narrative and character.
After designing a production of Theodore Drieser’s novel An American Tragedy
(which also remained unfilmed), Eisenstein traveled to Mexico for the unfinished
Qué Viva Mexico! Dynamic imagery designed for this production included a foreground shot of three skulls with a procession of monks and a stark cross in the background, a woman’s profile framed next to the Pyramid at Chickén, a hacienda courtyard, and the massive sky and bared landscape of the region.
For Alexander Nevsky (1938) Eisenstein designed all of the armor, headgear, and
weapons. Cathedrals and bridges are integral elements in the environment of this
epic film. Ivan the Terrible (1945–1947) was a medieval, expressionistic production
with angular costumes, characters framed by sweeping arches, weaving procession
patterns of people, and an overpowering use of space and grandeur, all of which project the power of the principal character. Elaborate makeup and hair design depicts
the dramatic transformation of Ivan throughout the multipart work.

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Eisenstein’s films are often discussed and analyzed in reference to his innovative
and elaborate experiments in editing montage. His sense and execution of production design was central to the way he contrasted and intercut movement, space, and
the characters’ relationship to the environment. The production design values
enhanced Eisenstein’s editorial creations and contributed to his film artistry.
The Development of Applying Design Aesthetic
to Cinematic Storytelling

As the cinema entered the 1920s, the aesthetic possibilities attainable through
production design seemed unlimited. The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919), directed
by Robert Wiene and designed by Herman Warm, Walter Reinman, and Walter
Rohrig, boldly demonstrated how a nonrealistic production design could create a
nightmare world.
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari was a dynamic expressionist experiment in applying
design to create an environment for the demented machinations of the evil Dr.
Caligari and his somnambulist Ceasare who commits murder under the influence of
the doctor’s madness.
The sets seem interconnected, representing the claustrophobic, distorted world of
Caligari’s reign of terror. The environment is created to trap all the characters in the
doctor’s web of deception, control, and violence, both physical and psychological.
Built entirely on a sound stage, the design was created with the stagecraft of the
day—constructed and painted flats. But Caligari’s innovation was the three dimensionality of its design. While films of the time used painted flats in a manner similar
to the stage, Caligari’s world has depth, dimension, and a carefully worked out
design that creates the illusion that the many sets are part of a single large environment. This is accomplished by connective graphic elements that link through consistency of design. Separate city street sets were edited together during the post-production process so that they appear to lead from one to another in a web that traps
the participants of the story.
The town is designed with distorted, contrasting angles. The set, like all those in
the film, is painted, and does not pretend to be realistic but appears to be a dimensional expressionist work that comes alive off a painter’s canvas. This painterly and
surrealist world creates a mood we accept with the demented plot of Dr. Caligari, the
master of many disguises. He is first seen with a stovepipe hat, black, imposing
glasses, and long, stringy white hair. At one point his white gloves have black lines
painted on them.
Alan, one of the two protagonists in the film, has a high-backed wooden chair in
his room. Jagged patterns are on the walls constructed in a distorted perspective.
Streets are lined with twisting architecture. Windows are not square but angled
with stark, slashing lines that indicate the bars of a prison cell. The jutting angles in
the town create a contrasting, conflicting mood.
A carnival comes to the town. The tents are off-angled, and a children’s ride spins
in a tilted circle against a backdrop of mountains that root the town in a geographic
distance from any nearby society. A black railing cuts through the composition, cre-


ating a space for people to enter that goes beyond the frame, indicating that a large
expanse exists outside. Men wear pointed hats. Jagged triangular shapes are everywhere; a tent is textured with dark, dry-brushed slashes.
After a murder is committed, the windows in buildings become even more distorted and are transformed into knife-like shards.
Cesare escapes to the rooftop of canted angled poles. A narrow bridge-like road
is lined with sparsely dressed trees. A prison is designed as a vaulted triangle, with
the number 5 painted on the wall. An asylum building has three arches and identical
gunboat windows. White painted lines in the courtyard lead to the arches. They make
the pattern of an op-art sunburst. The interior of the hospital is also cave-like, and
outside walls have tentacle black lines. Caligari is in the asylum office. He begins to
hallucinate and sees animated, white painted words appear on the walls, ground, and
sky. Art-directed trees are bare and twisted. Caligari changes disguises, which helps
him succeed in capturing the hero—evil triumphs over good.
Dr. Mabuse der Spieler (1922) and Metropolis (1927), both directed by Fritz
Lang used architectural interpretations of a city to express not only visual but social
and political ideas, and to evoke deep emotional states in the audience. Metropolis is
a silent science-fiction film that used production design to contrast the rich, powerful upper class that controls the futuristic city with the poor who run Metropolis with
their sweat and blood.
The city aboveground is majestic with towering, glittering skyscrapers, planes
flying through and around the spires and suspended highways that allow traffic to
flow along the upper floors of the high-rises climbing up the angled narrow roadways. One building is constructed of stacked platforms; another is topped with a
star-shaped headpiece.
The master of Metropolis presides in an office with large doors and a massive
window. He sits behind a huge curved desk. An instrument panel controls the master’s universe; he can close the drapes to shut out his view of the city by the push of
a button. A large staircase that leads to his office represents his power and inaccessibility to all but the privileged.
Below Metropolis is the industrial power that gives it life through the work of the
enslaved. Men dressed in black with black caps enter through a tunnel barred with a
prison gate; they trudge toward their workstations. Two massive steel tanks spew
steam. There are steep flights of stairs, clocks, panels, levers, and a huge thermometer that keeps track of the power stress level. Above, a mechanical monster’s face
with a tooth-lined door brings the industrial behemoth dynamo to life.
The marriage between modern twentieth-century architecture and film art served
many purposes. For the daring futuristic architects, it was a way of promoting modernism. It released moviemakers from the stilted painted backdrops used extensively in the past. The dynamism of twentieth-century architecture gave filmmakers a
sense of the new and the future to come.

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The Modernist School of Design Makes
an Impact on the Look of Films

Modernistic design permeated the exteriors and interiors of film sets with glamour and opulence to raise the spirits of audiences suffering from the effects of World
War I and the Great Depression. Architectural style dominated the tenor of film content and was a strong visual element, more than just an environment for the characters. It informed the narrative with a positive and hopeful worldview—the message
the major studios were committed to promoting.
The major studios of the classical Hollywood studio system embraced modern
architecture and selected it as the principal look to project a burgeoning, rising
America. Paramount hired Hans Drier to define the direction of the studio’s visual
style. Drier had studied architecture in Munich, Germany, where he supervised projects for the government in West Africa. Drier had designed for the legendary
Universum-Film AG, known as UFA from 1919 to 1923. Hans Drier made
Paramount into a Bauhaus workshop, integrating European modernism into films
depicting American life.
RKO featured a streamlined Art Deco, Neoclassical architectural style for its signature look, as typified in a series of Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers musicals produced
The series of musicals Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers produced at RKO were
known for their modern, elegant settings that supported the sophisticated choreography of American’s iconic dance couple. Production design is often influenced by circumstances presented to the filmmakers. Fred Astaire had a clause in his studio contract that required he be photographed in a full frame where he could be seen head
to toe when dancing. This prevented directors from breaking up his fluid movements
with close-ups, montage, or other methods that would detract from the total impact
of seeing him whole, as if on stage. This turned out to pave the way for production
designers to feature large scale sets that illustrated and communicated the carefree
world of ballrooms, clubs, and almost any place they could design a dance floor.
The team of producer Pandro S. Berman and art director Van Nest Polglase produced the settings for many of the famous Astaire-Rogers couplings shot in classic
black-and-white. White was a principal color to allow the couple to take center stage.
Astaire was often costumed in dramatic black, usually a tuxedo, and Rogers in a
stunning flowing or form-fitting gown in a color that stood out from the white surroundings.
Their film sets featured white pianos, music stands, tiered platforms, and tables
and doors. The scale was large, expansive. The locale was often a cosmopolitan hotel
in New York City or London. Nightclubs were designed with large tiered bandstands,
multilevels for diners’ tables, and a spectacular dance floor that changed shape from
film to film and was always shiny, spotless, and inviting.
In Top Hat (1935), a men’s clubroom has high-backed chairs, drapes, and a large
stone fireplace in a space with high walls and no ceiling in sight. Elegant men wearing top hats and tailored formal clothing relax in the masculine atmosphere.
Astaire dances in a room with light colored walls, white couches, vases, and a


painted sky with a puffy clouded background. A London hotel has large, white
doors, a decorated floor, elegant stairway, a huge stage, and chandeliers. Diners sit
by a canal while gondolas carry happy, wealthy people. A French hotel has an overpass, Deco panels, and large planters. A room has a large bath, lots of white, and a
bed on a circular-stepped platform. A garden has manicured hedges. All of the architecture and décor was constructed on the RKO sound stages for this and every
Astaire-Rogers picture.
The Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers RKO films offer a glimpse into a life without
care. Designers created the settings that they imagined the masses dreamed about.
The films were carefully designed, coordinated in décor and tone, to service the
dance and the fantasies of the moviegoers.
MGM embraced modernistic sets as far back as 1924. Mogul Louis B. Mayer
hired Romain di Tirtoff, the artist known as Erté. Di Tirtoff created the high-life
world of the glamorous well-coifed that went on nightclub rendezvous and lounged
in luxurious boudoirs. For the MGM film Paris (1926), Erté designed a triangular
space with geometric imagery that anticipated the Art Deco style later employed in
U.S. skyscrapers.
The Architect as Production Designer

Many production designers have come out of an education as an architect and
have brought structural design concepts to cinematic storytelling. Stephen Goosson
designed Oliver Twist in 1922, The Hunchback of Notre Dame in 1923, Lost Horizon
(1937) for director Frank Capra and, for Orson Welles, The Lady From Shanghai
(1948), which contained the memorable funhouse mirror climax.
Goosson began his career as an architect in Detroit before working as an art director for Lewis Selznick, David O. Selznick’s father. Goosson’s style developed over
a quarter century. He designed the first futuristic city of the 1930s in Just Imagine
(1930), set in 1980 when American society is divided by technology. Goosson built
a New York City miniature in a balloon hanger four hundred feet long and two hundred feet wide. He brought elegance to Little Lord Fauntleroy (1936), and Art Deco
to Frank Capra’s American Madness (1932). Stephen Goosoon’s astounding career
includes art direction credits on 1,300 motion pictures.
Robert Boyle graduated from USC as an architecture student and went on to work
with Alfred Hitchcock on Saboteur (1942), Shadow of a Doubt (1943), North by
Northwest (1959), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964).
Ken Adam studied architecture in London and worked for an architectural firm,
later making the transition to production design while working with William
Cameron Menzies on Around the World in 80 Days (1956). Adam designed many
films of the James Bond Series, Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying
and Love the Bomb (1964) and Barry Lyndon (1975). Lawrence G. Paull, who
designed the Back to the Future trilogy (1985, 1989, 1990), as well as Blade Runner
(1982), was trained as an architect and city planner, giving him an understanding of
urban environments that has served him well artistically as a production designer.
The Bauhaus and German Expressionism movements influenced Ken Adam.

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“One of the first films that really impressed me as a kid was The Cabinet of Dr.
Caligari,” he says. “ Once I started expressing myself as a designer, I always leaned
toward the choice of the theatrical. I find it dull to do a room as it is. I feel as a
designer your function is to give a reality to the public that is real but departs from
the dullness that is very often part of the actual place. The style is not only reflected
in my modern films but even in some of my period designs. It is nearly always a
heightened reality-stylization.”
Lawrence G. Paull’s contribution to these films traces back to his training as an
architect and city planner before joining the Twentieth Century Fox art department
where he apprenticed under veteran art directors Walter Tyler and John DeCuir. Both
the Back to the Future trilogy and Blade Runner demanded the overview of a city
planner who understood all the elements that go into constructing a functioning city:
the architecture, streets, sidewalks, means of water, and electrical power, and governmental facilities. By understanding the scope, Paull was able to create cities that
went beyond the camera frame and functioned as a cohesive unit.

The design ideas for a film set are ultimately built for the production. The process
from idea to completed set is parallel to the traditional architectural process with the
exception of the fact that a film set is a temporary structure. The ideas for a set must
address the concerns of the screenplay. They should be cinematic, visual, and communicate the vision of the director.
The concept drawings put those ideas on paper for the first time. They serve the
purpose of communicating the production designer’s visualization to the director.
Once the director and producer agree, the art department proceeds with the process
that will result in the completed set.
Detailed working drawings that address materials, scale, size, and architectural
design are created. Next, a draftsman makes a plan of the set based on those working drawings. The plan looks like any architectural plan and serves the same purpose. The construction coordinator studies the plan. Materials are ordered. The set
can be built in the studio or in part at a shop or warehouse and shipped to the studio
where it is assembled. A crew of carpenters and other artisans as needed are put on
the project by the construction coordinator, who is like a construction foreman on a
traditional building project. The construction coordinator must also determine how
long it will take to build the set so it can be coordinated with the shooting schedule.
Use of Space

The characters in a film exist in the context of the space in which they appear.
Space can express power, oppression, freedom, fear, joy, paranoia, and a myriad of
emotions, moods, and atmospheres based on the relationship between the characters
and their environment.
Nicholas and Alexandra (1971) expresses power by placing the royal couple in a
corridor with a series of overhead arches, lavish columns, a royal carpet, and, on


Set construction on location for Keeping the Faith (2000), directed by Edward Norton. Courtesy production designer Wynn Thomas, Spyglass Entertainment, Touchstone Pictures, and Triple Threat.

each side, a row of male staff bowing their heads. The perspective frames the hall as
an entrance to the seat of power by emphasizing its orderly perfection seen in a
straight-on composition.
To recreate a place or time, the production designer must study the architecture
involved. Recreation involves research to understand the design, the materials, techniques, and tools used in the original construction.
For Little Big Man (1970), directed by Arthur Penn, production designer Dean
Tavoularis researched teepees needed for the Native American sequences. He examined teepees created for Twentieth Century Fox Studios over the decades. Tavoularis
found them to be ugly, orange, with yellow zigzags designed out of suede with inch
and a half stitching. Tavoularis and his art department did their own research and found
an authentic Cheyenne teepee in a Pasadena, California museum. When examined it,
they found it was meticulously stitched so it would be waterproof. The material was
thin, translucent buffalo skin that glowed at night when there was a light inside.
Tavoularis found a tannery in downtown Los Angeles, bought the hides, sewed
them together, and then ran them through a machine that shaved the skin to a fine
texture. The hides were tinted a muddy cream color and cut to the authentic dimensions. This led to a standard of authenticity as the crew designed and created arrows,
spears, harnesses, beadwork, and the rack for beef jerky. Traditional Indian materials were replicated. When the film was complete, American Heritage Magazine told
Tavoularis that Little Big Man was the first film to show deference for the way the
Native Americans really lived.
Post-modern Film Design

Futuristic stories challenge the designer. Architectural ideas have to be projected
to create an ultra-modern world that’s never been seen. Often production designers
rely on design concepts from the past to create the future.
This concept, called post-modernism, developed in architecture during the 1970s
as a reaction against modern architecture of the time. In production design, postmodernism brings a duality of meaning to the narrative of a film. Charles Jencks, an
expert in post-modern architecture, offers insight into how production designers use

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post-modernism in film to echo the past and put the present and future into context:
“A post-modern building is doubly coded—part modern and part something else:
vernacular, revivalist, local, commercial, metaphorical, or contextual. In several
important instances it is also doubly coded in the sense that it seeks to speak on two
levels at once: to a concerned minority of architects, an elite who recognize the subtle distinctions of a fast-changing language, and the inhabitants, users, or passersby,
who want only to understand and enjoy it.”
Dune (1984) envisioned a medieval world. A Clockwork Orange (1971) was set
in a near future that was both crumbling and gleaming with modernity. Blade Runner
(1982) is set in an Asian-inspired Los Angeles, a third world nation, lit with neon
lights combined with Egyptian and Mayan architectural elements.
A story taking place forward in time can be researched through the paintings and
designs of futurists throughout the twentieth century and by studying science fiction
films that have presented the future through design. (However, the danger in the
influence of other movies is of creating a derivative design that is not responsive to
your story and characters.) The production design for films that followed 2001: A
Space Odyssey (1968) influenced generations of science fiction designs. There is a
genealogical link between 2001, Star Wars (1977), Blade Runner (1982), and The
Matrix (1999). 2001 created a new standard in science fiction films. The models were
highly detailed, the motion of flight was realistically depicted. The environments were
developed and designed in response to research and the perceptions of experts based
on scientific fact, not purely imagination as the genre had relied upon in the past.
Star Wars benefited from this new technology, but the design of the spacecrafts
was dirtier, more funky, and expressed the nature of a story that had its roots in the
science fiction of old, like Flash Gordon. Like 2001, George Lucas’s film created a
futuristic universe with its own logic and visual representation.
Blade Runner went further with the idea of Star Wars’s lived-in environments and
continued 2001’s tradition of a total future world seen through Los Angeles as a third
world county. Where Kubrick used a large team of technical consultants to develop
the design of his film, Ridley Scott and production designer Laurence G. Paull functioned as city planners to create the high-tech, neon, neo-noir, city.
The Matrix invented its own cinematic technology to depict the characters’ ability to stop action while performing martial arts fight scenes. Like Kubrick, the
Wachowski brothers sought new ways through technology to create images never


before seen. The mythical narrative of The Matrix was made possible by Kubrick’s
landmark film that utilized myth and the act of visual experience to tell a story.
All four films expanded the genre through visualization and images that told a
cinematic story in an experiential manner. They didn’t solely rely on plot and dialogue, as traditional films had for decades.
Learning More About Architecture

Production designers and filmmakers involved with the design of their film can
benefit from an overview of the history of architecture. Any period in world history
can be researched, but design ideas are often a synthesis or fusion of past architectural styles and concepts.
• Take a course.
• Read a book. Suggestions include:
Arnheim, Rudolf. The Dynamics of Architectural Form. Berkeley, Calif.:
University of California Press, 1977.
Benevolo, Leonardo. History of Modern Architecture. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T.
Press, 1971.
Le Corbusier. Toward a New Architecture. Translated by Frederick Etchells. New
York: Dover Publications, 1986.
Egbert, Donald Drew. The Beau-Arts Tradition in French Architecture, Illustrated
by the Grands Prix de Rome. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1980
Gebhard, David. Lloyd Wright, Architect. Santa Barbara, Calif.: The Art
Galleries, University of California, 1971.
Honour, Hugh. Neo-Classicism. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books,
Gropius, Walter. Scope of Total Architecture. New York: Collier Books, 1955.
Hiller, Bevis. Art Deco. London: Studio Vista, 1968.
Neumann, Dietrich, ed. with essays by Donald Albrecht, Anton Kaes, Dietrich
Neumann, Anthony Vidler and Michael Webb. Film Architecture: Set Designs
from Metropolis to Blade Runner. Munich: Prestel, 1999.
Watkin, David. A History of Western Architecture. New York: Thames and
Hudson, 1986.
• Study the films of Michaelangelo Antonioni, King Vidor, and Fritz Lang. Screen
these films: Artists and Models (1937), Batman (1989), The Black Cat (1934),
The Crowd (1928), Dodsworth (1936), Female (1933), The Fountainhead (1949),
Grand Hotel (1932), l’Inhumaine (1924), Lost Horizon (1937), Men Must Fight
(1933), Mon Oncle (1958), A Nous la Liberté (1931), Playtime (1967), Sunrise
(1927), and Things to Come (1936).
• Take an architectural tour of the cities you visit.

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Chapter 10

The term “period film” is generally applied to a story that takes place in
a time before the present era. Most stories take place in specific time frames,
although a writer may decide to remove all “clues” to the era, to make the story
“timeless,” or to set a piece generically in the Roaring Twenties, for example, instead
of placing it specifically in 1923. The production designer deals with the physical
reality of the screen story’s time frame. Unless instructed otherwise, the designer
must make decisions that address the specificity of the time period the film will visually project. Generalizing the time and place can weaken a story or disorient the
nature of narrative. New York in 1961 is not the same as New York in 1968. They are
both in the 1960s, but stylistic, cultural, and political factors changed dramatically
during these years. If the time period in the design of a motion picture is generalized,
it will not enrich the specificity of the particular story being told. A generalized
design (in a realistic film) does an injustice, both to those who know the period intimately and to viewers who do not. In one case, the nonspecific design violates the
trust between filmmaker and the audience member, and in the other, it cheats the
viewer out of a historically accurate visual experience. The 1960s were not all tiedye and psychedelic colors. The 1970s were not all bell-bottom slacks, disco, and
bulky haircuts. History, cultural habits, and style are complex. A broad sweep of
society is evidenced in every single day.
When designing a period film, determine the exact time period specifically—
down to year and month, if possible. This will make all decisions easier. Time and
place can be directly researched. A firm sense of place and time can provide the story
with an added dimension and grounding. Establish the parameters of the time period with the director and writer. What point of view and attitude toward the era are to
be presented to the audience?
For The House on Carroll Street (1988), directed by Peter Yates, production
designer Stuart Wurtzel had to turn the clock back thirty years on New York City.
Originally the title was The House on Sullivan Street, but the filmmakers weren’t


able to use it for legal reasons. Once the title was changed, Wurtzel did look at
Sullivan and Bleecker Streets in downtown Manhattan as possible locations. There
was an interior courtyard that was needed and a view from one house to another, but
the designer determined the area was not visually interesting for the camera. The
project was a low-budget production, so Wurtzel began looking at the Park Slope
neighborhood in Brooklyn and found it was much less changed than the Manhattan
location and would keep the budget down. Wurtzel asked Yates if the lead female
character could be looking for a job in Brooklyn and the script was changed.
“Residential sections have changed less, businesses always have to be upgraded with
each decade, because they’re reflecting what people are buying,” Wurtzel explains.
They shot in a Greenwich Village location that at the time was still accurate for the
time period of the story. Exteriors were staged and photographed in Park Slope,
Brooklyn. A chase sequence indicated in the script was to be shot in the Sheridan
Square area, but when the budget was worked up it would have cost as much as
$170,000. “It was an enormous headache for the cinematographer, Michael
Ballhaus; he wasn’t going to be able to move as fast as he wanted to,” Wurtzel
recalls. “So it became a chase done in the Strand Bookstore, which is very period to
begin with. I was always changing book titles, and I hung overhead lights, which
Michael loved because we had all this light.”
Wurtzel maintained the mood and point of view of the script and the director’s
interpretation. The story concerns a woman blacklisted as a Communist during the
McCarthy Era who uncovers an espionage plot. The mood of the times was created
with a cool color palette and period perfection in the architecture.
The biggest challenge for the art department was to make Grand Central look like
the 1950s for a complex chase sequence that had up to110 different camera setups.
First, it took weeks of scouting trips to find each location. The storyboards were then
given to Michael Ballhaus who adapted and contributed to the final compositions.
Before shooting, Wurtzel and the art department changed the lettering on the
information booth and covered the electric information sign with a period billboard
they prepared ahead of time. The clock over the main arch was too modern and was
not there during the 1950s, so a fifty-foot American flag was hung in front of it. The
electrical sign atop a modern Merrill Lynch booth was covered and strong backlight
coming from Musco lights outside the window wall, placed by the camera crew, hid
the aluminum base of the booth. To make the booth go black on film, Wurtzel and
his crew used two-inch black masking tape to cover it. All the individual electrical
track information signs were changed back to the manual type of the period.
At the outset of a production, the experienced production designer will often
know more about the period than the director will. Time and place is the production
designer’s job, but every film requires research and decisions on how the period
details relate to the narrative.
Many films take place in the “now.” But again, don’t generalize the design, even
for a contemporary film. Always be specific about time, place, cultural, and stylistic
issues. A design that blurs the exactness of time and place does little to contribute to
the visual rendering of the story.

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Often a screenplay states the time frame of the story to the year, month, day, and
hour, but it can be less specific. Stories set in a timeless era are the hardest projects
to design. With rare exceptions, the time period should be established within the production design even when the screenwriter may only hint at it. The majority of viewers will recognize décor, architecture, cultural trends, hair, and dress that will firmly
plant a rootless story. Don’t forfeit control by diffusing the narrative power of production design to a muddle of the time period that may look familiar but isn’t quite
right—it will distance the audience from the characters and deprive them of the positive impact time and environment has on them.
Sunnyside (1979) is about a street kid who tries to end local gang warfare. The
film opens with a stock shot of Queens Boulevard, in Sunnyside, Queens, New York,
where the story takes place. After that one establishing image, the entire film was
shot in Los Angeles in nonspecific locations that were not true to the story or narrative locale. None of the locations were convincing for the story, which was full of
movie clichés adding up to one formless failure. The film adaptation of the hit play
Grease, directed by Randall Kleiser in 1978, was set in the 1950s, but the period is
overexaggerated and mixed with 1970s elements to make the film attractive and
more commercial to young audiences. Olivia Newton John’s crimped hairstyle and
the disco-tinged title song didn’t help matters much.
Time and Place

To visually establish a sense of place, several factors must be determined. Where
does the story take place? What country, city, town, street? Is it on the water, on an
island, in the air, outer space, underwater, or in another universe? Is it an imaginary
land, like Oz or Pleasantville or the planet Arakis of the imagined world of Frank
Herbert’s Dune? What is the scope of the environment? Does the story take place in
one room, an apartment, out of doors? Are there contrasting settings, or is the mood
and style consistent and connected?
To visually create an environment there are myriad elements and details that identify and communicate the sense of time and place necessary to fully tell the story.
These details are influenced by factors that govern life and society, art, behavior,
economics, politics, religion, and social mores.
The great Italian film director Federico Fellini once said he would never make a
film in America because he wouldn’t know what shoes the actor should wear. This
one piece of apparel, just one visual detail, communicates information about the
characters, where they are and what time frame the story is taking place in.
How do we decide what shoes to buy? The factors include availability, color, cost,
functionality, materials, peer pressure, self-image, style, and trends. This one example is a window to the innumerable choices to be made for each movie and the
designer’s considerations behind each selection.
What is an environment? The items that follow are components, items, and details
that together make up the environmental world of a film.



The pictorial details that comprise film characters’ home and apartment environments are crucial to the production designer. These items must be carefully considered so that they honestly interpret the script and the point of view established by the
director. Such details can include: air conditioners; number and layout of rooms;
architectural style; bathroom supplies and appliances; bedding; bookcases; books;
chairs CDs, children’s room (toys, décor, artwork, stuffed animals); color and texture of walls, floor, and ceiling; construction materials; doors; fans; flowers; food;
furniture; floor coverings; floor materials; home computer; home entertainment (television, VCR, DVD, stereo, radios, sound system); home office equipment; kitchen
appliances (refrigerator—including magnets and pictures, stove, microwave, coffeemaker, Cuisinart); kitchen tools; liquor cabinet or bar; location (where do the
rooms face? what can be seen out of the windows?); lighting fixtures; linens; magazines; mirrors; musical instruments; newspapers; pantry and refrigerator supplies;
personal paperwork; pans; plants; posters, art work, and photographs; pots; radiator
covers; rugs; tablecloths; tables; telephones; towels; vases; knickknacks; candlesticks; windows; window treatments; and specialty items relating to the specificity
of the story and characters.

Equally important are the architecture of apartment houses or homes, cars, vehicles, garbage cans, landscaping, signage, streetlights.

The outdoor areas of a set design also influence the mood, atmosphere, and
descriptive qualities of the production: foliage, bodies of water, dirt, indigenous animals, rocks, sand, terrain.

Many film scenes take place in restaurants. Don’t overlook this important venue
in designing a set. Be sure to consider architecture, chairs, color of walls, condiments and bread on tables, décor, dinnerware, food served, host podium, ice buckets, napkins, reservation book, silverware, side table for desserts, staff dress, tablecloths, tables, wall coverings.
In composing a sense of time and space be aware of what raw materials are available. Go through supply company catalogues in every range of décor and functional design. Remember, as a filmmaker you must make informed decisions. Every element that is a part of the on-screen time and space environment can be chosen,
altered, added, or taken away.
Films that are successful in capturing the time period of their story include:
The Godfather (1972)—director, Francis Ford Coppola, production designer
Dean Tavoularis, director of photography Gordon Willis. The film takes place in the
late 1940s. The old-world nature of Don Corleone is captured in his dark and oppres-

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sive office. Wooden blinds and a solid wood desk define his power and authority. The
Kodacrome color scheme reminds viewers of home movies from parents or grandparents, creating a sense-memory connection. Kodacrome is a film stock still manufactured by the Kodak company. The current film stock has bright, saturated colors
but within a normal range. The Kodacrome film stocks of the 1940s and 1950s produced bright, saturated colors that popped out more vibrantly than those in nature.
When this color scheme is used in a period feature film taking place in the 1940s,
1950s, or 1960s it creates a visual mood of the period with brighter, sharply defined
saturated colors that are reminiscent of most people’s perception of those time periods. Perfect period cars, the Art Deco exterior of Radio City Music Hall, and a garden football wedding all bring the period to life with documentary detail. Hairstyles
and clothes look authentic and lived-in, not just a fashion statement.
Barry Lyndon (1975)—director Stanley Kubrick, production designer Ken Adam,
director of photography John Alcott. The eighteenth century was meticulously recreated through the study of paintings, architecture, and literature. Most of the film was
shot on location in Europe. The majority of the costumes were real eighteenth century clothes retailored for larger modern bodies. Wigs were carefully selected for
authenticity and for how they related to the individual character. The film was shot by
candlelight. Décor includes a period bathtub, candle fixtures, and paintings of the
period hung high on the large walls. Barry Lyndon is widely considered to be the most
successful achievement of period filmmaking. It is the collaboration of design and
photography that produces the reality of the time past and here preserved.
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)—director Sam Peckinpah, production
designer Ted Haworth, director of photography John Coquillion. Set in the old West
of the title characters. One of the rare Westerns (Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven, 1992,
designed by Henry Bumstead, is another) where everything—including buildings,
interiors, exteriors, terrain, props, and costumes—is worn, aged, dusty, and unromantic, devoid of romance and myth.
Boogie Nights (1997)—director Paul Thomas Anderson, production designer Bob
Ziembicki, director of photography Robert Elswit. Time-capsule accuracy capturing
the 1970s, using the porn industry as a metaphor for family and the technological
transition between film and video. The 1970s design style of disco fashion and gaudy
décor is accurate and realistic, not exaggerated or satirized in the way, for instance,
television’s That 70s Show insinuates the time period. The combination of story,
context, and environmental recreation in Boogie Nights takes the viewer back to the
not-so-distant past.
Other recommended period films to screen and study include:
The Age of Innocence (1993)—Martin Scorsese’s film captures the life of New
York’s aristocracy in the 1870s. Production designer Dante Ferretti transformed
many New York locations back in time; the New York Art Director’s club was redecorated as a residence, and the Bronx Botanical Gardens and 23rd Street were period
reconstructions built by Ferretti and his art department in the upstate town of Troy,
New York. This is an example of exacting period detail, down to the pattern of the


dinner plates, men’s top hats, and flower arrangements. The Age of Innocence understands and captures the mood, atmosphere, pace, and culture of the time.
The Conformist (1971)—fascist Italy in the 1930s. Authentic period design is presented in an expressionistic, stylized manner. Production designer Ferdinando
Scarfiotti used a distinctive Art Deco look to define the decadence of the characters
and the times. The most arresting image is a room with light streaming through
Venetian blinds, which was influenced by an Ernst Lubitch film that captured the
attention of director Bernardo Bertolucci and of Scarfiotti. This became the signature image of The Conformist and inspired Paul Schrader to hire Scarfiotti and to
recreate it in American Gigolo (1980).
The Day of the Locust (1975)—this film is a scathing exposé of the dark side of
the Hollywood Dream Factory. Production designer Richard MacDonald recreates
the Hollywood soundstage, sets, offices, and back lot of the 1930s. Based on the
novella by Nathaniel West and directed by John Schlesinger, the production design
captures the brutal power and excess of the studio chiefs, shattered dreams, and the
idyllic community that surrounded the studios. The film’s chaotic and devastating
climax presents a realistic social class riot in front of a gala Hollywood premiere
with the stylistic inventions of the Hollywood studio style. This expressionistic
nightmare, seen through the eyes of a dissolute young man with visions of art, is a
complex and emotionally wrenching sequence built on a sound stage.
The Doors (1991)—Oliver Stone’s film about Jim Morrison becomes a study of
the Los Angeles rock and Hippie scene in the 1960s. Concert venues are meticulously recreated; the Sunset Strip is brought back in time to when the burgeoning
youth counterculture was transforming an America that had been dominated by the
style and morality of “The Greatest Generation.” One of the best examples of accurate hair, clothing, and pop culture style from the 1960s, designed by Barbara Ling.
Glory (1989)—the definitive pictorial creation of the Civil War. Production
designer Norman Garwood did intensive research on the terrain, battlefields, and
facilities. A group of men known as “recreators” were essential in achieving such
authenticity. These men dress up in Civil War uniforms that are detailed with missing buttons, salt stains, and scuffed boots. They were not only consultants to the
design team but also appeared on camera, on horseback as soldiers. Fort Wayne was
built in exact detail; the construction took twelve weeks and the set was three hundred feet square. Dunker Church was built for the first sequence of the film in a
1930s railyard transformed into a Victorian railyard. The brickwork was so accurate
to the historical original that every missing brick was actually missing.
GoodFellas (1990)—the Martin Scorsese film, designed by Kristi Zea, is one of
the great contemporary gangster movies the covers the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and
1980s in the lives of mid-level mobsters. The accuracy of each era heightens the fact
that the characters survive through the decades, rarely changing. The Ray Liotta
character, based on the real life mob informant Henry Hill, does change; his character represents the drug culture of the 1980s and its impact on the mob.
The Last Emperor (1987)—China’s Forbidden City, recreated in exacting detail
and contrasted by the emperor’s experiences in exile in Europe and in a prison camp,
demonstrates how contrasting environments impact on the story and characters. The

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décor ranges from Ancient China to Art Deco in Europe, to the drab, gray, blue world
of the Chinese political prison. Directed by Bernardo Bertolucci and designed by
Ferdinando Scarfiotti.
The Last Picture Show (1971)—production designer Polly Platt took a town in
West Texas and brought it back to the 1950s by changing façades, aging brick, and
redecorating interiors. This black-and-white film directed by Peter Bogdanovich was
the first contemporary film to de-romanticize the 1950s. The design strips the era of
nostalgia and shows the desolation and barrenness of a town falling apart physical
and morally.
Malcolm X (1992)—a masterful biopic directed by Spike Lee covering the scope
of Malcolm X’s life. Production designer Wynn Thomas had the challenge of creating a massive number of settings depicting Malcolm’s childhood home, his comingof age-years in Harlem, the headquarters of the Black Muslims, his pilgrimage to
Mecca, and the climax in the Audubon Ballroom where the controversial civil rights
leader was assassinated. A landmark look into a segment of African American culture and an epic recreation of American history.
Tucker: The Man and his Dream (1988)—a meticulous rendition of America in
the 1940s. Director Francis Ford Coppola, producer George Lucas, and production
designer Dean Tavoularis found a new way to represent the American dream on film
by telling the true story of a maverick car inventor who defied the Detroit powerbrokers. Director and producer put their own Tucker cars into the film and rounded
up the remainder of existing models. The cars represent forties style, the domination
of car culture in America, and a creation unseen by most Americans. The Tucker is
a metaphor for American ingenuity and design as pop culture.
The Wedding Singer (1998)—the 1980s are a decade often presented as over-thetop in films, all big hair and outlandish colors. This sweet romantic comedy lovingly captures the style of the decade without parody. The environments are authentic
and believable recreations that serve the story. Directed by Frank Coraci and
designed by Perry Andelin Blake.


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Chapter 11

All screenwriters would like to think their original stories are just that,
but over one hundred years of cinema history have demonstrated that film narratives
can be codified into categories. Critics and theorists call these categories genres. The
original genres created during the classic Hollywood studio era included the
Western, melodrama, science fiction, the gangster film, the musical, the war film,
comedy, horror, and fantasy. Over the course of the twentieth century, filmmaking
subcategories and hybrids have appeared, including the screwball comedy, film noir,
slasher, and biker films. Each genre has its own visual conventions that the production designer can support or subvert. The Western town has been depicted as historical, mythic, a thriving central area, or a run-down, desolate place. Study the genre
of each film you screen for the visual components that comprise and interpret the
genre conventions. Look for added visual elements innovated by designers to interpret and expand the story.
Essentially, the production designer is establishing period, time, and place, but
establishing the genre is just as important. Audiences who are fans of a particular
genre know and love the narrative and visual traditions of that genre and expect
authenticity or discovery.

In addition to the specific research related to each individual project, the director,
production designer, and director of photography should familiarize themselves with
visual design principles of the genre and how they define the parameters of the cinematic storytelling’s visual and narrative style.
What follow are some notes about the design conventions utilized in, and the type
of research useful in creating, several popular genres.



Westerns contain recurring geographical settings such as Texas, Montana,
Oklahoma, and Colorado that narratively connect to the history of the era.
The physical environment of the Western is comprised of landscape, terrain,
architecture of the Western town, and modes of transportation—the wagons, horses,
stagecoaches, and steam-driven trains. Other aspects of the physical environment are
the clothes and “props” of the inhabitants—handguns, rifles, holders, leather, felt,
and spurs—and the Western bar where tough-drinking men gambled and confronted
one another. The Western convention of pictorial composition features two-thirds
blue sky and a lower third of brown, dusty dirt to capture the early days of America
before development. The production designer works in this frame to create environments in big sky country that are vast, functional, and rarely intended to be permanent. Dirt roads and paths would later give way to blacktop.
For an understanding of the American West, read the work of James Fennimore
Cooper. Read The Ox Bow Incident by Walter Van Tilberg Clark, and Warlock by
Oakley Hall. Study the paintings of Frederic Remington, who visualized the old
West in a prolific series of paintings that are an American archive of Western images.
Western films to study for a greater understanding of production design in this allAmerican genre include: Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), High Noon (1952), My
Darling Clementine (1946), Rio Bravo (1959), The Searchers (1956) Silverado
(1985), Stagecoach (1939), 3:10 to Yuma (1957), and The Wild Bunch (1969).
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)—this black-and-white Western was
directed by John Ford, designed by Hal Pereira and Eddie Imazu. with set decoration by Sam Comer and Darrell Silvera. The story begins as the old West is becoming civilized (the vast majority of Westerns take place in an earlier time). This film
makes the transition between the rugged old West and the societies of modern
drama. The Shinbone wooden train station is a place where people who will settle
and develop the burgeoning town arrive. Along with the train, horse-drawn carts
have replaced the old stagecoach, houses now have porches and white picket
fences—an image of an imminent suburban America. The town is bustling with new
shops and a church. There are poles and cables that bring power to the town, a connection with the larger country around Shinbone.
There is a newspaper office and a funeral parlor, staples of most Westerns. But an
old stagecoach, a relic of the past, is out of commission, covered with dirt and dust
to remind the people of Shinbone how far they have come as they confront the ageold Western conflict of bad guys in black hats who want to destroy progress and tranquility.
Hank’s Saloon has swinging short doors, a convention in all Westerns. There is a
barbershop next door. Peter’s Place is a restaurant where the townsfolk eat. It has a
rough brick stone wall, the tables have checkerboard cloths. The kitchen has a wooden wall and stone walls. There is a chalkboard to keep track of free meals given to
the Marshal. Half-sized swinging doors connect the dining room to the kitchen. The
kitchen is more than just a functional space. While the staff prepares man-sized
meals for their customers, they have conversations that develop the other characters
and plot. This working space is an arena for discovery and understanding of the char-

112 / CHAPTER 11

acters and their lives. In Westerns that take place in a less settled time, settlers eat
simple meals cooked and eaten at home. Peter’s Place is another connection with the
modern world where public eateries are a gathering place for society to meet and
develop their community.
The saloon and Peter’s Place are on opposite corners to demonstrate the conflict
between the old and new West. A makeshift schoolroom brings hope that education
will bring civility and progress. The newspaper office becomes a space where political and social movements are made. The saloon becomes a meeting place for political change as the town’s moral consciousness emerges.
John Ford uses these Western conventions for multinarrative purposes. The bar is
a hard-drinking gambling establishment and a place for political change. The restaurant is a place to eat and a stage for confrontation and drama. The home of the John
Wayne character is a home, a memory of the past, a symbol of power destroyed by
a coward, and a remnant of the old America West—history and myth alike.
Red River (1948)—Howard Hawks directed this John Wayne star-vehicle. This
Western begins in 1851 and covers a rancher’s odyssey as he goes from St. Louis to
California to settle into the cattle business and later moves the entire herd across the
wilderness to Missouri for the price of twenty dollars a head. Red River represents a
segment of the Western genre that is dedicated to the exploration of the wide-open
spaces and the settlement of the old West. These films are largely shot on location in
western states such as Colorado, California, and Montana. The principal challenge
for the production designer is to find landscapes in a controlled area that can create
the illusion of vast travel, without a lot of movement for the film company. For Red
River, art director John Datu Arensma had to locate areas where wide camera shots
could represent a progression of states as the story moved across the country. The
wide shots of the troupe on horseback, covered wagons, and cattle as far as the camera eye can see must match with close-ups of individuals or small groups in dialogue
scenes that are recreated under studio conditions. Nighttime campfire scenes filled
with character development and plot exposition were designed and shot on the sound
stage for artistic control, to avoid the natural weather elements. The settings had to
be altered slightly each time because in the story every campfire was held at a different location during the long trip.
Red River utilized an effective narrative device created in the art department.
Throughout the film, pages of a diary are shown full-screen in script written by hand
in ink. These texts are a break from the constant movement of the company and the
series of reflections and relationship developments revealed in the campfire
sequences. This literary device is a historically correct form of documentation that
reveals an inner-voice not reachable in the scenes of mass migration. The scenic
artists or a member of the art department skilled in the art of handwriting would create the many pages of material provided by the screenwriter.
The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)—Clint Eastwood stars in and directed this gritty,
revisionist Western for his Malpaso Company. Production designer Tami Larsen, set
decorator Chuck Pierce, and construction coordinator Al Littleken created Western
towns that are not romantic or poetic as the ones pictured during the Hollywood studio era. The towns are still in progress, there are structures still going up, wooden

GENRES / 113

studs and framing are bare. There are tents on the outskirts of town to indicate the
builders are sleeping on the premises as they work. Nothing looks very permanent.
The architecture is basic, utilizing unfinished wood and raw planking. Simple signs
identify the business inside. A saloon is run down, in disrepair since the silver lode
ran out. The wooden swinging doors are flayed and chipped. All the buildings’ exteriors and interiors are dirty. Although they are new, the effects of the harsh weather
have already taken its toll.
This revisionist approach is an attempt to capture the history of the real old West.
The film takes place during the Civil War era and presents the dark side of everyone:
Union soldiers, townspeople, Indians, and even the good guys. Eastwood is an antihero looking for revenge.
A great deal of the film was shot on location. The landscapes combines trees in
bloom contrasted by those that are bare.
The texture of props, décor, architecture, and clothing is worn, dirty and lived-in.
Eastwood portrays the West as a dangerous place constantly shifting, growing, and
being destroyed by those without Christian morals. This and other Clint Eastwood
Westerns set the tone for the genre in the 1980s and 1990s.

Gangster films are urban crime dramas. They focus on the low end of a city—its
back-alleys, ghettos, and desolate night streets where crime breeds. The genre
depicts the underground society of criminals. The dramas take place in backrooms,
the outskirts of town, private clubs, bars, houses of ill repute, after hour joints, and
factories turned into the business of crime. The challenge of the production design
is to reveal to the public what is in most lives off limits, the subculture of the gangster who lives a separate life from the honest working man. Criminals live and work
among and around us.
Contrast is always an element in a gangster movie. Men rise out of humble beginnings to the top of the crime heap. In Scarface (1932) Tony Camonte, the Italian
mobster portrayed by Paul Muni, comes from an immigrant background. His mother, dressed in peasant clothes, toils in the kitchen, the center of their modest family
home, while her son lives the high life, obsessed with a view from a high-rise pad of
an electric sign that proclaims, “The World Is Yours.” After Tony is gunned down,
the sign, more than a prop, becomes the final image and suggests that crime may
look glamorous, but it doesn’t pay.
The locations in a gangster film create anxiety. They are stripped of the safety of
Main Street America. They are the fringes where criminals can operate out of the
mainstream. The back alleys are not traveled by honest citizens and are largely
unwatched by law enforcement. They provide an environment to stalk, to administer
punishment, and to hide illegal activity.
The gangster genre uses dark alleys to communicate danger and trouble to the
audience. These establish an atmosphere of fear and doom. Ghettos are locales that
prove a haven for criminals and a place of business where they can take advantage
of the disadvantaged. Desolate night streets represent the time and place when gangsters can run free to commit crimes. The honest citizens are home. Those out on the

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lonely, unwatched streets are either part of the criminal society or their prey. Afterhour clubs, luxury apartments, and palatial homes are the playgrounds of the criminal element. These locations are decadent, always open and active. They are settings
for the corruption of morals, drink, drugs, sex, and violence. They represent the prize
enjoyed by shiftless criminals, while honest, hardworking “patsies” sleep.
Prisons are the price paid for the criminal lifestyle. In contrast to the extravagant
dens of iniquity, they are large, bleak buildings with claustrophobic cells and steel
bars that frame the criminal. The work areas are the scenes of a violent subculture.
The bleak dining areas, with their long tables filled with tension, are a platform for
communication, misery, and occasional violence. The exercise yard represents the
outside, free world, but it is fenced in and surrounded by barbed wire and armed
guards in high towers. It is a metaphor for the prisoner’s longing to be free. Prisons
are an inevitable reality in the life of a gangster, a place to survive, get educated in
the way of crime life, and do penance for their criminal excesses.
The city in a gangster film can be specific—New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago
are perennial settings—or a gangster film can be set in a mythic, generic urban area.
Gangster films to study include these notable examples: The Big Heat (1953),
Casino (1995), Gangs of New York (2002), The Godfather Part II (1974), GoodFellas (1990), Little Caesar (1930), The Roaring Twenties (1939), and Scarface
The Public Enemy (1931) is a Warner Bros. gangster movie that launched James
Cagney to stardom. The film starts in 1909 then travels to 1915, 1917, and 1920. The
mood of the times is established first with the exterior of a brewing company; there
are saloons on three corners, and people carry open buckets of beer.
The Red Oak Club has a brick exterior and in 1909 has a canopy bearing its name.
When we see it again it is 1915, and there is no awning. There is a badly torn poster
on the brick wall. These are hard and seedier times. Inside are saloon doors, pool
tables, and a sign that reads “Don’t Spit on the Floor.” A petty gangster plays piano
and lords over his young students in crime.
The Western Fur Trading factory is on a deserted street filled with expensive furs
hanging on the walls. A speakeasy has an imposing door with a sliding panel, a convention in gangster films of the 1930s. A bar has a counter top with a wooden rail
and a deep ridge close to the customer’s edge. From the interior the backward word
“Bar” can be seen in plain letters. There is a low rod holding a half curtain in the
In 1920, a family liquor store is abuzz with the public stocking up before prohibition sets in. This is a generic city: a gas truck reads GASOLINE, a warehouse is called
U.S. BONDED WAREHOUSE, there are barrels of illegal beer hidden, and a florist truck
is used by the bootleggers.
Cagney and his partner move up the crime ladder; they meet with others at a
large, round table; he is dressed in gangster finery, a long coat and a sharp-brimmed
His family home is in stark contrast to the crime life. It is traditional, old-fashioned, with a credenza and homey furniture that represent the taste and humble status of his mother.

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Cagney parties in a large, multileveled, elegant nightclub. He meets a flapper,
played by Jean Harlow, who has a flat designed for her fast and superficial lifestyle.
She has a white, porcelain sculpture, a divan, tall plants, and a view of the cityscape
from her window that contrasts squalor with her decadent but high style.
A horse stable is upscale and represents the good life led by gangsters. A mob
room has the obligatory round poker table. There is also an alley with a dirt floor that
reminds us that these men live on the dark side of life.
A pawnshop, the stage for many a crooked transaction, is the scene of a holdup.
Cagney is gunned down in front of the Western Chemical Company. It is night and
raining hard. There is a stairway to an elevated train platform. Cagney collapses in
the street and is brought to a hospital. The family is told he is coming home. In the
last image the door is opened and he is dead, tied up like a mummy, and falls onto
the living room floor of the loving family home. The contrast is devastating. The
message inscribed at the end of the film is that the public enemy is not a man but a
problem society must solve.

The prison film is its own genre, unlike any other: Men and women incarcerated
behind bars. Prisons are colorless blocks, uniform and confining—universes unto
themselves cut off from the outside world. Riot in Cell Block 11 (1954) and Birdman
of Alcatraz (1962) are classics of the genre. Effective reinventions are in The
Shawshank Redemption (1994) and The Green Mile (1999).
The main difference between the original prison genre film and later reinventions
like The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile is that most older prison films
were photographed in black-and-white for gritty realism, and the reinventions were
shot in color to create mood and a sense of humanity. Most of the black-and-white
prison films were shot on studio sets. Over the decades many prison films have been
shot on location, either in shutdown facilities or in insolated areas in functioning
prisons. Older hardcore prison films contain cells, cellblocks, work areas, a cafeteria, and the warden’s office—grim, godless places. The reinventions and more modern prison films show the incarcerated population in television, game, and weight
rooms. The reinventions use artistic license in color palette and design for dramatic
objectives and to tell more complex stories than those of the stereotypes and archetypes from the original prison genre that began early in cinema history and came of
age in the 1930s, 1940s, and 1950s.

Films of the classic postwar film noir period were photographed in black-andwhite. Scenes take place almost exclusively at night. The shades are down in the
gangster’s office, the lights are off. Ceiling fixtures are hung low. Floor lamps are
less than five feet high. The visual style is related to German Expressionism. Oblique
and vertical lines dominate in opposition to the horizontal line of the classic
Hollywood Western. The interiors are filled with jagged light shapes: trapezoids, triangles, and vertical slits. Shadows, empty streets, rain, docks, piers, and alleyways
prevail in this doom-laden genre.

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Film noirs to investigate include: The Big Combo (1955), Boomerang! (1947),
Brute Force (1947), Call Northside 777 (1948), The Glass Key (1942), The Killers
(1946), Kiss Me Deadly (1955), Laura (1944), The Naked City (1948), The Set-Up
(1949), T-Men (1947), They Live By Night (1949), and You Only Live Once (1937).
In Double Indemnity (1944), an insurance agent is duped into murdering the husband of a femme fatale for her love and the payoff from a double indemnity clause
he has deceptively engineered. This defining film noir was directed by Billy Wilder
and designed by Hans Dreier, Hal Pereria, and set decorator Bertram Granger.
The locale is Los Angeles. The story is told in flashback and is anchored in the
doomed protagonist’s office. The flashback is a convention of many film noirs, platforms for how the characters have arrived at a place of dark destiny and hopelessness. There are custom file cabinets with many small drawers designed to store the
many individual policy records. The agent has a desk with a banker’s lamp, a customary ashtray (most everyone smokes in a film noir), and a Dictaphone that he uses
to confess his crimes and supply the exposition throughout the narrative. The lighting by director of photography John Seitz is very high-key, more black and white
than shades of gray.
The femme fatale lives in a spacious Spanish-style home with heavy door panels,
an iron-railed staircase, and white stone arches. Venetian blinds throughout the film
create long stabs of accusatory light everywhere.
A market where the couple has their clandestine meetings to plot the husband’s
murder has rows of shelves stacked to perfection with canned goods. The top pyramids of cans, as well as all the others, have their labels facing out. Precisely lined,
the food enclosed in metal frames the doomed couple like a prison.
The interior of the insurance company is an impressive set that contributes to a
subtext in the story. The floor space is huge to indicate the power and might of companies who collect money readily but dole it out very carefully. The set has two levels. The bottom level is filled with uniform desk setups where the employees do the
detail work of the company. It is an open space with no privacy. The second level is
a balcony that runs around the entire office. Here, the powerbrokers of the company
can keep watch. The company brass is physically on top while the workers toil
below. The managers have immediate access to their spacious offices and the birdseye view of the operation.
Noir conventions in Double Indemnity include a revolving door, a barbershop, a
cigar stand, and a forest area overlooking the lights of the City of Angels.
Kiss of Death (1947) is a Twentieth Century Fox film noir directed by Henry
Hathaway, designed by Lyle Wheeler and Leland Fuller, proudly states in its opening that all scenes, interior and exterior were photographed in New York State at the
actual locations associated with the story. This gives a firm sense of physical reality
to this tale of a reformed prisoner who helps the authorities capture a psychopathic
criminal, without sacrificing the artistic control production designers bring to a project. Realism is necessary for a film noir. The audience must believe this is an extension of their world; the designer and cinematographer can darken the emotional environment only once this is achieved.
The filmmakers staged scenes at the New York City Criminal Court Building and

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the assistant district attorney’s office, inside Sing Sing prison, a church facility for
children, restaurants, clubs, and New York apartments. The choice of locations, how
they are presented on camera, the subtly of the set dressing to create character, and
the high-key photography of Norbert Brodine give the film reality and drama. Kiss of
Death was well ahead of its time in shooting on location (a process that wouldn’t really flower until the early 1970s), while Hollywood was still building generic crime sets
instead of capturing the grit of real, solid environments that contained history, character, and a sense of a life lived. The designer’s role in this film was to arrange,
rearrange, and add décor elements to give Kiss of Death its naturalistic distinction.
The Maltese Falcon (1931) is John Huston’s directorial debut, designed by Robert
Hass, is a studio creation that elevated the conventions of the private investigator
mystery genre to a high art. The film takes place in San Francisco and the principal
set is the office of the legendary Sam Spade, created by novelist Dashiell Hammett
and portrayed by the equally legendary movie star, Humphrey Bogart.
Spade shares an office space with Archer, who is murdered at the beginning of the
story. The office has a view of San Francisco. There are windows on both sides of
Spade’s desk. His credentials are framed on the wall. The front door is framed in
heavy beaded glass so light can come through, but no one can see through the clouded surface. The name of the office is hand-lettered in black paint. This convention is
consistent in all film noir’s detective and gangster films from the 1930s to the 1950s.
In the corner of the office are black file cabinets and stacked up boxes of case
papers. There is an overhead lamp, table clock, and curtains blowing from a partly
opened window. A water cooler is standard décor, as is a door marked “Private.” An
outer office has a wooden rail and an art-directed view of the city. The private eye’s
office serves as his home as well. This location is inexorably linked to the genre and
is the setting for meetings, confrontations, gunplay, romance, repartee, and the
unraveling of a mystery.

Neo-noir is film noir in color. These films were made after the historic period and
usually take place in a timeless present that echoes the forties and fifties.
See these neo-noir films: Against All Odds (1984), At Close Range (1986), Basic
Instinct (1992), Body Heat (1981), Blood Simple (1984), Death Wish (1974), Dirty
Harry (1972), The Grifters (1990), Guncrazy (1992), The Last Seduction (1994),
Mortal Thoughts (1991), Red Rock West (1993), and To Live and Die in L.A. (1985).
After Dark, My Sweet (1990), directed by James Foley and designed by David
Brisban, is a neo-noir. At first historians, theorists, and critics wouldn’t accept noir
in color or noir made after the initial Cold War period in which it was developed. The
French named and codified film noir; it was not formulated consciously by the
filmmakers. In the 1990s, filmmakers who admired and studied film noir began creating contemporary films, often timeless in narrative, then evolved the design style
and adapted the use of color and texture to create the now popular subgenre known
as neo-noir.
After Dark, My Sweet begins with a boxer in a ring. The reoccurring image is
indicated with just the ropes of the ring and a black background. This may have

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been due to budgetary reasons, but the effect reaches back to the 1940s and 1950s
of a man confronting another man in a dark, seedy arena. The image is in the mind
of the protagonist who is about to meet a femme fatale and get sucked into a criminal vortex.
A bar has a blue and orange wall, the liquor bottles in a recessed wooden section,
and a large stack of beer cases in the back. The window wall is green, the bar top
light green.
The photographic style of the film is high key with a lot of contrast. There are
dusty roads and tumbleweed everywhere. The femme fatale has diamond shaped
windows on the white double doors to her home, an inviting entrance to her snare.
The rooms connect to the bedroom. The walls are made of thin, slated wood; the
headboard is also constructed out of wood. The protagonist lives in a run-down trailer across from her house.
The interior of the femme fatale’s station wagon is orange. A young boy kidnapped as part of her plot wears an orange shirt. Color everywhere is saturated. A
poolroom has a yellow wall and wood paneling. The overhead lamps have a large
Budweiser Beer logo.
Orange and a contrasting deep, ultramarine blue substitute for the extreme light
and dark that would be seen in a black-and-white film noir, but the color is not just
stark, it’s seductive, and the clash of hot and cool create an atmosphere of impending doom. The clothes, décor, architecture, and props are carefully chosen so they do
not look like 1980s style. The dialogue and a few narrative clues convince us this is
contemporary, but the style and the conventions of noir create the atmosphere
achieved in the original genre. This is not retro style but a world that time has passed
by. Neo-noir asserts that the motivations of criminals and those who seek adventure
on the dark side never really change.
The Hot Spot (1990) is a defining neo-noir directed by Dennis Hopper and production designed by Cary White and John Frick with art director Michael Sullivan.
The film appears to take place when it was released. The lead, Don Johnson, is
dressed in his Miami Vice–style clothes. The light, textured fabrics and pastel colors
did not exist in the 1940s or 1950s, although the behavior of the characters and the
nature of the narrative are identical to film noirs of that time. A cocky, arrogant guy
with no apparent roots comes into a desert town to take it by storm but is up against
a femme fatale and constantly tempted by the moral corruption around him.
Many scenes take place in the bright of day, not in the constant night-world
expected in the original noir conventions. The photography is high-key, and the color
is full of depth, contrast, seduction, and doom.
It is Texas; there are telephone poles, a train station, a bar, and a strip club with
no frills, featuring the obligatory dance pole. The main action takes place in a used
car lot that symbolizes corruption, wheeling, and dealing. Old cars give the story the
illusion of age; triangle strips of bright color plastic fly on strings. The salesman is
the great American con man. The office is dark; there are a lot of fans to remind us
how hot it is, physically and emotionally. Light cuts in through Venetian blinds, the
classic convention that always achieves a sense of mystery, danger, and a netherworld away from the cleansing sunlight outside in its purity.

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The mood is dark and seedy. The house of a repo suspect is littered with nude
photographs. The town features Old West architecture. The bank exterior is brick;
the interior is wooden framed partitions. There are decorated metal cages for the
A painted “Drink Coke” ad from decades past is a mural on a brick wall badly
faded and chipped. The femme fatale is blond, dressed in a white, sleeveless blouse,
red skirt, and white-framed sunglasses and rides in an open white convertible with a
1950s pink steering wheel.
The color palette of the film is pastel, beige, and clay colors. Johnson’s room is
sparse, bathed in a blue light from the street at night. The femme fatale’s house has
pink gathered drapes in the bedroom, a stained-glass wood framed door, wood paneled walls, light blue upper walls. The windows are topped by red-scalloped trim. An
arch leads to the outside where colorful Chinese lanterns hang on trees. Inside, is a
wooden slatted bar, lots of arches and stone walls. The pink drapes connect the
woman’s femininity to her steering wheel. There is a large, life-size, formerly ferocious stuffed bear linked to her husband, and a line of cuddly stuffed animals against
balcony posts that represent the little girl in the woman.
The other woman in the story is a brunette. Her house has an ornate white fence
and gate. She is seen in natural light, the other woman in blue or lavender gelled
The Hot Spot takes place in a small town, not the big city, but the web of doom
in a noir comes from the desires of the characters, not just the environment. The
locale becomes a den of sin. The morals of the characters designate their fate and
physical space. The common shared areas are manipulated to illustrate and indicate
that all is not all-American and apple pie here.

Classic horror films produced by Universal Studios featuring Frankenstein,
Dracula, the Wolf Man, and the Mummy were set in environments influenced by the
ravaged land of twentieth-century war-torn Europe and featured destroyed Gothic
structures, castles, marshes, mad scientist’s laboratories, haunted houses, and
German Expressionist–influenced architecture and décor.
While horror films of the past are often set in a decrepit house or seedy part of
town, contemporary horror films can take place in suburbia, the city—almost anywhere, and during any time of day. A “normal” environment can be the perfect place
for a contemporary horror narrative, allowing the design to act in contrast to the
horrific action and events.
Horror films, old and new, to study include: The Amityville Horror (1979), Carrie
(1976), Dracula (1931), The Exorcist (1973), The Fog (1980), Halloween (1978),
The Hills Have Eyes (1977), The Last House on the Left (1972), Night of the Living
Dead (1968), The Mummy (1932), The Omen (1976), Poltergeist (1982), The Texas
Chainsaw Massacre (1974), Wolfen (1981), and The Wolf Man (1941).
Frankenstein (1931) is one of the Universal horror films that set the standard for
the horror genre and were the aesthetic template for hundreds of films throughout the
decades. For Frankenstein, director James Whale and art director Charles D. Hall

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created an expressionistic environment that reflected and became a metaphor for the
ravages of war. Twisted trees, rocky roads, and a graveyard with a tilted cross and a
skeleton—a symbol of death—set the tone.
The film’s Goldstadt Medical College has an amphitheater ringed with lights,
charts of human anatomy, and large jars housing human brains. This genre often
relates science with man’s tampering with nature that results in a living horror.
Castle Frankenstein is high up on a hill. The interior is a towering space with
thick, wooden beams, a large wooden table, stone walls, electrodes, an instrument
panel, rough hewn stone steps, irregular sized stones, columns, chains, and a slatted
wood floor. In the mad scientist laboratory, the lifeless body of the Frankenstein
monster lies on a table, awaiting the life-giving jolt of electricity from the heavens.
In contrast, Baron Frankenstein, the father of the man who created human life run
amok, lives in an elegant home with high narrow windows, large framed paintings
on the walls, ribbed columns, paneled wooden walls, and recessed shelves.
The surrounding area has a courtyard with large scale Tudor houses. The film
ends with images of mountains, a dark art-directed studio sky, a tall wooden windmill that is burned to the ground by angry townspeople who think they’ve killed the
monster (don’t think the device of leaving a plot open for the sequel began in the
A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) was directed by Wes Craven and designed by
Greg Fonseca. This modern era horror film contrasts the everyday life and environments of the young characters with the nightmares they share, which enter an apparently real world.
A house is idyllic with a front yard. The interior has a Tiffany lamp, off-white
drapes, flowers; it’s very homey, with a patterned couch and a large overhanging
The color palette is cool, without red, so that the bloody, gory scenes will provide
a full shock treatment when the color is introduced. A teenage girl’s bedroom
becomes a house of horrors when she begins to climb the walls and deep open
scratches appear on her body. Blood is everywhere.
The local high school is a generic suburban environment, but the basement is an
underground nest of malice, with its old boiler and corroded pipes. The heroine’s
house has a basement with a similar visual theme, and it is there that the confrontation with the notorious Freddy Krueger occurs.
Wes Craven, a master of contemporary horror, understands that true terror can
strike in bright daylight in a comfortable, seemingly secure space. The contrasting
horror scenes have their roots in traditional genre elements that in the past were
shown in a contrived total environment. Craven orchestrates the design to surprise
and shock. After each scare the viewer is returned for just long enough to life as we
know it—but not for too long.

The American musical is a celebration of the stage. The concept of characters
breaking into song and dance frees the designer from realism and inspires expressionistic, artistic spectacles that are infused with fun, entertainment, and drama. The

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classic American film musical was a popular genre during the 1930s, 1940s, and
1950s. Backgrounds and settings were implied, impressionistic, and painted with a
broad, lavish, and, at times, lurid brush. The design of a musical creates an environment that visually expresses and supports the story while functioning as a space for
elaborate performances. Imaginative, decorative, and filled with exuberance, the
musical can take place in a faux New York, or Los Angeles, a stage filled with
ascending platforms, rows of white pianos, an elegant ballroom, or a period setting
more grand and illusionary than its realistic counterpart in a dramatic film.
All films that have extensive music numbers or use music and lyrics as a narrative device are classified as the musical genre. There is a qualitative difference
between the classic Busby Berkeley musicals that were light on character and plot
and filled with imaginative large-scale production numbers that reveled in artifice,
and later musicals such as Fame that take place in naturalistic environments. The
style of having musical numbers bursting into the narrative occurs in all musicals,
but as far as production design is concerned, whether the treatment is realistic or fantastic demands a different visual approach. Designers who have worked on Broadway stage musicals have a good understanding of the nonrealistic musical. Those
without this design experience will need to research and study the style on stage and
in film. Realistic musicals are similar in approach to nonmusical films, but often they
are visually stylized to support the narrative and musical concepts.
Since the 1960s we have seen the death and rebirth of the genre. Musicals can
take place anywhere—the stylized Berlin of Cabaret (1972), the realistic rock and
sand formations of Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), the New York streets from the
original Hair (1979), the bare stage of A Chorus Line (1985) shot in a real location,
slightly augmented for the camera, or the glitzy, sleazy nightlife of Showgirls (1995)
and Coyote Ugly (2000), two films that take place in real places that are exaggerated and romanticized for commercial consumption.
The musical is a genre that has often been reinvented. Brigadoon (1954) is a classical American stage musical that was adapted to the screen. When Hollywood
filmed a stage musical, they would attempt to open it up, expand the locations and
the limitations of the stage, but the production design style often retained the theatrical artifice of the stage. 42nd Street (1933) was originally a movie musical, which
was later successfully adapted to the Broadway stage—twice. Lloyd Bacon and
Busby Berkely combined realism for the backstage story with elaborate, stagy song
and dance numbers that are the musical within the film. The Hollywood musical
reigned from the 1930s into the early 1960s. In the 1970s, a new musical form
arrived. Saturday Night Fever (1977) celebrated the beginning of the disco era. The
film does not have any dramatic scenes expressed by the characters in song, as in
classic movie musicals such as Showboat (1951), Oklahoma! (1955), or My Fair
Lady (1964). A painted sky on a cyclorama in the dance numbers for Oklahoma! sets
the perfect balance between artificiality and realism, bringing the classic stage musical to the screen without losing its theatrical heart and soul. The dance numbers in
Saturday Night Fever are used to show the nightlife and desires of the characters and
are scored with songs by the Bee Gees and contemporary disco musical artists. Fame
(1980) is about a high school for the performing arts. Here the production numbers

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express the talents and emotions of the characters. Songs performed by two cast
members are presented as song performances rather than people breaking into song
in the classic musical convention, but the purpose is the same. These songs express
narrative and character elements and allow the performers to directly express themselves to the audience in musical form rather than in dramatic dialogue in a scene
structure. The Wiz (1978), a contemporary musical take on The Wizard of Oz, was
taken from the stage to the New York City Streets with theatrical license. All That
Jazz (1979), Bob Fosse’s autobiographical film, is presented in combination of
Broadway glitzy, gritty realism, and Fellini-esque fantasy. There are production
numbers interwoven in the dramatic narrative structure that express the life, work,
and fantasies of the main character Joe Gideon. Showgirls and Coyote Ugly use
music and dance as entertainment and erotic titillation, not for narrative purpose.
Moulin Rouge (2001) is an original period musical that uses the classic convention
of having the characters expresses themselves and the narrative in song. The music
consists of love songs that were written long after the film’s time frame, creating an
alternate universe where the past and future come together.

Futuristic worlds, planetary exploration, other solar systems, and space vehicles
are some of the conventions expected in this genre. Science meets fantasy, humans
encounter extraterrestrials, giant ants, blobs, and pods inhabit. High or low-tech science fiction films defy reality; imagine the future; and free the imaginations of
designers, special visual effect teams, and makeup artists to take us to a planet of
apes, a galaxy far away, long ago, or to the depths of the ocean. Screenings should
include: Blade Runner (1982), The Matrix (1999), Star Wars (1977), Things to Come
(1936), and 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968).
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956) is a classic low-budget black-and-white
film, directed by Don Siegel and designed by Ted Haworth, is deceptively simple and
powerful in impact. An alien society plans to take over the world by making identical copies of human bodies in pods that take over when the victim falls asleep. The
pod person looks just like the real thing, but has no emotions and plots with the others to turn society into beings without human feelings. The metaphor of a less
humane population growing as the Cold War progressed during the 1950s succeeds
here, because the film’s design of the average U.S. town looks so normal and typical of the era. It makes the narrative and the various transformations even more terrifying than if the design were deliberately spooky. This had a great influence on the
resurgence of horror films in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s that relied on horror coming to everyday life. The challenge of Invasion of the Body Snatchers was designing
the pods and executing the chilling special effects. Production designer Ted Haworth
conceived the idea at a companion’s home. Haworth was taken by a pair of drapes
with an autumn motif illustrated by a skeleton of leaves. “I went home that night,
and I made the first pod,” Haworth remembers. “My wife had just had a baby, and I
wanted to give the whole impression of a baby being born, so this slithering image
came out, and the foam kept pouring out. It was a combination of looking at that curtain, a bubble bath, and the idea of doing it without special effects.” Haworth sculpt-

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ed the pod shapes using hairpins shaped as webs and then applied a texturing compound to form the pod and colored it like an autumn leaf. Haworth designed and built
a greenhouse on the sound stage. The roof was slatted so moonlight could create a
creepy atmosphere. All the actors were cast in a dental plaster so a perfect head-totoe representation of each actor was available. On cue, the pods would foam and create the illusion of life being replicated
Alien (1979)—this Twentieth Century Fox film, directed by Ridley Scott,
launched a successful franchise and brought a microdetailed industrial look to the
interior of space vehicles. The design was conceived through the influence of graphic artist H. R. Giger who is credited with “Alien Design.” Production designer
Michael Seymour, and art directors Les Dilley and Roger Christian, worked with
Giger’s sketches and elaborated his concepts throughout the complex, crowded, and
detailed environment. Director of photography Derek Vanlint supplied the atmospheric smoky light and an effective use of colored gels to transform the color of the
design materials. The ship’s interior is designed with contrasting and connecting textures and architectural elements. A multisectioned unit with clear covers that flip up
hold the crew in hibernation. When the chambers open, the flaps create a butterfly
metaphor that visually supports the story as the crew wakes up after a long sleep during the long space voyage.
Snake-like, coiled pipes line a wall. Mayan relief patterns of oblong and square
shapes texture other walls. There are computers with many graphic patterns on the
screens. The main computer communicates with the crew by a series of text messages that help drive the narrative. The interior of the ship looks funky, functioning,
and lived-in. There are long passageways. Every shot is busy with design and operative elements. A reptilian nature to the design links with the Alien and its many
forms, which slowly kills off every member of the crew but for one survivor. The
Alien has a long snake-like head, large pointed teeth, tentacles, and cold marble-like
eyes, and it slobbers with goo, saliva, and remnants of the victims it’s ingested. The
ship is a labyrinth of rooms, pipes, toggle switches, monitors, and images that recall
factories of the industrial revolution. A metal camera iris consisting of connecting
sections that fan open and closed controls a tunnel. The juxtaposition of high-tech
and low-tech environment creates a spooky, flying factory of terror where the everevolving Alien relentlessly stalks human life.

Battlefields, ravaged cities, jungles, beaches, air, sea and land combat, tanks, helicopters, airplanes, and a cache of weapons are the settings of the war film. Also military bases, barracks, trenches, rubble, ruin and destruction of property and human
life etch the imagery of war upon the screen. The conflicts may change from the
Civil War to World Wars I and II, then Korea or Vietnam, but the grim reality of the
antiwar film or the patriotic fervor of a John Wayne glory brigade rely on historical
research and recreation of a time and place where freedoms are won and lost, and
blood is spilled. War films are a genre that requires the assistance of the military for
arms, equipment, and scholarship.
The principal difference in the production design of the antiwar and patriotic war

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film is the creation of the battlefield. Antiwar films tend to emphasize the enormous
destruction war brings to cities and the landscape. The battlefields are strewn with
debris, rubble, and a massive loss of life. The patriotic war films tend to make the
battlefields more generic, less specific, and less futile. A sense of period and geographical place can take a backseat to the heroics of the good guys. Some are
detailed and historically accurate but don’t emphasize loss, hardship, and the confusion of war.
War films from past and present to study include: All Quiet on the Western Front
(1930), Apocalypse Now (1979), The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), The Dirty
Dozen (1967), Full Metal Jacket (1987), Hell Is for Heroes (1962), The Longest Day
(1962), Paths of Glory (1957), Platoon (1986), Pork Chop Hill (1959), The Red
Badge of Courage (1951), Sands of Iwo Jima (1949), and Saving Private Ryan
With Bataan (1943), art director Cedric Gibbons, his associate Lyle Wheeler, and
set decorator Edwin B. Willis created a believable World War II Philippine battlefield
in the studio with documentary detail. There are village homes, roads, military vehicles, and a barrage of explosions and debris. The Americans blow up a bridge in
stages until they render it impassible. The foliage is dense and accurate for the
region. The uniforms are authentic and aged with dirt and bloodstains in this blackand-white film. The audience sees the soldiers hack through indigenous plant life.
Weapons are period accurate, rifles and machine guns on turrets—part of the arsenal. There is a downed plane, shovels, and camouflage nets on helmets. There is
always the indication of a sky above, and in several scenes, a low, white, milky fog
covers the ground. The production design of Bataan provides an environment for a
story that recreates the brutal experience of war.
Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970)—this epic war film, which required cooperation from
the governments of the United States and Japan, recreates Pearl Harbor on December
7, 1941, in documentary detail and narrative tone, unlike the Jerry Bruckheimer–produced Pearl Harbor (2001), in which the attack serves as a backdrop for a love triangle and ends with a patriotic action scene so that the film could have a “happy”
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a huge production that employed three Japanese cinematographers and four art directors, including Richard Day and Jack Martin Smith, and two
set decorators. The sets include many military and governmental offices on both
sides. Actual U.S. and Japanese naval ships were used and mock-ups were created of
selected sections. The production also had a fleet of planes to bring realism to the
attack recreation. Explosions were created the old-fashioned way—without computer wizardry. The Hollywood aesthetic convention here is that all of the offices look
like sets. They are not aged, don’t look lived-in, and are sparsely decorated. We see
just enough to identify the purpose of the room. The Japanese offices are done in oldworld wood trim and have a miniature pagoda or a piece of Japanese ceramic. A
German office has a huge Nazi flag and leather chairs. The American offices have
light blue walls and a no-nonsense sense of style—they are all work, with no extras.
The exterior design includes hangars, barracks, piles of sandbags, and heavy artillery.
The design suits the documentary approach but has not aged well since its release in

GENRES / 125

1970. There is little sense of connection between interiors and exteriors as the story
constantly shifts back and forth. Tora! Tora! Tora!—whose Japan-set sequences were
originally to have been directed by the great Akira Kurosawa—was directed by
Richard Fleischer, a Hollywood professional who maintained an art direction tradition that was about to be radically changed over the remainder of the decade.

During the studio era, Hollywood produced genre films that largely stuck to the
rules and conventions. Since the 1960s, filmmakers have created variations on the
standard genres, subgenres, and even some new ones evolved from others.
A production designer creates out of narrative, character, and the director’s intent.
There are parameters the designer must accept and deal with—time, place, and the
like—but these are all filtered by artistic intent and artistic license. It is essential for
the production designer to understand the pictorial elements that make up each
genre. These visual elements identify and define the nature and genre of the story.
Many contemporary films are made up of two or more genres.
Stanley Kubrick and Robert Altman are both filmmakers who took artistic pleasure in subverting genres. Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket (1987) takes place in two historically correct locations rarely seen in Vietnam War film. The first section of the
film is an exact recreation of a Marine training facility. The pristine set by Anton
Furst, which includes sterile, uniformed barracks and meticulously manicured
grounds, contrasts with the outrageous behavior of the characters, as boys transform
into men and then into killing machines. Vietnam films historically take place in the
jungle, but the second section of Full Metal Jacket takes place in the city of Hue,
built on location in England to specification of the actual battle area. The destroyed
city is filled with rubble and destruction and is the site of a female sniper whose very
presence and death symbolized the immorality of the Vietnam War. The city location
goes against audience perception of Vietnam while showing another dimension of
America’s inability to understand its perceived enemy. When Kubrick took on the
horror genre with The Shining (1980), he turned the haunted house convention into
an exploration of familial drama and writer’s block turned into psychosis.
Robert Altman directed McCabe and Mrs. Miller (1971), a Western set in a mining town where a gambler and prostitute join in a business enterprise, only to be
stopped by the corporate power of the time. The monochromatic palette, the dusky
cinematography, and the distressed wooden environment present an unromantic
view of the old West.
Both Altman and Kubrick reinvented film noir: Kubrick with the existential The
Killing (1956) that uses space to put the characters into a universe that dwarfs them,
and Altman in The Long Goodbye (1973). Altman transposed Raymond Chandler’s
private eye Marlowe from the 1940s and 1950s to 1970s L.A. for a culture shock.
Genre Is Storytelling

Although some designers are known for mastery in a particular genre—for example, Henry Bumstead has designed many superior Westerns—production designers

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should ideally obtain the skills to design any project. Genre is the framework of narrative. Be aware of conventions, but remember that production design is a physical
representation of a particular story, and it must be convincing to serve that story and
those particular characters.
Genre Exercises

• Design a genre film in sketches and notes. First try to work in the classical form
of the genre, then deconstruct your ideas to expand the original conventions.
• Keep a genre diary. Make notes about each film you see. What’s the genre? What
are the conventions? What are the exceptions? Many current films are constructed of a combination of genres. How do the conventions work together? What
mood and atmosphere do the combinations create?
• See a Broadway stage musical. Read a Western novel. Watch a true-crime film.
Screen a war documentary.

GENRES / 127

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Chapter 12

Having an idea is the first stage in making a film. Then the concept is
shaped into a narrative and written up as a screenplay, the working plan for the cinematic story. After revisions and many drafts, a shooting script is prepared. This is
the version used as a blueprint for the development of the physical production. Then
the planning of the production takes place. This phase, pre-production, is crucial in
visualizing the film and preparing the production design.
During pre-production, the production designer must move through several distinct phases and tasks, including storyboarding, budgeting, design, and construction
of the sets. The triumvirate—director, director of photography, and production
designer—are occupied with the creation of the look of the film.

The key to financial control of the project is the establishment of a line budget
that covers all aspects of the production design. A detailed budget is drawn up so
each department will be fully supported and the producer can monitor where and
how the money is being spent. The following line budget items for the art department
can be applied to all films. On a low-budget production these jobs can be combined
into the responsibilities of a few, which will cut back on salary expenses. Research,
negotiate, and budget each of the following items applicable to your movie.
The production designer is responsible to the producer for the budget allocated to
the art department. Producers often don’t understand what’s necessary to create and
build the design in terms of crew, materials, and construction costs. Production
designers have different approaches in dealing with producers.
Production designer Kristi Zea likes to take an aggressive approach: “Most of the
time I’ll say, ‘Don’t tell me what you have in the budget. I’ll tell you what I think
it’s going to cost, and then we’ll go from there.’” Zea’s philosophy is this: If a firm
number for the production design budget is given to her at the outset, the producer


will assume the design can be done for that price. Zea’s approach is to first find all
of the locations and determine, based on the demands of the script, what is involved.
She then submits a budget. If she is told the number is way above what is available
she will work with them, cutting back until the production design budget is within
the means of the company. Working up front in this manner, Zea feels, puts less pressure on the designer and the art department. The production can follow her expenses as she stays on budget without worrying. This allows Zea to do what she does best
and is hired for—to design movies. Production designer Bruno Rubeo feels that producers and production managers do not understand the budget needed for the art
department to function properly, “Art direction is an area that is not clearly understood by money people,” he says. “The politics are half the battle.” Rubeo sees the
role of the production designer as administrator and artist. He finds the money people in the film business are only concerned with the bottom line, always willing to
cut the production design budget regardless of whether it damages the project artistically. The director trusts the designer, but the keepers of the budget may not. Rubeo
believes trust is significant. The producer must have confidence that the designer will
do what is artistically best for the film within the budget considerations. Fiscal matters are also the concern and responsibility of the production design. The designer
consults with the art director, the construction coordination, and the set decorator to
understand what each scene will cost. If aspects of the design are impossible to
accomplish given the budget, the designer is responsible for reporting the situation
to the director.
Projecting the Production Design Budget

The following must be computed to determine the art department budget:


Production designer—salary, per diem expenses, transportation, meals, housing.
Art department operating costs.
Art director—salary, per diem, etc.
Assistants to production designer and/or art director—determine whether assistants are necessary and what their deals will be. If you are a filmmaker, producer, production manager, or if you are a production designer working on a low
budget film with a small crew and you have fiscal responsibility over the art
department, remember that any and all deals can be negotiated as deferred payments. This means the production doesn’t have to pay out until the film is completed. If you can negotiate points of the film, rather than a cash payment, money
only goes out when the film is sold and has broken even from its initial cost.
Set designers: how many are needed? What are their salaries and expenses?
Illustrators: how many? Will they work freelance per drawing or on staff?
Production assistants: How many are needed for the art department? PA’s are paid
at the standard daily rate the production pays out.
Purchases: A detailed accounting of all items purchased for the art department.
Rentals: A detailed accounting of all equipment, supplies, materials, and facilities.
Miscellaneous Expenses: Always build in a contingency for Murphy’s Law.

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• Construction coordinator: salary, expenses.
• Labor costs, salaries for carpenters and construction crew. Will the crew be getting union or nonunion wages?
• Loss and damage: in every construction project there are unexpected and unwanted mistakes and accidents that must be absorbed by the budget.
• Set striking: salaries, fees, and carting costs paid out for the set to be taken down
after the filming is complete.
• Set restoration: materials and equipment fees to restore a location or set.
• Fees to store sets if necessary.
• Purchase of materials: the cost of lumber, nails, etc.
• Greens purchase: cost of plants, sod, and other landscaping materials.
• Platforms: cost of building, buying, or renting platforms for building sets.
• Miscellaneous.


Salaries for the set decorator, lead man, and/or buyer
Labor and material costs to install carpet and drapery
Labor and material costs to create and manufacture décor items
Fixtures: cost for practical lighting, lamps
Rentals: cost for rental of décor items


Property master and assistant salaries
Loss and damage expenses
Labor and materials cost, for manufacturing props


Costume designer and dresser salaries
Cleaning and fabric dying costs
Loss and damage
Manufacturing: labor, materials costs
Purchase of costumes/clothes
Rental of costumes/clothes


Makeup and hairstylists salaries
Makeup and hairdressing supplies
Wig purchases/rentals
Prosthetic makeup appliances




Location fees and rentals
Travel fares
Hotel costs
Living expenses
Mileage and parking
Location restoration
Phone/postage/delivery services


Stage rentals
Back lot rentals
Postage/messengers/delivery services

The production designer works closely with the production manager who is in
charge of planning and supervising the shooting schedule. All planning and scheduling in the art department is predicated on the shooting schedule. Create a scheduling
board that details all art department deadlines. Back-time all dates to determine when
to begin each step. Maintain daily communication with the production manager.
Budgeting Tips

• Plan a realistic budget. Err on the high rather than the low end to avoid surprises
and disasters that would delay, halt, or (heaven forbid) shut down the production.
• Keep a file on prices for vendors and services.
• Practice budgeting by drawing one up based on a feature film you have seen.
Study the tape or DVD and make a line budget of what you determine were the
resources necessary for the production design.
• During production, keep checking and revising production design budget as necessary.
• Be creative. Tap all of your natural and personal resources for what is needed to
mount the production design. Call in all of your chips. Get friends involved. Go
over all the skills, objects, materials, equipment, and locations they have access to.
• Network—bring in who you know to shrink the budget and enrich the production

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Production design calendar for Analyze That, courtesy Wynn Thomas, Warner Bros., Baltimore Spring
Creek Productions, and Tribeca Productions.


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Chapter 13

Shooting under studio conditions gives filmmakers optimum control
over the production of their projects. Sets can be constructed and shooting can take
place without weather interruptions, crowds, and other distractions.
During the classic Hollywood studio era, each company—MGM, Columbia,
Paramount, Universal, and Warner Bros.—maintained fully equipped art departments containing carpentry shops, prop rooms, and costume rooms that could support any genre and any size production.
For the contemporary filmmaker, there are fully equipped studios in Hollywood
and New York City that independent filmmakers can rent for their productions, but
not all low-budget filmmakers have the finances to shoot in a studio. Fortunately,
studio shooting has become redefined over the last twenty years. Any large commercial interior space can be turned into a studio. Filmmakers have shot in unused
factories, empty schoolrooms, community centers, garages, and barns and have converted almost any open interior space into a movie studio. Electricity and water are
essential. Additional expenses could be air conditioning or heating. If the power is
not sufficient, a generator must be rented. The filmmakers rent, lease, buy, or borrow
the space and transform it into a working movie studio. At a minimum, you will have
to set up the space with the following:

An area to construct standing sets
Overhead rigging for lights
Junction boxes with plenty of cable
An area to prepare and serve food
A substantial support crew to maintain the facility
Transportation to and from the set
An art department area set up with supplies to create drawings
Shipping and receiving access to get supplies in and out


When a film company is working in a studio, the production designer is responsible for setting up the art department and getting the sets ready for the first day of
shooting. The pre-production process for studio production is the same as location
work. The schedule must be planned day by day and back-timed so that the art
department will be ready for the first day of shooting and can proceed with other sets
to be ready, as needed, according to the schedule. While location work requires alteration, possibly some construction, and mostly set decoration and painting, designing
and building a set from scratch on the studio floor is a major construction undertaking, so building hours must be determined accurately by consulting and working
carefully with the construction coordinator.
The advantage in studio work is the crew will not be interrupted by inclement
weather or the many conditions that come from working in a space where you don’t
have total control. When you rent a studio for a particular period of time, it is yours
to work in.
A well-planned design and construction period should stay on schedule with some
supervision. More crew can be put on if work falls behind or the schedule of what sets
are shot when can be changed in consultation with the production manager.
If you are working in a space that has been converted into a studio, you can build
the set and shoot it in the same place. If the production is renting studio space to
shoot the film, it may be necessary to construct the set at a workshop and transport
it to the studio when it is ready.
Remember this:
• A fully equipped workshop space must be available
• The construction schedule must be structured to coordinate with availability to
the stage
• Stable sets must be built, so that components can be transported easily and later
stored if the production chooses
• The set must be constructed so it is completely safe for the actors and production
The art department must get the exact dimensions of the studio and report to the
director whether the facility space is adequate for the production designer’s plans
and for the manner in which the film will be photographed and produced. When
selecting a studio space, check to make sure there is enough distance from the floor
to the underside of the photographic lights hanging from the grid. The top of the set
should be at least two feet or more away from the lighting equipment to avoid fire
hazards. The dimensions of the studio will dictate how the space should be used and
how the sets should be built.
Advantages of Shooting in the Studio

Control is the principal advantage of shooting a film in the studio. What can be
accomplished in the production design is limited only by the budget and skills of the

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art department. A fair-sized studio allows the filmmaker to work continuously. There
are no company moves to make as there are in working on location. It is always day
or night in the studio. Power is readily available, as is space for the art department
to set up shop. Over the decades, studio construction and decorating techniques have
made great strides. Many studio sets in contemporary films look as authentic as location work. In the 1970s, filmmakers left the studio for the real world on location.
They are still doing just that in the new millennium but with the art and craft of studio production design they can now have it all inside and on the sound stage.
Safety Procedures

• All exits and lanes must always be kept clear to avoid accidents, maintain easy
mobility, and as an escape route in the event of fire
• Walkover boards should be put over all cables so the cast and crew won’t trip over
• Secure and brace all flats and scenery
• Keep all structures and materials away from the lighting instruments to avoid a
• Spray all sets and materials with flame retardant
• Build security handrails onto all offstage platforms and steps
• Check all materials carefully and avoid those considered to be hazardous
The Grid

The grid is a honeycombed framework at the top of a studio, also known as the
flies, that overlooks the staging area. Catwalks are walkways that allow the crew to
move about the grid, which contains the hoisting, rigging, and lighting equipment.
Scenery and sets can be raised from the grid utilizing several different methods:

Wheeled carriages from overhead beams
Chain tackle
A pulley system
Motor-driven hoists

The walls in a commercial studio are marked with footage indicated at regular
horizontal intervals from one end of a wall to the other. If you are working in a
makeshift studio, the walls should be marked for footage counts so that design elements can be identified by number.
The studio plans, elevations, and working drawings are assessed by the construction crew before the set is built, and all measurements and materials are checked
before proceeding. Any problems or questions are put to the production designer and
resolved before construction begins.


Workshops and Tools of the Art Department

Often, the conditions under which low-budget film sets are built are far from
ideal. Understanding what is required is helpful in innovating and improvising production design methods, based on the budget and the availability of materials to the
production company.
The construction shop is made up of areas for storage of materials and tools,
woodworking, framing of flats, assembly, and painting. Paint bins and cabinets for
hardware and brushes should be stored near the painting area, which also requires an
operational industrial sink. Lumber racks and tools should be stored near the woodworking shop. Space is needed for power tools, drill presses, table saws, and workbenches for carpentry.
The property shop is an area where all props to be constructed are designed, built,
finished, and stored. An area away from the woodworking and painting shops should
be designated for props. If the prop shop is too close to where the crew is painting
and engaging in carpentry, specks of paint and chips of wood can impede and damage prop work.
All work areas should be well lit for aesthetic and safety reasons. The crew must
see the colors and textures under optimum lighting conditions. Working with construction tools requires a clean, bright working space to avoid accidents. Power outlets should be plentiful and conveniently available. A large assembly staging area is
needed to frame flats and to put the set together.
The majority of tools and equipment needed to build a set concern woodworking.
They include measuring and marking tools, a selection of saws, and pairing tools.
Power tools such as power saws, a sander, and a router are necessary, as are boring
tools and a large selection of drill bits. Sets are constructed of wood and metal, so
wood-joining tools such as hammers, wrenches, staple guns, and screwdrivers
should be on hand. A vise, pipe cutter, and threader is needed for metal work. A
welding setup is recommended should consist of oxygen and acetylene tanks, and
welding attachments and nozzles. Construction materials include lumber, metal, and
conduit pipe. Duck canvas and muslin are used to cover wooden-framed flats. A
large selection of nails, screws, bolts, and washers are essential.

Flats are framed units used to form walls, rooms, and other design structures.
Framed and cross-braced out of wood, flats can be covered with canvas or burlap and
treated with sizing so they can be painted, or they can be covered with prepared
board or plywood that has been sized. Flats covered with fabric are easy to work with
but are not as effective as hard surface flats in their ability to look like real walls or
to support wall hangings. Soft flats are effective for painted or photo backings positioned outside of windows. If the set will have a ceiling, it is recommended that it be
built out of flats covered with soft materials like canvas or fabric. Flats can be connected together, called a run, to create walls or stand-alone elements of a set. All flats
should be treated with fire retardant for safety.

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If the production design budget can’t afford to build flats and is working in a rented studio, the facility may use flats that can be repainted and utilized for the set.
Network with other filmmakers or theater groups who may have flats that can be borrowed or rented.
The painting crew paints the flats to the color specifications of the production
designer. Sawdust, sand, and dirt can be mixed into the paint to texturize the surface
so that it takes on the character of a plaster wall on camera.
Flats can be built out of 3" × 1" or 4" × 2" lumber and braced vertically and at the
four corners. Most large commercial studios can accommodate flats that are from ten
to fifteen feet high. Most smaller studios have eight to ten foot ceilings. Flats should
be four to six feet wide for easy handling. For a run of flats, lash line and lash eye
hardware is used to connect the flats together.
Wild walls can be moved during shooting to accommodate the camera and the
director’s staging plan.
Materials and Use

To create ornamental and architecture contours for the set, the art department uses
various materials—most commonly, papier-mâché, timber frames, plastic foam,
wood, stone, fiberglass, molded glass, and Styrofoam.
Papier-mâché is useful to create forms; fine details can be indicated with plaster.
It is created by dipping tissue, paper towels, or newsprint torn into strips in a mixture of wheat paste and glue. It is squeezed into a mass, applied to a surface, and
modeled into shape. Wire screening can be shaped into the desired form onto which
the Papier-mâché is then applied.
A timber frame covered with wire mesh and canvas can be shaped to create the
illusion of rocks. It is also a good foundation for turf, peat, and sawdust. Plastic foam
can be sprayed, hardened, and shaped into forms. Corbels, projected stone or wood
that support a horizontal structure like a beam or an arch, can be carved out of wood.
Fiberglass is effective for creating any detailing moldings. Fiberglass cloth can be
produced in a similar method to papier-mâché, put into a mold shaped to the design,
and then released. Sheets of manufactured fiberglass can also be cut into forms and
shapes, and molded glass is a durable surface that holds detail well.
Shell moldings are made of plastic sheets, laid over rocks, wood, or any material
whose texture you want to copy, and then put into a device that, via a vacuum, molds
the plastic to an exact replica of the material.
Styrofoam is available in block or board form. It is a lightweight, inexpensive,
and versatile material for sculpting and shaping into decorative forms. Styrofoam
can be cut with a hot wire tool, blade, or a jigsaw. The surface of Styrofoam can be
aged with a blowtorch or a flame gun or dissolved with acetone, paint thinner, or carbon tetrachloride applied by brush or spray. When painted with oil-based or aerosol
paint, the surface will begin to dissolve, resulting in both color and the illusion of
aging. Pieces and sections of Styrofoam can be secured with dowels or adhesive
glue. Styrofoam is effective to create rock and stonework. Because it is so light,
Styrofoam can be used for falling-rock effects. It is safe and no one will be injured.


It can be sculpted into columns and statues. A hard glaze can be created on Styrofoam by lightly applying a flame to the surface. Styrofoam board can be cut and
shaped into scenic signs that can be placed over location signs and easily secured
with a light guide line.
Be very careful when working with Styrofoam. It is fragile and can easily crack
or damage. If not secured properly, it can fall or blow over.
A WARNING: When Styrofoam burns, it gives off noxious fumes. So be sure all
flame work is done in a well-ventilated area.

The set must be painted once built. In the most basic manner, set painting is similar to painting an apartment or house; the painter covers the surface with paint. The
difference is that the designer is not just selecting a fashionable or pleasing color but
one that suits character and story, as well as mood and atmosphere. Painters who
work in an art department have different skills than professional house painters.
Often, they have to age their work; every wall cannot look as if it were just freshly
painted. Scenic painters have to have a wide knowledge of paint pigments and texturing techniques.
The paint crew uses many application techniques to create specific scenic effects.
They use spray paint for shading and aging effects. Sand or sawdust can be added to
the paint to create specific areas of rough texture. Paint can be applied with a sponge,
paper, or rags to create areas of dense color. Dry brushing one color over another is
an application technique that suggests metal, stone, or wood. Allowing several wet
colors to flow together on a flat surface creates aging, plaster, and earthen effects.
Applying a transparent dark color over a light opaque coat creates a shadowy texture. Brushing a dark tone onto a light background simulates a natural wood grain.
Applying light varnish gives surfaces a sheen, and additional coats will give the
appearance the area is wet. A dark matte surface appears without detail. A dark
glossy surface takes on the nature of polished wood. Dry-brushing a lighter tone onto
the painted surface of a flat creates highlights. Splattering and splashing paint of
another color onto a painted surface can also create aging effects.
Vertical painting doesn’t take up a lot of floor space. For vertical painting the set
or scenic elements are mounted on a frame braced against a wall and painted from a
scenic loft that allows the painter to reach the upper areas and the horizontal
expanse. If available, a scaffold that meets safety standards can be used to paint a
large set. The most convenient and accessible method is to paint horizontally with
the set elements lying flat on the shop floor.
NOTE: Dulling spray is another essential art department tool that constantly comes
in handy during production. It reduces glare and unwanted reflected light on the set.

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Three-Dimensional Weight-Bearing Construction

These structures include steps, ramps, and raised platforms or levels.
The parallel, a platform used to create various heights in staging areas, is the most
common construction architecture. It is a hinged trestle structure that opens, supporting a top and can be folded flat to be stored. The parallel is lightweight, easy to
put together and transport. It is sturdy and can adapt to triangular shapes as well as
a standard rectangle.
Platforms can be made out of steel, which interlock and are secured with bolts.
Platforms are made of three structural members—the top, rail, and post. The top,
which bears weight, is supported by rails running parallel. Irregular and freeform
platforms are constructed by individual methods that best support the structure.
Ramps can be constructed to facilitate access to the platforms.
Structures that don’t have to bear weight can be supported with lightweight framing just so they can hold their shape. These would include columns, trees, and rocks
that are art-directed.
Walls containing a window, fireplace, recessed bookcase, or doors are difficult to
handle if built in one piece. Build the flat with a cutout for the addition and then just
plug in the desired unit, also built separately, making the flat easier to handle.
A door flat is built with a framed-out doorway with a metal saddle at the bottom.
Scenic doors do not need to have working locks. The door is held secure by ballcatch inserts. Design and build the appropriate style door with accompanying hardware and doorknob.
Window flats contain a stable window-frame built into them. Transparent plastic
is used instead of glass. If the window is to be broken as part of the action, special
plastic sheets or very thin glass is used. Remember that safety is paramount if the
action takes place anywhere near the actors or crew.
There are design situations where the camera will be shooting on both sides of a
wall as when rooms are connected. To achieve this, either place flats back to back or
cover a single flat with material or board on both sides. Back to back flats must be
well secured. In either case, both sides of the flats are decorated.
If a window, door, staircase, or fireplace does not have to be operational or will
not be physically used by the actors, a dummy can be substituted to save time, materials, and money.
Arches can be built in three pieces: a top piece, containing the arch curve and two
columns that attach to the right and left of the top piece.
Bracing the Set

If the set or scenic pieces are not self-supported or solid, they must be braced or
weighted so they will be safe for the actors and crew to work with.
Techniques to secure the set include:
• Bottom weighting—by placing heavy metal weights or bricks at the bottom of the
set or scenic piece


• Suspending wire or rope from the top of the set to the ceiling grid or supports
• Bracing struts made of inexpensive timber can secure the corners or verticals of
a set or piece of constructed scenery
• Grummets are fittings secured at the top of a flat to hold a stabilizing wire, cable,
or rope in place
• A flying iron is a hinged metal ring plate that allows scenery to be suspended
• Sandbags placed behind the set on the floor piece will help to secure it
Flats can be joined together by lashing, the use of securing bolts, L plates, U
plates, pin hinges, or C clamps, and floor braces are weighed down by sandbags.
Methods for Anchoring Objects to Flats

Members of the art department use many methods to secure design elements to
flats. These include:

Staples applied with a staple hammer or staple gun
Mirrors and framed pictures can be supported by Z-Hooks
Plastic putty
Masking tape

Practical lamps on set should be secured with metal back-plates. The wiring is
taped to the back of the flat secured and grounded for safety.
A roll of gaffer’s tape is a handy and essential staple for the art department. Keep
a good stock of it, for it can be used to secure objects to the set, to tape down cables,
wires, and ropes. Gaffer’s tape can also hold back drapes, mark the floor for furniture and décor positions, and identify ropes and cables used to lift scenic pieces.

If the camera can see out of a window in an interior studio set, a backing must be
created to give the illusion there is something outside. Backings can be on a flat
stretched with canvas or other material. A hard backing is made of wood, board, or
other solid materials. A backing can be painted or be a photographic blow-up. A
translight is a transparency, a photographic backing that allows light to pass
through it. A backing can depict a cityscape, landscape, or whatever the screenplay
and design plan calls for.
If you are not using a scenic backing outside a window, put up blinds and close
them so that the exterior view can’t be seen. Lighting from behind the blinds can
create the illusion of sunlight. Trees, bushes, a brick wall, a sky cloth, or a cyclorama can be positioned behind the opening to create a view outside a window. The
view can be made to look realistic by using real materials or given a poetic quality

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by creating an art-directed look achieved by painting or using designed objects
behind the opening.
A partial hallway can be built just outside a doorway opening in a set. A stairway
can be indicated with just a few steps visible to the camera. Building a partial set that
appears to be an adjoining room can create the illusion of another room existing
beyond an open doorway. These techniques are useful to give the appearance of connecting space. An isolated room set has a tendency to look like a set. When signs of
the existence of a larger space are visible, the set will appear more realistic and
expansive. An actor can make an entrance or exit using the partial set area. To save
space, the area indicated could be built as a separate set by building it side by side
or, if studio space is limited, by constructing it later after the first set is struck.
A scenic backing is the most cost-effective way of creating a view out of an opening. The degree of realism can be controlled by the photo-realist quality of the painting on the backing. A photographic backing may be even more suitable. The distance
of the camera to the backing also determines how believable the view will appear.
The further away the backing is from the opening or the camera, the more realistic
it will look. The lighting of the backing is critical in creating the atmosphere of daylight or an outdoor night scene.
A painted flat decorated with a mirror, framed paintings, or photographs can
imply another room existing outside of a door opening. The addition of a table, chair,
or piece of furniture will bring an even greater sense of realism to the impression that
an adjoining room exists.
Another method of handling a door or window opening in a set is to block the
view with swaged drapes, Venetian blinds, or a partially pulled up shade. These techniques will also give the impression there is life beyond the opening with little effort
by the art department.
Backings must be designed and positioned properly to achieve their desired
effect. They must cover the distance of the opening so the background images do not
appear too small or too far away. If the backing is incorrectly angled, the camera will
overshoot the upstage end of the set. If the backing is too close to the opening, the
director of photography won’t be able to light it evenly. Make sure that the lighting
in the room doesn’t cast shadows onto the scenic backgrounds. Objects placed too
close to the backing will also cast unwanted shadows on the backing.
If the windows in a set opening are glazed or made of frosted plastic, no backing
is necessary. A branch shadow, artificial snow, or lighting can indicate season; light
outside the opening can help indicate the weather or the time of year the scene is taking place.

A cyclorama is a background suspended on curved piping, a wooden batten, or curtain track from the top of the studio. Gently curving around the sides of a set, a cyclorama runs along two or more studio walls and creates the panoramic illusion of a landscape, sky, cityscape, infinity, or void. The cyclorama can be made out of many diverse
materials, from canvas to linen, scrim to velour. The cyclorama, known as a cyc, can


be stretched taut by being wrapped around a pipe or batten on the floor, or folded and
held down on the studio floor by weights. The design on the cyclorama is created by
the production designer and painted directly on the material by the scenic artists.
During the Hollywood studio era, a cyclorama was often used for musicals and
fantasy films, to indicate realistic background through painting; earlier audiences
accepted it as a cinematic convention. For contemporary films, a cyc works best
when used to create expressionistic, theatrical, unrealistic effects or to place a scene
in a space that transcends time and place.
A cyclorama was the answer for the challenge of making the art-directed train, in
Murder on the Orient Express (1974), directed by Sidney Lumet, appear to be really moving as it sat in a studio. “It was very hard to look out of the window and see
any distance without being aware that you were looking at the studio floor and that
the carriage was at an inappropriate height,” production designer Tony Walton
explains. “ So that in addition to fogging up the windows somewhat, we made huge
wraparound cycloramas very close to the train. They were made of rear projection
screen material and painted with acrylic paint.” The outdoor illustrations gave the
impression the train was passing through various landscapes.
In Heaven Can Wait (1978), directed by Warren Beatty and Buck Henry, production designer Paul Sylbert also employed a cyclorama to create the illusion that there
really is a waiting area in the beyond where the departed are assigned their final destinations. “I started out with the idea of Maxfield Parish for heaven. I wanted a real
heavenly heaven,” Paul Sylbert explains. “ I did experiments with cloud material. I
wanted to create a rainbow on the stage using a fine mist and lights at 28 degrees like
it is with the sun when you hose your garden and you see the rainbow. It is just the
sun striking particles of water forming a prism, but the angle and the intensity has to
be right. The sun is almost horizontal when that happens. I was never able to get the
spray fine enough without soaking things and I was never able to get the light intense
enough from one direction. I did something else.” Paul Sylbert’s solution was to create a place between heaven and earth. His assistant was a former Navy man who
found a grid of steel strips that are the structure used for a ship’s decking. It allowed
85 percent of light to pass through. The decking was covered with wet muslin. The
structure was lit from underneath and there was a white cyclorama behind it so there
would be no horizon line. Buckets of dry ice were placed in the four corners of the
stage. “We tilted them and the froth began to rise. It was a world without shadows.”
To save money, seamless paper can be hung as a cyclorama. The upside is the
paper is inexpensive, comes in rolls in a variety of colors, can be stapled or suspended from the top of the studio and taped to the floor, and provides a good painting and decorating surface. The downside is seamless paper easily tears and can be
damaged by handling. Light too easily bounces off the paper’s surface, which interferes with the rendering of dark tones. Wide areas of a cyc require several sheets that
must be taped, resulting in joints that can readily rip apart.
Cycs can be constructed out of plywood or any prepared board. This approach
avoids the wrinkles caused when working with paper or fabric and can support lightweight décor pieces. A hard surface can be painted and textured with sawdust. Note
that hard surfaces may cause acoustic problems for sound recording.

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When using a cyc, the floor can be painted the same, a related, or contrasting
color. Cyc joins can be hidden with cover units painted the same color and by pieces
of furniture, décor, or platforms.
Sky effects can be created with a cyclorama in many ways. A pale blue gelled
light will give the illusion of a sky. Photographic slides of sky scenes can be projected on the cyc by way of a scenic projector. Stars for a night scene can be achieved
by attaching small, white Christmas lights to the cyc or by placing a foil gobo
pierced with pinholes in front of a white light. A gobo is an opaque or black sheet
on a wooden or masonite frame that is put in front of a light on an adjustable stand.
Gobos can be cut into shapes and patterns to form shadows on a set.
A cove unit is used to hide the join between the floor and the bottom of the cyc.
It is a six or twelve foot structure with a 45-degree, sloping surface of plywood or
fiberglass on a hollow wooden frame. The curve is necessary to allow the light on
the floor and cyc bottom to be graded or blended by the director of photography.
Scenic planes—two-foot-high, vertical, self-supported plywood boards—can also
hide the join between the bottom of the cyc and the floor. The planes can be shaped
with a saw to indicate hills, roof, trees, or any number of forms appropriate to the
scene. Many colors can be used for a cyclorama, including off-white, shades of gray,
light blue, or black. If matte effects are going to be used, the cyc can be painted
cobalt blue or green for that special effect work.

Citizen Kane was not the first film to feature sets with ceilings, but most films
made prior to, and many after, the 1941 American classic were shot on sets without
ceilings. It still is a decision to be made by the filmmaker. No ceiling on a set makes
it easy for the crew to light and record sound, but camera angles are restricted (no
extreme, low-angle, Orson Welles shots) and realism is challenged. Ceilings add
dimension, verisimilitude, and a clear definition of space. Lighting and sound recording are compromised, but with proper design and planing, a partial ceiling can afford
the look that is needed, along with the freedom of movement for the cast and crew.
Floors and Ground Areas

Floor and ground areas are critical elements of a production design. The floor of
an apartment or home can be constructed out of myriad materials from wood to tile
to stone. The age and condition of the surface is important to the period and the economic status of the characters. Outdoor ground areas, whether they be dirt, grass,
rock, or a smooth or rough terrain can be a wide palette of color and texture depending on the region, time period, and the intended mood of the design. Floor and
ground areas can be real, constructed, or duplicated with other materials.
Considerations for these vital areas, the base of your design where the characters
plant their feet and move through the narrative, must involve and answer all of the
questions discussed for every other aspect of architecture and décor of the production design.


A designer may manipulate the height or angle of a floor for dramatic effect. For
the production design of The Freshman (1990), Ken Adam wanted to give the social
club—where the mob figure played by Marlon Brando in this comedy held court—
a sense of power and the aura of his character in The Godfather without imitating
that classic film. Adam forced the perspective by lowering the ceiling and raising the
floor of the set, to make Brando appear even bigger than he was.
When Terrence Marsh designed the submarine for The Hunt for Red October
(1990), he had to enhance the practical lights for aesthetic and practical cinematographic reasons. The actual subs have fluorescent lights overhead. Marsh increased
those and added units under the floor to create an upward glow. The actual submarine did not have lights under the floor. This addition to the design contributed to the
dramatic tension of the film, based on the Tom Clancy bestseller.
For the film adaptation of the Broadway hit musical The Wiz (1978), a reinterpretation of The Wizard of Oz featuring African-American performers, production
designer Tony Walton had to come up with a solution in creating the famed yellow
brick road for this Sidney Lumet film shot on location in New York City. Painting it
on was out of the question, because the company was moving fast and they were
shooting in the winter, so conditions wouldn’t allow the paint to dry in time. The solution was yellow Congoleum linoleum that was rolled out on the floor of the former
World’s Fair New York State Pavilion (which was cracked and had to be smoothed out
with concrete first). To cover the surface of a city bridge, space heaters were
employed to soften the material, which hardened in the icy weather. The result was as
memorable as the studio-created original back in the 1939 film starring Judy Garland.
Molded rubber mats can be painted to simulate cobblestones, bricks, or tiles.
Fiberglass can be treated to look like pavement. Artificial grass or real sod can be
used for landscaping exterior scenes on a studio floor. A floor can be laid with
secured plants. Area carpeting can be secured to the floor with gaffer’s tape.
Procedures for Building and Erecting Sets in a Studio

• Stage plans and evaluations are studied.
• Key location points for where the set will be positioned are marked on the floor
using the studio wall footage markings and overhead lighting grid.
• Access routes and fire lanes are created and maintained.
• Scaffold work and large platforms are done first.
• Any scenic structures that will need to be suspended are hung early and lifted out
of the way of construction.
• Start construction in the back of the stage and work forward to maintain the optimum floor space for the construction crew to work in.
• Carefully brace each scenic element as it is built.
• Section off and logistically organize each working area to avoid accidents and to
create a production work environment.
• Learn and follow all studio safety and fire rules. If you are setting up your own
studio space, create written work, safety, and fire rules, and post them where all
the construction and production crew can see them.

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• Handle and lift all flats carefully, using two handlers for each flat.
• Carefully hide all flat joins with tape or fabric.
• All positions of flats, furniture, and décor should be carefully marked on the studio floor with chalk or gaffer’s or masking tape.
In addition to safety lanes and fire exits, make sure the set and the staging area
doesn’t block access to workshop areas, entrances, and exits.
When construction is completed the production designer checks the set and any
modifications necessary are made by the construction crew before shooting begins.
In addition to door and window trim, decorative trim, either painted on or practical
is used for baseboards, chair rails, wainscoting, cornices (a lightly framed threedimensional trim) and mantles. Framing must support the trim.
Camera Blocking in the Studio

When planning the shot list, creating the storyboard, and during camera block be
aware that overshooting the set can be caused by several situations:

When the camera is shooting at a 45-degree angle at a shallow depth set
If the flats are too low for the camera composition
Extreme low-angle shots and not enough height in the set to support them
When the camera is shooting at a steep, downstage angle
When the camera is shooting into a window or a door without a backing
When reflective surfaces reveal off-set areas

During camera rehearsals, or as the director of photography is framing and
designing the angle, movement, and composition of each shot, the production
designer or art director checks the set as seen through the camera, making aesthetic,
logistical, or technical changes as necessary. The floor manager and the art department check to see that the set is secure and that nothing will impede the work or safety of the actors or crew.
During shooting, the proper continuity of the set must be maintained. This is done
by the script supervisor, but the art department staff must assist in the physical
process of dressing the set and keeping a close eye on the continuity of the production design, which they know better than anyone on set.

Actors rarely get to rehearse extensively on the completed set. While the director
is rehearsing during pre-production, the set is being constructed, so rehearsals are
conducted in a rehearsal studio or, in the case of a low-budget film, wherever the
filmmakers can work. During rehearsal the director wants the actors to get a sense of
what it will be like to work in the logistics of the actual setting. The blocking also
must be worked out and then transferred and refined on the set. It is essential that the
art department prepare the rehearsal space by taping off the dimensions of the set on


the rehearsal area floor and by using available tables and chairs to represent architecture, furniture, and décor. Once the set is built, the director should continue
rehearsals to get the actors comfortable with their cinematic environment. If there
isn’t time for on-set rehearsals before shooting, they should continue during production while the crew is working, during setups and between takes.
Striking the Set

Never strike a set until the producer and director give clearance to do so. There
is always the possibility of retakes due to camera or performance problems or script
changes. The routine for taking down or striking a set must carefully follow procedures. The film or tape shot of each set should be checked by the director, production designer, and editor to make sure the production is ready to strike a particular
set. Detailed Polaroids or photographs should be taken of each aspect and view of
the set for reference, in case it has to be erected again. The production designer or
art director should carefully supervise the process of striking the set to ensure that
nothing is damaged and that it can be properly stored or sold to another production.
The following is a list of steps required for the proper striking of a set:

Move all technical equipment out of the way first.
Remove all props, furniture, practical lamps, drapes, and rugs.
Take down or roll up the cyclorama.
Take down all studio lighting.
Remove all plants and landscaping elements.
Remove everything but the architectural elements of the set; the flats, doors, and
Remove all moldings, arches, and attachments (doorknobs, handles, etc.).
Secure all windows and doors with gaffer’s tape or rope.
Stack up all sandbags and weights away from the set.
Carefully release all lashing wire and ropes, a wall at a time. Make sure there is
enough crew on hand to guarantee that nothing will fall when all the secure lines
are taken down.
Remove all nails, hooks, braces, and hardware from the flats.

Store any scenic pieces and flats, for use on the next production or for possible
future rental or sale. If storage is not available, make every attempt to arrange a sale
of flats to a theater group, school, or other filmmakers to recoup some of the production design costs. If you are going into production on another project within the
next several months, a storage fee may be a good investment. Don’t just destroy or
trash the materials. If other options are not available, you may be able to carefully
dismantle the set and sell the raw materials as scrap.

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Transportation of the Set

A truck or van is necessary to transport the sets and scenic pieces. A scenic trolley used to cart the flats from the studio to the transportation vehicle is not essential
but easier than carrying everything by hand.
If you can store the sets and props, here’s another set of procedures to follow:
• Photograph everything separately for reference. Catalogue every item in detail.
Cross-reference the text with the photos.
• Store the flats vertically, with dividers, so they can be easily pulled out without
incurring damage.
• Stack all platforms.
• Roll up all cloth scenic paintings and fabric around thin wooden poles to avoid
wrinkles and creases.
• Don’t roll up scrims; this causes creases that won’t smooth out. Fold all scrims
fan style for a better result.
• Fold all cycloramas as you would a drape and bag them for storage.
• Put all props on shelves clearly labeled and coded to match the catalogue book.
Getting Familiar with Working in a Studio

• Take a studio tour; ask permission to be an observer during a working session.
• Visit area studios. Get specs of the facilities and any literature with information
concerning the operation of the studio and their rules.
• Scout unoccupied factories and other large spaces with potential to be transformed into a motion picture studio. Measure the dimensions and draw up a studio plan. Does this suit your production needs?
Screen behind-the-scenes documentaries on films shot in a studio. Watching the
cast and crew working under studio conditions can be helpful. Many DVDs have
segments that contain these documentaries and interviews with production designers
investigating the process.


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Chapter 14

Working in the studio offers control for filmmakers. Working on location
presents conditions of controlled chaos, especially when shooting in exterior locations of populated urban areas. In the studio a set can be built to the exact
specifications of the design and shooting can proceed without unexpected delays. On
location the filmmakers will encounter the natural weather elements, the wondrous
unpredictability of the sun, and a spectrum of interference in the form of onlookers,
noise pollution, house rules restrictions, laws, and science.
Scouting Locations

You will encounter two possible situations when on a search for a location to film
a scene. The location you consider a candidate for selection will either be perfect for
your film as it stands before you or will need modification to be transformed to fit
into your production design plan for the film. Be skeptical if you arrive at the notion
of perfection too easily. Don’t settle. Does the location fit the aesthetic, practical, and
technical attributes the film requires? If modification is necessary, how much needs
to be done? What will the transformation cost? If those questions are answered to
your satisfaction another phalanx of inquiries to make include the following:

Is the location available?
Is the space large enough for a production crew to work in?
Is there adequate parking?
Is the location accessible by public transportation and by car?
Can you get permission to modify or transform the location?
How long will you need the location for pre-production work?
How long will you need the space for shooting?


Transforming a Location

Design and plan what alterations need to be made and meet with the owner of the
property. The work must be done in pre-production and maintained during production.
Production designer Kristi Zea did several transformations of actual locations for
the 1989 film Miss Firecracker. The house in the film was supposed to have
belonged to the main character’s grandmother. The concept was that artifacts passed
down from generations were still in the house. The actual location was an empty
house that had begun to deteriorate. The roof was in poor condition, so the art department put up plastic to prevent leaking. The house had been empty, so it was dressed
by Zea and her staff. They put in two televisions, one on top of the other. One worked
and the other did not. They researched people’s homes in the area where older
women or widows were living. They saw family pictures all over the walls, and
everything was dark and dusty. Zea decided that the Holly Hunter character left the
house pretty much the way it was when she took it over. Her character lived in two
or three areas of the house where she added her personal belongings. The rest of the
house was left decorated just as the grandmother had left it.
The Southern town of Yazoo City had the right look for the film. A local pool hall
that needed very little work had a counter with jars of pickled eggs, a southern delicacy that Zea highlighted in arranging the location.
An amusement park where the Miss Firecracker contest took place was created
on location by the art department. The chosen location was close to the town and was
a plot of land inhabited by squatters living in a trailer. They relocated them and leveled the area. Trees and undergrowth were cleaned out. A stage for the contest and
houses were built. Then an actual carnival company was hired that had the appropriate style required by the script and were set up to Zea’s instructions.
As soon as shooting is completed the location must be restored to its original condition. Check the dailies first to make sure the scene is complete. Repair any damage and remove all signs that a film company was ever there. Leave the location as
you originally found it.
Shooting at One Location for Another

Decades ago, producers realized that the high cost of shooting in Los Angeles or
New York City made it enticing to shoot in Canada. The incentives were impressive;
lower costs, good facilities and support, a range of locations that they were convinced would successfully play for the East and West coasts of the United States. For
many producers the bottom line dictates creative decisions imposed on the director.
Production designers continue to do their best to use locations in Canada, but those
are rarely the best artistic choices. New York locations are often filmed in Los
Angeles, where the architecture, colors, and the light are not the same.
If your story is set in one place, but it is financially necessary to shoot in Canada
or another lower-cost area, be as specific as you can:

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• Utilize confined areas—the wider the shot, the more that is revealed. Control your
design illusion by limiting the scope of each shot. The wider the shot, the harder
it is to create the intended illusion of time and place transformation.
• Interiors are easier to manage and to match with architectural style.
• Limit exteriors or plan to shoot exteriors in the area where the film takes place.
• When working on location the production designer must modify what exists there
to create the intended look for the film. Often the designer must cover up something that would betray the period in the transformation of the location. Television
antennas can be removed or blocked from the camera’s view by trees. Overhead
power and telephone lines can be avoided by the composition or covered by billboards. Signs created by the scenic artists can effectively disguise the existing
area. Roads can be created with gravel, tanbark, and peat.
Martin Scorsese’s Mean Streets (1973) art directed by William Sardell remains
one of the most surprising examples of a New York film shot mainly on locations in
Los Angeles. After a long struggle to get Mean Streets made, Scorsese was compelled to build the set for Tony’s Bar in Hollywood. The apartment Charlie (played
by Harvey Keitel) lived in was shot in an office building on Hollywood Boulevard.
And yet, the film has been acclaimed for its realism and specificity to New York
City’s Little Italy neighborhood. The churchyard of the old St. Patrick’s Cathedral
was shot on location in the Big Apple, and the exterior of the bar was found off
Broome Street, but the climax of the film set on New York roadways and the ending
on the streets of Little Italy were shot in Los Angeles. As different as those thoroughfares may be, especially the back streets where the protagonist’s car crashes,
careful location selection and camera placement succeeds in convincing the audience the entire film was shot on location in New York. There are many such neighborhoods across the country, and although there are similarities—restaurants, specialty food shops, and social clubs—none are as distinctive or well known as the
home of the feast of San Gennaro. The feast was shot at the real event but the careful matching and selection of the Bronx locations stand up to the specific geography
of the original.
Matching a Location and Studio Work

If you are using the exterior of one location to represent the interior of another,
the architectural structures must match. If trees, buildings, or any architectural elements are established in the exterior view of a location that would be visible in the
interior, they must be recreated either on a backing in a miniature, or setting outside
the window of the studio set, or the interior location to be used.
If the exterior of a building doesn’t match the interior, the shot should be positioned carefully during post-production either from the best angle to link them architecturally or by cutting to another shot before making reference to their relationship
to each other. A direct cut of a badly matched exterior and interior may destroy the
reality you are trying so hard to achieve.

W O R K I N G O N L O C AT I O N / 1 5 3

Often a scene will require a combination of location and studio work to create a
consistent production design. A spectacular and impressive example is the classic
scene in Alfred Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (1959), production designed by
Robert Boyle, when a crop-dusting airplane menaces Cary Grant. The sequence
required a totally flat landscape so Grant would have no place to hide. After scouting South Dakota and Kansas, Boyle remembered the Tulare Lake Basin in the San
Joaquin Valley where he was raised. There were no cornfields there, but one was
needed as a place where Grant could hide from his overhead attacker. The art department planted corn there in time for the location shoot. The shots depicting the explosion of a tanker truck and Grant being peppered with bullets from the plane were
special effect scenes that needed to be photographed in the studio using rear-screen
projection. Boyle had to recreate specific sections of the exterior location on sets in
the studio that perfectly matched the location. Availability of the location or the
nature of the action may demand studio and location work be combined. Recreating
and matching design elements are an essential skill of the art department.
Putting It All Together

Finding all of the locations that fit together to form the design world of the film
is a major challenge for the production designer. Contemporary filmmakers often
don’t have the luxury of building everything in the studio, so they must search for
each individual element that, when seen in the continuity of the film, totally creates
a consistent environment for the characters and story, while serving the director’s
vision of the project.
How have production designers accomplished this feat on the movies we see and
believe in, as the world in which the film exists and evolves before our eyes? Here
is a range of examples:
After Hours (1985)—director Martin Scorsese, production designer Jeffrey
Townsend. Contemporary New York at night, a Kafkaesque comedy. This film was
shot on the quick and on the cheap, on location in New York. In addition to shooting
at the Moondance Diner on Sixth Avenue, the production used the Emerald Pub on
Spring Street for the bar tended by John Heard. The large and threatening iron gate
in front of Griffin Dunne’s workplace was found at the Metropolitan Tower on
Madison Avenue.
The Age of Innocence (1993)—director Martin Scorsese, production designer
Dante Ferretti. A series of locations were utilized to recreate upper class New York in
the 1870s. The opera house that opens the film is the Philadelphia Academy of Music.
The Beauforts’ luxurious home was shot at the National Arts Club in the Gramercy
Park section of New York. Long Island’s Old Westbury Gardens were selected as well
as numerous locations in Troy, New York. River Street in an upstate town on the
Hudson River was the setting for turn of the century Wall Street. Mrs. Mingott’s
salon, which in the film is not far from Central Park, was shot at the Phi Kappa Phi
fraternity house at Troy’s Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the home of Newland
Archer’s parents was the Federal Gale House, a residence hall of Russell Sage

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College. The scene where Archer and May Welland walk through a white aviary was
photographed at the Enid A. Haupt Conservatory of the Bronx Botanical Garden.
Annie Hall (1977)—director Woody Allen, production designer Mel Bourne.
Throughout his long career Woody Allen’s films have explored his beloved isle of
Manhattan. Three movie theaters that represent the City’s intellectual film community are used as locations: the Beekman, the New Yorker, and the legendary repertory house, the Thalia. Brooklyn’s famed Coney Island amusement park is featured in
a flashback. Annie’s apartment was on the Upper East Side. Other locations include
the Hamptons, the Wall Street Tennis Club, and Central Park.
As Good As It Gets (1997)—director James L. Brooks, production designer Bill
Brzeski. The apartments of the Jack Nicholson and Greg Kinear characters were
scouted on 12th Street in New York’s West Village, Helen Hunt’s place near Prospect
Park in Brooklyn. The New York City restaurant where she worked was constructed
on the ground floor of the Barclay Hotel in downtown Los Angeles.
Basic Instinct (1991)—director Paul Verhoeven, production designer Terence
Marsh. Shot on location in San Francisco, this sexy thriller goes to Montgomery
Street for Michael Douglas’ apartment and to the Tosca Café on Columbus Avenue.
Sharon Stone’s notorious leg-crossing interrogation scene was shot on a set at Warner
Bros. studio in Hollywood. The Stentson Bar is a lesbian country-and-western bar
south of Market Street in ’Frisco. The chase sequence was shot on hilly Kearney
Street and Stone’s sex-trap digs were located south of San Francisco at a beachfront
estate in Carmel Highlands. The conclusion of the film, when the Jean Tripplehorn
character is shot, was photographed on Broadway in Oakland, California.
Blood Simple (1984)—director Joel Coen, production designer Jane Musky. This
audacious first film by the Coen Brothers was shot on location in Texas. The quirky
neo-noir took place at Mount Bonnell Park above Lake Austin where M. Emmet
Walsh gets his instructions to murder John Getz. The illicit affair takes place at the
Heart of Texas Motel. The body is buried on Farm Road, South of Hutto, which is
northeast of Austin. Walsh burns the X-rated photos of the lovers at the Old Grove
Drug Building on Sixth Street in Austin and the gory climax was shot in an apartment building above a restaurant on the same block, with the location serving as the
place Frances McDormand moves into.
Blow Out (1981)—director Brian De Palma, production designer Paul Sylbert.
The company went to Philadelphia to shoot this audio takeoff of Michaelangelo
Antonioni’s Blow-Up that had also been the inspiration for Coppola’s The
Conversation, a film that first translated the photos to sound. Here, John Travolta is
a soundman for a “cheapo” exploitation film when he actually records a murder in
progress. The director’s hometown of Philadelphia was the base of operations, with
the car accident sequence taking place on the Wissahickon Bridge. Travolta meets
Nancy Allen (Mrs. De Palma at the time) at the 30th Street Station. Travolta jeeps
through the central plaza of the Philadelphia City Hall in Penn Square and crashes
into the window at the famed Wanamaker’s Department Store on Market and 13th.
Clerks (1994)—director Kevin Smith. This black-and-white first feature film was
made for only $27,000 in Kevin Smith’s home state of New Jersey. When working
on a no-budget film (after lab costs and purchasing stock, how much could be left

W O R K I N G O N L O C AT I O N / 1 5 5

for production design?) filmmakers must use creative thinking to get the film done.
Smith shot at Quick Stop Groceries in Leonardo, New Jersey. RST Video was next
door, just as the video store is in the film. The scene at the undertakers was shot at
Postens Funeral Home in Atlantic Highlands.
Dazed and Confused (1993)—director Richard Linklater, production designer
John Frick. Linklater shot in his hometown of Austin, Texas. The majority of the film
was shot at the Bedickek Middle School. The burger joint was the Top Notch
Restaurant, and the alfresco party was done at West Enfield Park.
Desperately Seeking Susan (1985)—director Susan Seidelman, production
designer Santo LoQuasto. This post-modern classic was shot in New York and New
Jersey. When the Madonna character arrives in New York she is in the Big Apple’s
Port Authority Bus Terminal. Rosanna Arquette gets her hair done at the Nubest &
Co Salon on Northern Boulevard in Manhasset. The East Village was the location for
a shopping sequence featuring St. Marks Place and a second-hand store, Love Saves
The Day, on Second Avenue at East 7th Street. The Aidan Quinn character works as
a projectionist at the Bleecker Street Cinema. The production shot at New Jersey
locations in Tenafly, Edgewater, and Lakehurst, as well in Roslyn Heights in Nassau
County, Long Island.
Dirty Dancing (1987)—director Emile Ardolino, production designer David
Chapman. This popular low-budget film is set in New York’s Catskill Mountains in
the early 1960s. The look does capture the spirit of the 1960s, but the music and the
moves are from the 1980s. Dirty Dancing was shot in “the mountains” but they were
the Appalachian mountains rather than the Catskills. The resort was neither
Grossinger’s nor Browns but Mountain Lake Hotel in Mountain Lake, Roanoke,
Virginia. The relocation fooled even those who spent their youth in the upstate New
York playground where all comedians worth their salt cut their eyeteeth before anyone ever heard of a comedy club.
The French Connection (1971)—director William Friedkin, art director Ben
Kazakow. As a study in contrasts, this gritty New York movie starts on the streets of
Marseilles, France then cuts to Popeye Doyle getting drunk at the foot of the
Manhattan Bridge on the Lower East Side. A suspect is tailed on the Triborough
Bridge and staked out at Ratner’s Restaurant on Delancey Street. Frog One is found
at the Roosevelt Hotel on Madison Avenue, shops at Ronaldo Maia Flowers, and
looses his tracker at the Grand Central subway stop. The bad guys meet in front of
the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. Popeye lives at the Marlboro Housing
Project on Stillwell Avenue in Brooklyn. The landmark chase sequence begins at the
Bay 50th Street station and, during the five week shoot under the Bensonhurst elevated railway, goes down the Stillwell line to 86th Street to New Ulrecht Avenue,
violently concluding at the 62nd Street station. The Doral Park Avenue Hotel on Park
Avenue is where Devereaux the French celeb stays and the drug deal and shootout
goes down on Wards Island.

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Tips for Working on Location

• Scout and research each location carefully. Make sure the requirements and support needed for the productions are available and can be either supplied or
brought in.
• Familiarize yourself with as many regions as you can for their potential as locales.
The well-informed traveler has a good understanding of the vistas that can be captured by the camera and put to narrative use to filmmakers.
• Plan to make the cast and crew as comfortable and focused as possible when
working on location.
• Do community outreach before, during and after location work.
• Be prepared for weather conditions a location may present.
• When in Rome. . . . Don’t behave as an outsider when on location. Show appreciation for your welcome.

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Chapter 15

On a big-budget studio production, monies are available to support the
art department. The production designer has the staff, facilities, equipment, and
budget necessary to carry out their plans. Money can always help greatly to solve
problems. Low-budget films have limited financial resources. Some low-low-budget
independent films proceed without a production design, or members of the art
department convince themselves that the film can be shot on real locations without
a production designer to the oversee the realization of the vision of the film.
However, in order for a filmmaker to fully realize the vision and objectives for a
project, the design of a film must be addressed. Even a low-budget film can have an
effective production design by understanding the purpose and responsibilities of the
craft. Cost-cutting approaches are necessary. Consider the following:
Consolidate jobs. On a large scale, well-financed production filmmakers can
afford a large art department where each member has a specific job. This is not
always realistic on low-budget films where the filmmaker may not have access to all
the crew specialists, so plan B has to go into effect. The art department can be scaled
back. Each person working with the production designer can wear several hats. It is
the process of production design that’s important, not how many people work on the
crew. The set decorator can also do props. The property master could paint the sets
during pre-production. Regardless how small the crew is, use the most capable person for each task.
On a low-budget film, the production designer can be responsible for the work of
many, doing the labor of the key art department positions. Production assistants with
limited experience and on-the-job training can support the designer. On a big production, the designer designs and then supervises, but on a low-budget he will also
have to physically do as many of the tasks himself—help to construct the set, do
some scenic painting, whatever is necessary. Production designers should also have
persuasive personalities, to draw others in. Teaching skills are helpful to train production assistants and others to work in the art department.


Get local art students involved in the production design of your film. Many of the
skills needed for the art department are similar to those possessed by illustrators,
graphic artists, fine artists, sculptors, architects, and by those from other artistic
endeavors and training. With a little training and supervision from the production
designer or art director these other artists can be very effective.
Get local art professionals involved. Many architects, graphic designers, artists,
commercial painters, fine artists, carpenters, and others in related fields have a passion for filmmaking. With leadership and some training they can be effective on a
low-budget film.
Get as many services, locations, and supplies as you can for free or at a discount.
Assign a producer or team member to network, negotiate, and involve companies,
individuals, and community groups in the production design of your film. This will
support a small-staffed art department and keep the line budget items down.
Budget for the production design. The areas that often get neglected by independent and student filmmakers are production design, post-production, and especially sound design—which is the aural counterpart of art direction. The budget
should reflect the needs of each department within realistic expectations. The budget should be created in consultation with the production designer. Each item should
be listed and its cost estimated, with miscellaneous backup funds figured in if estimates are under-funded.
Keep the production design realistic as to what money and resources are available
for the art department. The production designer must be fiscally responsible to the
budget. Find the best deals in paint, hardware, lumber, tools, and art supplies.
Research vendors, explore the conglomerate chains such as Home Depot and
Staples, as well as independent vendors.
Keeping the Production Design Budget Down

When working with a low budget to produce a film, there are ways of keeping the
production design budget down, in addition to those previously discussed, without limiting the artistic and creative choices that will visually enhance and interpret the story.
Put all of the money spent on the production design on the screen. Avoid excess
and waste. Building a set and then scraping it for another idea, or shooting at a location and then not using the footage because of coverage or editing or coverage problems, are just some of the mistakes filmmakers make that are wasteful of the budget. Building more then you need or spending time and money on décor details that
won’t been seen on camera are all traps that can be avoided by careful planning and
wise allocation of the production design budget.
Make full use of studio space. Select the venue carefully—don’t pay for space
you are not going to use. Camera-test all materials to be used for the design. Don’t
employ expensive materials in areas where the camera won’t directly see them.
Don’t design and build what the camera won’t see or is outside of the director’s
visualization of the film. Put the majority of the budget into the major sets. Don’t
squander money and effort on minor sets. Design sets to scale when possible, to
reduce costs.

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If available, use a stock or standby set from another production or studio that can
be altered inexpensively to create the design plan for your film. Borrow, rent, or lease
pre-built, used flats.
On a low-budget movie the filmmaker is always looking to cut costs. The art
department is under constant scrutiny to keep spending at a bare minimum.
Construction materials are expensive, but there are ways to save money. Recycled
materials cost less and are just as effective in many cases. Corrugated cardboard and
packaging materials can be utilized for covering or siding flats, when painted and
treated appropriately. On a low-budget movie the designer can take full advantage of
a cyclorama and minimize the building of scenic pieces. Put all of the design elements to good use. Create multipurpose units that can function in more than one
scene or set. Use the same basic architecture, walls, doors, and windows for more
than one set by repositioning walls, adding, or removing furniture and décor, and utilizing reversible window treatments.
The most effective way to keep the art department budget to a minimum is to concentrate on only what is within the camera frame.
• Be selective—imply, don’t overstate, the settings
• A creative use of perspective and scale can give the illusion of size and space
Forced perspective is a useful technique to imply more with less. Hallways and
room extensions can be painted or photographed and put on a backing placed strategically to give the illusion the set is more architecturally complex than it really is.
Veteran Hollywood art directors often used the forced perspective in their work.
Robert Boyle gives two examples of the technique in use: “You’re achieving a large
space in a limited space. You bring the background up, and you force everything
smaller. For the circus caravan scene in Saboteur (Alfred Hitchcock, 1942), we not
only used midgets in the background, we went beyond that. We had cutout figures
where the arms move, and we had little lights on the arms. They were supposed to
be policemen with flashlights way in the background. It was at night, and you could
do things like that. Those were standard ways of working in those days. The long
hotel corridor for the Plaza Hotel in New York for North By Northwest (Alfred
Hitchcock, 1959), was a painted backing of the extension of the corridor we built,
and the actors came around in front of the painted backing and over to the room.
That’s forced perspective in a scenic painting. Then we took the same backing and
used that for the reverse angle shot.”
Remember, low-budget filmmaking does not have to signify amateur and shoddily mounted productions. For decades, many Hollywood films overspent and lavished
resources that were not necessary. Money squandered does not enhance or support
the look of a film. Money spent for amenities not directly translated to the screen are
wasted. Low-budget independent filmmaking is a philosophy and can be more effective, practically and artistically, than mega-budget, bloated productions, which don’t
serve visual storytelling in relation to the project. Plan and think before you spend.
Question all decisions and search for alternate methods and materials that will bring
the same results for less output of cash resources.


John Cassavetes, the patron saint of low-budget, independent filmmaking, had a
radical attitude toward all Hollywood production conventions, including those in
production design. The home he shared with his wife, actress Gena Rowlands, and
their family was often used as a location to make their movies. No storyboards or
illustrations were drawn. The art department on a John Cassavetes film worked with
what they had, and it always fit the search for the truth of the moment in the soul of
his characters that the directors obsessed over. The locations were real. The art
department arranged, took away, and added, but Cassavetes had a gut for detecting
artifice and overmanipulation.
“Money has nothing to do with film. In the end it kills you from being creative
and from inventing, finding a way to do it,” Cassavetes philosophized in the documentary I’m Almost Not Crazy. “It makes you think, it makes the crew think. You
say, ‘We’re in this room, how do we make this a palace?’ So some fool like me says,
‘We either make the picture or we don’t. If we are going to make it, let’s make this
room a palace or let’s not make it a palace. Look how easy this changes, it’s a room.’
And you make that adjustment but the emotions stay the same. So the emotions
guide you, the sense of humor guides you, saying ‘The hell with life’ guides you.”
Low-budget filmmakers must be inventive and use art direction ideas, principles
and techniques from every kind of movie from Hollywood blockbusters to no-budget indies. Production design is adjustable to the needs and resources at hand to the
filmmaker. Keep your mind open, the integrity of the film forefront, and be bold.

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Chapter 16

The purest definition of guerrilla filmmaking is making a movie on the
fly, no budget, barely a script, shooting on location with a barebones crew, sometimes just a cinematographer and sound recordist, without permits or permissions,
and adhering to very few cinematic, political, and social principles, laws, and rules.
Guerrilla filmmaking was born out of a spirited rebellion against Hollywood and
commercial philosophic methods of filmmaking. The guerrilla filmmakers of the
1960s, 1970s, and 1980s perceived production design as a Hollywood necessity that
could be done without. By shooting on a location as they found it or anywhere that
was available, guerilla filmmakers kept the budget down but also relinquished a lot
of artistic control over the visualization of a film and the ability for design to communicate narrative, content, and character. The Brothers McMullen (1995) embraces
a wonderful human story and presents sincere performances, but creator Edward
Burns paid little to no attention to the production design and cinematic craft of his
film. As a result, the characters have no dynamic relationship to their environment.
The settings tell little about the narrative or the expression of mood or atmosphere.
Many guerrilla filmmakers create stories that take place in one location. The
power of choice in a one-set film is critical. The single set must serve the story. Make
that choice carefully. If the film takes place in an apartment, don’t settle for one
apartment. For the Lower East Side Apartment in Married to the Mob (1988), production designer Kristi Zea used five different locations for the various rooms and
views, including the outer hall doorway, kitchen, and living room. Each room was
selected for its specificity to the character and situation and to create a unique living
space that resonated with the bohemian transition of a woman fleeing from the Long
Island mob lifestyle. This approach is available to the low-budget filmmaker who
need not feel compelled to shoot at a location where one room is right and the others are artistically wrong. It may be convenient, but settling for less than the design
desires is a disservice to your story.
In the 1990s, independent guerilla filmmakers began embracing production


design as part of their nontraditional, low-budget production approach. Education
and exposure to the little understood film craft of production design helped, and the
ever-growing numbers of designers entering the field were responsible for this movement. Thomas Vinterberg and Lars Von Trier created the Dogme95 manifesto that
announced that films should be shot in real locations without bringing in any outside
artistic tools or altering the space in any way. This edict comes from filmmakers who
are acutely aware of the impact cinematic environments have on a film, and selection of location in The Celebration (1998), Breaking the Waves (1996), and other
Dogme95 films is not haphazard. A film doesn’t have to be overdesigned; awareness
of locale and the right artistic decisions can be made, without embracing the excess
of overmanipulated visualization that Dogme95 and guerilla filmmakers consider
intrusive and artificial.
Remember, creative control is paramount on all films. All economic and cinematic decisions should be made for the good of the film, not for artistic egogratification or by conforming to a self-imposed “manifesto.” Each screen story is
different and requires the filmmaker to employ good judgement, courage, and
integrity toward the intent of the narrative and the conviction of the characters. Good
filmmakers understand that they must forge content with aesthetic and technical
issues each time out. A film with a good script, fine acting, and poor craft is just that.
A movie with all craft, flash, and no substance fails to engage the hearts and minds
of the viewer.
Content + Craft = Cinema is the mantra of the total filmmaker.

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Chapter 17

Production designers sketched all drawings by hand with pencil, pen, or
marker, until computer assisted design, CAD, was introduced in the 1980s. This digital software allows designers to see their creations from any and all angles and
views. First and second generation production designers were trained to see and
understand the set from any perspective by looking at a flat drawing. In their artistic
mind’s eye, they were perpetually seeing their design in three dimensions. Directors
often did not have this skill and don’t always have this skill today; producers rarely
do, and studio suits and financiers even less so.
CAD was the next step in film design, just waiting until technology caught up
with it to happen. It doesn’t make hand drawing obsolete; not everyone has access
to technology, and some that do feel the intellect and imagination can not be
improved on. Seeing may be believing, but so is trust in the collaborative artists who
create a motion picture. Others are best in the modality of eye and hand coordination with their own fully loaded computer consisting of a drawing implement
between fingers touching gracefully on paper, still others can make a mouse and cursor dance a graceful dance. Tools are a choice—pick the one you use best. Take the
time to learn the others.
Although CAD may not accessible to all filmmakers, it is invaluable at demonstrating what a set will look like from any angle. This ability can be helpful if those
involved—especially investors—have difficulty in “seeing” what the set will look
like in all its dimensions and from every conceivable angle.
Pre-CAD Effects

Prior to computer generated imaging (CGI) there were limited cinematic techniques available to the art department.



Matte shots are paintings on glass that allow the filmmaker to employ backgrounds previously unattainable to them. The matte painting of a foreign locale or
fantasy world is optically combined with the actors and the physical location design.
Mattes are time-consuming to create and only specialized craftspeople can produce
effective results—people such as artist Albert Whitlock, who worked extensively
with Alfred Hitchcock. Whitlock’s most celebrated work with Hitchcock is on North
by Northwest and Vertigo. Whitlock was able to provide “impossible shots” for the
director—like a “god’s point of view” looking down on the United Nations. The
chariot race in Ben Hur (1959) used a matte painting to create the Roman landscape
expanse around the full shot of the arena.

This photographic technique was also readily used to create backgrounds during
the Hollywood Studio Era and is rarely used today. A second unit filmed the scene
or a still image known as a background plate that was later rear-projected in the studio as the actors performed in front of the screen. When combined with physical
design elements it was effective, but the increase of film grain and optical distortion
from the lens selection or camera position often gave it away. Perspective and movement were greatly compromised. The most common use of rear screen projection
was in driving scenes, which would be filmed in a dummy car inside a studio while
the rear screen material of what would be seen out of the moving car was projected
and shot by the production camera along with the characters in the car. The result did
not look realistic. The increased grain, mismatched color, or poorly timed movement
of the background often gives rear screen away. Ironically, Hitchcock overused this
technique mainly because of his reluctance to shoot on location. The artificial look
of driving sequences in his films most always looked contrived and eventually came
to be expected and accepted as the aesthetic of his cinematic style.

The studio system developed the idea and methods for creating shots of cars and
trucks driving on a road, helicopter views of towns and cities, and other architectural expanses that would be too costly to shoot in reality. Miniatures are scale creations
of such scenes in the studio. Departments were set up at each studio where craftspeople built the scenes. After meticulous construction of the miniatures out of wood
and other materials, they were painted, lit, and photographed, often with a moving
camera. When properly executed, the shots cut into the film looked like the real
thing. Steven Spielberg made extensive use of miniatures in the Indiana Jones series
and his epic comedy 1941.
The carnival carousel that runs amok in the climax of Strangers on a Train
(1951), was built full-sized by Ted Haworth’s art department in the studio so
Hitchcock could stage actors getting on and off of the ride. For the shots of the
carousel running out of control and finally collapsing, a miniature was built and photographed.

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These are large sized vessels filled with water similar to a deep swimming pool,
used to shoot scenes that take place in an outdoor body of water but actually are shot
in the studio. Tanks are used to avoid the difficulty, expense, and danger of shooting
on location. The scene is then staged, lit, and photographed in the tank under studio
conditions. The downside of this technique, which was extensively utilized in
Hollywood films during the studio era, is scale. If the scene is supposed to take place
in rough, ocean waters, the waves, even when whipped up with fans and propellers,
are rarely large enough to be truly believable.

A hard backing is a framed board put behind a door or window opening on a set
or location to create the illusion of a background designed for the film. A hard backing can be a photographic blow-up or a painting created on a treated hard surface.
Backings can also be painted on wood-framed canvas or other materials. A hard
backing can only be lit from the front. A translight is a full-sized photographic transparency that can be lit from the front or the rear. The visual subject of a backing or
translight can be the view out of a window or an image created to depict a scenic
image in another room.
CAD Production Design

There are now expansive options in the digital domain. Computer Graphic
Imaging has changed the look of filmmaking and presents endless design possibilities. With CGI, impossible shots are now possible. CGI is having a major impact on
the visualization of a movie and has become integrated into the design of a film.
With CGI, filmmakers can shoot in one location and digitally transform it into another. Visual elements can be added, subtracted, altered, and enhanced.
Virtual Production Design

CGI has the potential to make an enormous impact on production design in
filmmaking. The most revolutionary aspect is the ability to create design elements,
including virtual sets that a camera can pan, move through, and around.
Backgrounds and views out of windows and doors can be added. Architectural elements can be added to a set or location. Telephone poles, television antennas, and
other modern aspects of design can be erased or replaced for a period film. The color
palette can be altered, enhanced, and reimagined by digitally painting the film frame
by frame. New sets can be digitally aged and textured. Signs and text on windows
and buildings can be altered. Special effects like exploding, burning down, or shooting up a set can be achieved without rebuilding or having replacements on hand during shooting.

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CGI in Contemporary Film Production

Titanic, which won eleven Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Art Direction and
Best Visual Effects in 1998, made effective use of CGI, including computer-generated people who slid down the tilted deck of the sinking ship, falling to their deaths.
Many films, including another Oscar winner, Gladiator (2000), have used CGI to
create total or partial environments that would be too costly to built traditionally.
CGI is affordable and is now used extensively for everything from explosions to
flying manhole covers as in the Sylvester Stallone star-vehicle Driven (2001), but
some production designers are concerned that these visual effects may not serve the
medium as well as traditional methods.
Successfully Merging CGI Technology
with Production Design

Much of Titanic and Gladiator was convincing, but many films that make extensive use of digital technology to create images are not. The aesthetics of the CGI
look and the nature of the action can give it away. The shot that closely follows a
Japanese air bomb as it fell to destroy the U.S. Navy fleet in Pearl Harbor (2001) is
an impossible shot and the audience knows it. However, viewers may become more
willing to suspend disbelief as digital filmmaking becomes accepted in the everchanging medium of motion picture making. Few realized the Gladiator coliseum
was digitally created, but the perspective and physical relationship of the characters
to their environment to real elements lacks depth. The digital illusion of space is not
the same as the physical and optical reality of defining spatial relationships. CGI is
often part of the special effects department rendered by computer graphic artists
and technicians who do not have a film production design background. Many production designers lack an understanding and technical knowledge of digital creation
and compositing. Only a merging of the two disciplines will produce the most effective results. Eventually this merging of skills will happen as professionals in both
fields collaborate and cross train. The latest generation of moving image creators is
bringing knowledge of the new technical tools to production design.
CGI, like all cinematic techniques, should be used specifically and with purpose.
Soon after cinematographer Garrett Brown invented the Steadicam, it was over- and
misused by auteur directors who devised long shots where the composition in
motion wasn’t always interested in serving the story and was along more for the
lens-ride. But the Steadicam is now a vital item in the filmmaker’s toolbox that can
be used effectively to write cinematic language.
Computer Animation

Digital technology can be a creative tool in itself. The results have produced alldigital films like Toy Story (1995), Toy Story 2 (1999), Shrek (2001) and Final
Fantasy (2001), which have pioneered and advanced the new medium.
Digital filmmaking offers unprecedented visual and narrative possibilities. It is a

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medium that embodies the physical properties of both live action and animation. The
realism of live action and the creative invention of animation are combined with
imagery that has unique aesthetic qualities of its own. Creatively, there are few limits to the possibilities offered to the design in digital filmmaking, only time and
money, the historic adversaries of motion picture making. The year 2001 was a landmark for digital filmmaking, with the first Oscar for a feature length animated film
awarded at the 2002 ceremony to Shrek. Many films that employ the medium, like
Dinosaur (2000) and Waking Life (2001) and cutting edge Anime films from Japan,
are gaining attention.
Digital filmmaking allows moviemakers to defy the visual limitations of both live
action and animation and puts the artistic control in the hands of the designers.
Locations and sets do not have to be found or built—at least not with physical materials.
Production design in animation is an exciting new frontier. Animation always had
the ability to create detailed backgrounds, but CGI and the influence of live action
films have brought dimension and an environmental quality. What was once largely
a two-dimensional medium is now a three-dimensional one.
A new generation of animators well-versed in live action films and cinematic
grammar are approaching animation design no differently than their colleagues in
live action. Animation films are now bringing production designers on their projects,
and this will lead to even more exciting possibilities for the animated movie.
Animation has always had its own form of production design. Disney’s Beauty
and the Beast (1991) made a crossover leap to the concept, purpose, and impact of
film production design on the animated motion picture. This was achieved by
designing environments that were detailed in architecture and décor and had a direct
narrative and atmospheric relationship to the characters. The execution of the sets in
Beauty and the Beast was highly detailed and sharp in focus. The filmmakers
employed camera technique like sweeping crane moves, once the exclusive domain
of feature films, which give dimension to all of the locales. George Lucas is an innovator spearheading the all-digital direction in live action films with his Star Wars
The Future of Digital Moviemaking

Movies will always need a story, traditional or nontraditional, characters, and settings; they will always be directed, photographed, and designed. The process and
aesthetics of motion pictures will always evolve and innovate. Writers and filmmakers will imagine new vistas; new tools will offer new solutions and visions.
The digital revolution is having an impact on the entire process of making a
motion picture. More moviemakers are now shooting their projects on digital or Beta
video rather than 16mm or 35mm film stock, for budgetary concerns. The once wide
differences between film and video are now narrowing dramatically due to constant
improvements in camera technology and to experienced cinematographers applying
their lighting, composition, and camera operation expertise to the medium of video.
The production designer must be familiar with new cameras and digital formats.

D I G I TA L P R O D U C T I O N D E S I G N / 1 6 9

Video does read and interpret color and light differently, and only testing and experience with the particular equipment being used will reveal the parameters of space,
color, depth, sharpness, and texture available. Good design principles do not change,
but new tools have their own visual properties, advancements, and limitations. The
gap is closing between film and video. New digital software programs can now replicate specific film stocks, and computer chips that can come closer to reproducing the
visual tonal range of film are being developed for video cameras.

170 / CHAPTER 17

Chapter 18

One of the reasons that many independent, low-budget, and student
filmmakers historically did not have a production designer as part of their project
was the simple reality that they didn’t know how or where to find one. Most
filmmakers can locate a director of photography or editor to collaborate on their
projects but come up empty when even considering the notion of having a production designer as part of their creative team. Here are a number of approaches to
finding a production designer for your next project.
• Hire a professional production designer. Credits and contact information are
available through The Internet Movie Database, at; the Art
Directors Guild, at; and the Society of Motion Picture and
Television Art Directors, at 11365 Ventura, Studio City, California 91604, (818)
762-9995. If your budget can’t support a designer’s fee, ask if they can recommend a student or member of their art department who is looking for a first-film
design experience.
• Theater schools are a good source for beginning designers; many are interested in
designing for theater and film.
• Art schools are an excellent resource to enlist members of the art department and
possibly locate production designers.
• Film schools don’t regularly produce production designers as part of their curriculum, but with each passing year, more film students are making the transition
or becoming interested in the field. Post your request on as many film school bulletin boards and Web sites as possible.
• When all else fails put a sign reading “production designer” on the back of a
crewmember. It is an interesting phenomenon, but when someone is given a
specific job on a film set, they are able to focus on the task. With sufficient support from the producer, director, and director of photography the results may not


be optimum but far richer than just shooting anywhere randomly. This is a first
step. Filmmakers build their own crews, collaborators, and department heads.
When this works out well, the company can stay together from film to film.

172 / CHAPTER 18

Appendix A

The Adventures of Baron Munchausen
The Age of Innocence (1993)
All That Jazz (1979)
Amadeus (1984)
Barry Lyndon (1975)
Barton Fink (1991)
Batman (1989)
The Beguiled (1971)
Being John Malkovich (1999)
The Best Years of Our Lives (1946)
Blade Runner (1982)
Blood Simple (1984)
Blue Velvet (1986)
Boogie Nights (1997)
Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
Born on the Fourth of July (1989)
Brazil (1985)
The Bride of Frankenstein (1939)
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1919)
Cabiria (1914)
Chinatown (1974)
Citizen Kane (1941)
The City of Lost Children (1995)
A Clockwork Orange (1971)
The Conformist (1971)
The Cook, the Thief, His Wife and Her
Lover (1989)

The Crowd (1928)
Day of the Locust (1975)
Dick Tracy (1990)
Do the Right Thing (1989)
Dracula (1931)
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to
Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb
Dr. Zhivago (1965)
Edward Scissorhands (1990)
Empire of the Sun (1987)
Enemies, A Love Story (1989)
Eraserhead (1978)
The Exorcist (1973
Fanny and Alexander (1983)
The Fisher King (1991)
The Fountainhead (1949)
42nd Street (1933)
Ghost (1990)
Glory (1989)
The Godfather (1972)
The Godfather Part II (1974)
Gold Diggers of 1935 (1935)
Goldfinger (1964)
GoodFellas (1990)
Gone with the Wind (1939)
The Heiress (1949)
How Green Was My Valley (1941)


The Hudsucker Proxy (1994)
Interiors (1978)
Intolerance (1916)
The Killing of a Chinese Bookie (1976)
King Kong (1933)
Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
The Last Emperor (1987)
The Last Picture Show (1971)
Lost Horizon (1937)
The Magnificent Ambersons (1942)
Malcolm X (1992)
Mary Poppins (1964)
Matewan (1987)
Meet Me in St. Louis (1944)
Metropolis (1925)
Mishima (1985)
Nashville (1975)
North by Northwest (1959)
On the Waterfront (1954)
Orlando (1993)
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (1973)
Patty Hearst (1988)
The Pirate (1948)
The Purple Rose of Cairo (1985)
Ragtime (1981)


Rear Window (1954)
Rebecca (1940)
The Red Shoes (1948)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Saturday Night Fever (1977)
The Scarlet Empress (1934)
The Servant (1964)
Se7en (1995)
The Shining (1980)
Silkwood (1983)
Shock Corridor (1963)
Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
Sleepy Hollow (1999)
Star Wars (1977)
The Ten Commandments (1956)
The Thief of Bagdad (1924)
The Thin Blue Line (1988)
Tucker: The Man and His Dream
2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Unforgiven (1992)
Velvet Goldmine (1998)
The Wedding March (1928)
The Wiz (1978)

Appendix B

abutment: stone or brick constructed against an arch or vault to secure its thrust.
achromatic: an absence of color. Neutral tones such as gray, white or black.
aging: process of making new materials look older, worn, and lived-in.
architecture: the style and design of a building.
art department: team of artisans and craftspeople who work under the production
art director: person who runs the art department and directly supervises the design
team and answers to the production designer. If there is no production designer on a production, the art director is responsible for both the look of the film
and supervision of the art department team. Art director is the original title of
this position prior to William Cameron Menzies’ work on Gone with the Wind
in 1939.
asphaltum: tar-like substance used to age new materials.
backing: a mounted photograph or painting which depicts a background vista or
design component.
background plate: a shot used as a background for rear or front screen projection.
back lot: exterior area adjacent to an interior sound stage used to build sets for outdoor scenes.
bag line: used to lift a sandbag.
balustrade: short posts that support a rail.
batten: a narrow piece of lumber used to secure a scenic drop.
blue screen: process in which a scene is photographed in front of a blue or green
screen so that later a composite shot can be created with a digital or painted
break: to fold or unfold scenic materials.
breakaway: scenic element or prop manufactured or rigged to break apart on cue.
breakdown: interpreting a screenplay in a series of shots to tell the story visually.
Process involves creating a storyboard and shot list.


bull line: four strand, heavy hemp rope on a winch used to lift scenery that is not
butt joint: an edge to edge join.
buttress: a support that provides a wall with additional support.
buyer: person who purchases props, décor, costumes, furniture, and other items for
the art department.
CAD: Computer Assisted Design. Software that allows the designer to create threedimensional views of a set.
camera angle projection: a perspective drawing created from an architectural plan
that presents how the completed set will look through a specific camera lens.
canted angle: an unusual composition that expresses a unique point of view and personal interpretation. Also known as a Dutch angle.
cantilever: a projecting beam that supports a balcony.
carpenter: wood-worker who constructs flats and sets, and works under the supervision of the construction coordinator.
catwalk: walkways above the set in the flies and grid.
ceiling plate: a metal plate utilized to suspend light scenic pieces and ceilings.
cheek-walls: low walls that protect the lateral edge of a flight of stairs.
chrominance: in video the difference between a color and a reference color of the
same luminosity.
cladding: prepared board or plywood attached to a structure that furnishes a smooth
decorative surface.
cleat: a wooden or metal fitting with projecting horns so a line can be secured to it.
cleat line: cord used to lash two scenic units together.
clew: a metal clamp that holds a series of ropes together that allows them to be lifted as one.
cloth clip: used to secure a partly rolled up backdrop on its support batten.
color correction: the final alteration of the color of a film or video to the instructions of the director of photography done at a film laboratory, video, or digital
color palette: the range and scope of the colors to be used in the production design
composite shot: when more than one visual element is combined to create an image
at the laboratory stage or through manipulation by digital software.
computer graphics: pictorial elements generated by digital software.
construction coordinator: person in charge of the construction crew and the building of sets.
construction crew: carpenters and other building personnel who work under the
supervision of the construction coordinator to build the sets for a film.
corbel: stone or wood block that supports a horizontal structure such as an arch head
or ceiling.
cornice: decorative molding just below the ceiling of a room.
costume designer: person who creates, selects, and coordinates all of the clothing
and apparel worn by the actors in a film.
costumer: person who dresses and assists the actors with their costumes during the
production process.


cover set: an interior set that can be used as a contingency in the event of inclement
weather when an exterior shoot is planned.
CTB: color temperature blue. Blue filter that increases the color temperature of a
light source in variable amounts.
CTO: color temperature orange. Orange or amber filter used to decrease the color
temperature of a light source in variable amounts
cut cloth: a suspended scenic cloth cut to provide effects. An uneven edge cloth can
present the illusion of foliage. A cutout can be used for a window opening or
to present a view of another drop behind it.
cyclorama: a curved screen made out of material on which a background or color
field is painted.
diorama: a miniature rendition of a set.
dipping: dyeing white or light-colored fabrics to reduce their reflective qualities on
director of photography: Person responsible for the cinematography on a film.
Also known as the DP.
donkey: an electric winch.
drafting: architectural drawings used to plan the construction of a set.
dress: putting furniture, décor, and props on a set.
drop: a large painted canvas utilized for a scenic background.
dulling spray: when applied to a surface, a dulling spray deflects hot spots and glare
due to lighting.
elevation: a specific and particular view of a set.
exterior: an outdoor location.
façade: a set design element that appears to be the front or outside of a building. An
architectural term indicating the front of a structure.
flat: a wooden frame covered with material or a board used to create the walls and
other aspects of a set.
flies: the space above a stage where scenic backgrounds and other scenery are raised
and suspended.
fly: scenery on ropes or wires above the set.
flying iron: a hinged metal ring plate that is used to hang scenery.
forced perspective: technique used to create depth by foreshortening the background.
free perspective: the exaggeration of normal perspective to enhance the illusion of
depth in a design.
french flat: a group of flats tied together and flown over a set as one unit.
gantries: bridgework over a set used to hang lights and suspended scenic elements.
gel: gelatin or plastic material that comes in a variety of colors. When placed over
lamps, they produce colored light.
gimbal: a device that cradles an object allowing it to be steady even though what is
below it is unsteady.
gray scale: A gradation of tones ranging from black to white.
greensman: person responsible for landscaping exteriors of a film set or location.
grummet: a fitting at the top of a flat that secures flying cables.


guardrail: safety handrails built onto offstage elevated platforms.
hard backing: a set backing on a hard surface.
header: a horizontal surface at the top of a set that depicts a lintel or a beam.
hoist: motorized mechanism that pulls a wire cable to suspend or support scenery.
interior: an indoor set or location.
irons: hanging, flying, and flat irons support flats that are suspended by wire.
jack: a framed brace that holds scenery upright.
Kelvin scale: a system that measures the color temperature of a light. Low color
temperatures have warm properties. High Kelvin light sources are cold and
blue in nature.
kill: to remove unwanted scenic elements.
latitude: range of exposure in which a film stock can produce an acceptable image;
the scope of contrast the emulsion can record.
lead man: assistant set decorator. Person responsible for located objects to decorate
a set.
leg up: raising the height of a scenic element with supports from the floor.
lintel: a beam over a door or a window.
line-set: three to five lines on the same head block used to lift a batten or an element
of scenery.
lip: a beveled strip that overhangs the edge of a framed scenery unit to conceal the
joint crack with an adjoining component.
local: a crewmember hired from the region where a film company is shooting.
location: an actual place used to film a scene.
location manager: person responsible for finding and supervising locations utilized
by the production company.
mask: to hide a portion of the background area or equipment from the camera view
with scenic pieces.
matte shot: a composite image that uses a painting created in conjunction with the
blue screen or green screen process or a digital image combined with live
action resulting in a shot unobtainable by the filmmakers in the conventional
metaphor: an image that makes a reference or analogy to an idea or theme.
miniature: a small-scale version of a setting, filmed to represent its full-size counterpart.
mise-en-scène: French term referring to staging of a film or play.
model: a miniature representation of a set built to scale out of cardboard, balsa
wood, or other lightweight material to present a dimensional view of the set.
Used to plan set decoration, camera angles, and blocking.
move: a preplanned rearrangement of props or scenery at a given moment during the
muling block: a pulley used to change the horizontal direction of a moving line.
pedestal: the base of a column or supporting structure.
per diem: a set amount of money paid daily to crew members when they are working outside of their home area; principally meant for meals, can also include
other living expenses.


peripteral: a building surrounded by a singular row of columns.
perspective: the illusion of depth on a two-dimensional surface.
photo boards: a storyboard comprised of stock or custom made photographs, most
often used in advertising agency presentations.
plan: a technical drawing used to construct a set.
plot plan: overhead view or a blueprint of a location or studio set.
polychrome: many-colored.
practical: anything on a set that actually works.
practical location: an existing location.
process screen: technique used to project film from behind a screen to create a
background for the foreground action. Also known as rear screen or front
screen projection.
production designer: person responsible for the visual look of a film.
production illustrator: person who renders illustrations, in drawings or paintings,
of the production designer’s idea for a set or moment in a film.
property master: person responsible for props and objects used and handled by the
pylon: a tapered rectangular tower.
rake: to set at an angle; often refers to the slope of a floor.
ramp: a slanted surface that joins two different levels.
rear screen projection: projecting a still or moving image on a screen behind the
action as it is being photographed.
re-entrant corners: corners that have angles pointing inwards.
retrofit: technical addition to an existing structure.
reveal: the side of a door or window between the outer edge and the frame that creates wall thickness.
rig: a piece of equipment used for a specific task.
ring plate: hardware that allows light scenic units to be suspended.
safety bond: a wire stop than ensures the stability of a scenic piece.
sandbag: a canvas bag filled with sand used to weight down and secure scenic structures and elements.
scene dock: a scenic storage area close to the studio floor.
scenic artist: person who paints scenic background, lettering, signs, portraits, and
other things needed to be painted on a set.
scenic loft: a piece of equipment that allows the scenic painter to paint standing
upright as the painting is raised and lowered.
scenic painting: a painting done on canvas or a hard surface, used to create a background for a set.
scrim: a translucent screen used to diffuse light.
set: a structure built in a studio used to create an environment for a film.
set decorator: person who plans, and places furniture and décor on a set after it is
set designer: person who conceives and draws up plans for a set.
set dressing: furnishings used to decorate a set.
setting line: drawn on the studio floor to indicate exactly where a set is to be built.


Also used to define the boundary limits to stage a scene.
skid: a movable trolley with pulley and rope used to raise scenery.
snatch block: a pulley block with removable sides that allows it to be inserted into
a tackle system without rethreading lines.
stage: area in a studio used to build sets and to photograph a scene.
stage cloth: canvas or plastic sheet used to protect the floor during the painting and
decoration process.
standing set: a permanent indoor or outdoor set.
strike: to take down and apart a set and scenery.
storyboard: a series of drawings that tell the story of a film frame by frame; used as
a guide to design the film.
studio: production facility where sets are built and scenes for the film are photographed.
supervising art director: position held during the Hollywood studio system. Person
who headed the art department, assigned the art director to each project.
surround: also called a shroud. A carry-off platform that surrounds a turntable.
swing gang: the set dressing crew. People who work under the supervision of the
lead man to obtain necessary objects for set decoration.
track: an overhead rail that enables suspended curtains to be moved on runners.
translight: a transparent photographic blow-up used as a background for a set.
transparency: a still image printed on glass or celluloid and projected.
transportation captain: person responsible for vehicles used in a film.
traveling matte: a mask on sections of composite shot elements that move and
change from frame to frame.
trick line: small line used to trigger a breakaway or trick device.
tripping: raising a piece of soft scenery from the bottom and the top.
trompe l’oeil: an illusionistic painting.
tumbler: pole attached to bottom edge of a scenic drop, attached by a pulley system.
turntable: circular table slowly rotated.
value: the relative lightness and darkness of a color.
valance: short curtain or drape that hangs from the edge of a table or shelf to the
vault: arched ceiling.
wagon: a low platform on casters.
wall brace: attached to hardware in the studio wall, it is used to support scenery.
wild: any part of a set that is movable.
winch: a cylinder where rope or cable is wound. Used to raise scenery.
windows: a casement window opens on side hinges; French windows are long, reach
to floor level, and open on side hinges; sash windows slide vertically within a
frame and are balanced by counterweights.
window bay: a three-sided window that juts out from the wall-line and forms an


Appendix C

Abbott, L. B. Special Effects: Wire, Tape, and Rubber Band Style. Hollywood: ASC
Press, 1984.
Affron, Charles, and Mirella Jona Affron. Sets in Motion: Art Direction and Film
Narrative. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1995.
Albrecht, Donald. Designing Dreams. New York: Harper & Row, in collaboration
with the Museum of Modern Art, 1986.
The Art of Hollywood: Fifty Years of Art Direction. London: Thames Television,
Arnheim, Rudolf. Art and Visual Perception: A Psychology of the Creative Eye, the
New Version. Berkeley, Calif.: University of California Press, 1974.
Aronson, Joseph. The Encyclopedia of Furniture. New York: Crown Publishers,
Barsacq, Leon. Caligari’s Cabinet and Other Grand Illusions. Boston: New York
Graphic Society, 1976.
———. A History of Film Design. New York: New Amsterdam Library, 1978.
Begleiter, Marcie. From Word to Image: Storyboarding and the Filmmaking Process.
Studio City, Calif.: Michael Wiese Productions, 2001.
Black, J. Anderson, and Madge Garland. A History of Fashion. London: Macmillan,
Boucher, Francois. 20,000 Years of Fashion: The History of Costume and Personal
Adornment. New York: Harry N. Abrams, n.d.
Brunhammer, Yvonne. The Nineteen Twenties Style. London: Paul Hamlyn, 1966.
Carrick, Edward, Designing for Moving Pictures. London and New York: The Studio
Publication, 1941.
———, comp. Art and Design in the British Film: A Pictorial Director of British Art
Directors and Their Work. London: Dennis Dobson Ltd., 1948.
Chiericetti, David. Hollywood Costume Design. New York: Harmony Books, 1976.


Corliss, Mary, and Carlos Clarens. “Designed for Film: The Hollywood Art
Director.” Film Comment, May–June 1978.
Dalle, Vacche, Angela. Cinema and Painting: How Art is Used in Film. Austin, Tex.:
University of Texas Press, 1996.
Eisner, Lotte H. The Haunted Screen: Expressionism in the German Cinema and the
Influence of Max Reinhardt. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
Elam, Kimberly. Geometry of Design: Studies in Proportion and Composition. New
York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2001.
Ettedgui, Peter. Production Design and Art Direction: Screencraft. Woburn, Mass.:
Focal Press, 1999.
Fiell, Charlotte & Peter. Design of the 20th Century. Köln: Taschen, 2001.
Finch, Christopher. Special Effect: Creating Movie Magic. New York: Abbeville
Press/Cross River Press Ltd, 1984.
Giesecke, Frederick E., Alva Mitchell, Henry Cecil Spencer, Ivan Leroy Hill, John
Thomas Dygdon and James E. Novak. Technical Drawing. New York:
Macmillan Publishing Company, 1991, ninth edition.
Gottshall, Franklin H. How to Design Period Furniture. Milwaukee, Wis.: Bruce
Publishing Co., 1951.
Hart, John. The Art of the Storyboard: Storyboarding for Film, TV, and Animation.
Boston: Focal Press, 1999.
Heisner, Beverly. Hollywood Art. Jefferson, NC and London: McFarland &
Company, 1990.
———. Production Design in the Contemporary American Film: A Critical Study of
23 Movies and Their Designers. Jefferson, N.C. and London: McFarland &
Company, 1997.
Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film. London: Thames and Hudson,
Katz, Steven D. Film Directing Shot by Shot. Studio City, Calif.: Michael Wiese
Productions in Conjunction with Focal Press, 1991.
Kybalová, Ludmila, Olga Herbenová, and Milena Lamarová. The Pictorial Encyclopedia of Fashion. Translated by Claudia Rosoux. New York: Crown
Publishers, 1968.
LoBrutto, Vincent. By Design: Interview with Film Production Designers. Westport,
Conn.: Praeger Publishers, 1992.
Lourie, Eugene. My Work in Films. San Diego, New York, London: Harcourt Brace
Jovanovich, 1985.
Mandelbaum, Howard, and Eric Myers. Forties Screen Style: A Celebration of High
Pastiche in Hollywood. New York: St. Martins Press, 1989.
Marner, Terrence St. John, ed. Film Design. New York: A. S. Barnes and Co., 1974.
Millerson, Gerald. TV Scenic Design. Woburn, Mass.: Focal Press, 1998.
Mordden, Ethan. The Hollywood Studios: House Style in the Golden Age of the
Movies. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1988.
Parker, W. Oren and Harvey K. Smith. Scene Design and Stage Lighting. New York:
Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1968.


Preston, Ward. What an Art Director Does: An Introduction to Motion Picture
Production Design. Los Angeles, Silman-James Press, 1994.
Reeves, Tony. The Worldwide Guide to Movie Locations. Chicago: Acappella, 2001.
Rogers, Pauline B. Art of Visual Effects: Interviews on the Tools of the Trade.
Woburn, Mass.: Focal Press, 1999.
Rose, Rich. Drafting Scenery for Theater, Film, and Television. White Hall, Va.:
Betterway Publications, 1990.
———. Drawing Scenery for Theater, Film and Television. Cincinnati, Ohio:
Betterway Books, an imprint of F& W Publications, 1994.
Schatz, Thomas. The Genius of the System: Hollywood Filmmaking in the Studio
Era. New York: Pantheon, Books, 1988.
Sennett, Robert S. Setting the Scene: The Great Hollywood Art Directors. New York:
Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1994.
Simon, Mark. Storyboards: Motion in Art. Woburn, Mass.: Focal Press, 2000.
Simonson, Lee. The Art of Scenic Design. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers,
Spencer, Charles. Cecil Beaton: Stage and Film Design. New York: St. Martin’s
Press, 1975.
Tashiro, C. S. Pretty Picture: Production Design and the History Film. Austin, Tex.:
University of Texas Press, 1998.


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Appendix D

Before the advent of the home videotape market, filmmakers had to
study films in theaters, museums, and archives. Since the arrival of DVD in the
1990s, filmmakers have unprecedented access to films, to study and understand the
role of production design in the cinematic process. The technical quality is superb,
and films can be seen in the proper aspect ratio they were designed for. Instant access
to any and all parts of a film focuses the attention of analysis. Many commentary
tracks reveal important information and insight into the design of a film. Many
DVDs include special features that include storyboard-to-film comparisons that
facilitate study of the original storyboards and the completed shot. This single feature is a resource for demonstrating the evolutionary process from idea to physical
design. DVD titles that include storyboard to film comparisons or in-depth examinations of the production design of a project include The Abyss (special edition), The
Birds, Brazil, Do The Right Thing, Men in Black (collector’s series), The Red Shoes,
Rushmore (collector’s edition), The Silence of the Lambs, The 39 Steps, and Vertigo.
Production designers still employ the pencil, paint, and ink, but digital software
has revolutionized the process. Here are some suggestions for digital tools:
• Bryce 4: a 3-D application with which you design interior sets and exterior locations, it allows a camera to record a QuickTime Movie.
• Photoshop: allows digital manipulation of photographs. Drawing tools facilitate
the addition of figures or other design sketches to enhance location photos for storyboard presentations.
• Storyboard Artist: contains clip file imagery to create storyboards.
• Storyboard Quick: another software package to generate storyboards.
• ScriptWerk: When used in conjunction with Microsoft Word this formatting software combines storyboard frames with screenplay pages.


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Chapter 1

I hope this has been informative and inspirational. Constant study and
commitment to craft will allow you to grow as a visual storyteller. Apply what you
have learned here and from the examples of others to your personal work as a
filmmaker—that is most important. Along with a respect for the achievements of the
past, ideas, communication, a point of view, and the expansion of the language of
movies are sacred tenets to the motion picture creator—even now, especially now in
the second century of what is called filmmaking. Good luck and forever remain a
student of motion picture art. Long let it be.


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Chapter 1

Academy Award Nominations
Mel Bourne for Interiors, 10
Dennis Gassner for Barton Fink,
Norman Garwood for Hook, 74
Academy Award Oscar Winners
Gladiator, 168
first Oscar for animated feature
film (Shrek), 169
Richard Sylbert for Dick Tracy,
Titanic, 168
acrylic paint, 90
Adam, Ken, 58, 59–60, 98–99
Adams Family, The, 80
adjustable triangle, 64
After Dark, My Sweet, 118–19
After Hours, 154
Age of Innocence, The, 107–108
aging, 89–92
acrylic paint, 89, 90
asphaltum, 90
cobwebs, 91
costumes, 91, 92
dirt, 89
dry brushing, 91
dust, 89
exterior locations, 91
final check, 74
Fuller’s Earth, 91
glass, 91
India ink, 90
locations, 154
painting sets, 140

period films, 92
purpose, 89, 90–92
stone, 90
texture, 89
wood, 90
air conditioning, 72
Alcott, John, 107, 124
Allen, Woody
Jeffrey Kurland, 54
Annie Hall, 155
Purple Rose of Cairo, 81
Zelig, 34
All That Jazz, 8, 52, 123
alternate design plans, 52
Altman, Robert, 126
American National Standards
Institute, The, 65
Analyze That
production calendar, 133
title block, 66
Anderson, Paul Thomas, 107
Anderson, Robert M., 111
animation, computer 168–69
Annaud, Jean-Jacques, 23
Antonioni, Michaelangelo, 106
Apocalypse Now, 8
Archer, Ernest, 13
arches, 141
architects, 98–99
architects who became production
designers, 98–99
architect’s scale rule, 64
Architectural Digest, 35
architecture, 93–102
Art Deco, 97

books on architecture, 102
Gothic architecture, 120
history of architecture in film
design, 93–99
influence on film production
design, 93–94
learning more about architecture, 103
modernist design, 97–98
Neoclassical architecture, 97
Twentieth-century architecture,
visual storytelling, 23
Ardolino, Emile, 156
Arensma, John Datu, 113
armourer, 50
Arnold, William, 11
art department, 43–56, 136
budgeting, 130
camera rehearsals, 147
construction shop, 138
continuity, 147
in the Hollywood studio system,
2, 135
low-budget productions, 159
property shop, 138
setting up rehearsal space,
staff, 43
tools, 138,
wood working shop, 138
workshops, 138
art director, 44
budgeting, 130
camera rehearsals, 147


production, 76
responsibilities, 44
Art Directors Guild, 171
art schools, 171
As Good As It Gets, 155
Asp, Anna, 62
asphaltum, 90
assistant set decorator, 70
furniture plot, 70
prop plot, 70
Astaire, Fred, 97–98
Austen, Jane, 38
Automobile Club of America
(AAA), 71
Avid color correction, 85
backings, 142, 143, 153
cycloramas, 143
description, 167
hard backing, 142
translights, 142, 167
backup props, 73
Bacon, Francis, 81
Bernardo Bertolucci, 81
Bacon, Lloyd, 122
Ballhaus, Michael, 103–104
Barry, John, 12, 98, 107
Barry Lyndon, 98, 107
Barton Fink, 8
Basic Instinct, 155
Bataan, 125
Bauhaus, 98
Beautiful Mind, A
title block, 66
Beauty and the Beast, 169
Beatty, Warren, 26, 144
Ben Hur, 166
Bergman, Ingmar, 22–23
Berkeley, Busby, 122, 123
Bertolucci, Bernardo, 36, 53, 77–80,
Besson, Luc, 10
Birdman of Alcatraz, 116
black-and-white filmmaking, 84–85
Black Hawk Down, 80
Blade Runner, 8, 44, 91, 98, 99, 101
Blake, Perry Andelin, 109
Bliese, Rochus, 13, 155
Bode, Ralf, 39
Bogdanovich, Peter, 109
Boogie Nights, 9
Bosch, Hieronymus, 36
Bourne, Mel, 10, 34, 155
bow compass, 64
Boyle, Robert, 98
bracing sets, 141–42

190 / INDEX

Brady, Matthew, 37
Brenner, Albert, 50, 80
brick, 89
Bridges, Mark, 11
Brigadoon, 122
Brisbin, David, 118, 28–29
Brodine, Norbert, 118
Brooks, James L., 155, 163
Brzeski, Bill, 155
budget and scheduling, 129–33
budgeting, 129–32, 160–61
Bumstead, Henry, 13, 57, 58, 107,
Burns, Edward, 163
Burton, Tim, 53, 55
buyer, 53
Cabaria, 93–94
Cabaret, 122
Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, 9, 95–96
cable television, 39
blocking, 147
crew, 74–75
rehearsals, 147
canted angles, 7, 20
Citizen Kane, 7
lenses, 29, 67
low angles, 7
overshooting the set, 147
tests, 85
view method drawings, 67
camera lens MM/field-of-view chart,
Canada, 152–153
Capra, Frank, 98
Caravaggio, Michelangelo Marisi
da, 36
Carnal Knowledge, 22
carpenters, 49, 99
Cassavetes, John, 162
ceilings, 72, 145
Chapman, David, 156
defining characters with color,
relationship to environment, 30
visually interpreting the characters in a screenplay, 30
charcoal sketches, 58
Chinatown, 9, 27
Chinlund, James, 12
Chorus Line, A, 122
Christian, Roger, 124
chroma, 83
cinematography, 63, 84

Citizen Kane, 6, 9, 21, 145
Civil War, The, 108, 114
Clark, Carroll, 10–11
clearance and permissions, 40
copyright and trademark owners, 40
décor, 40
objects, 40
paintings, 41
photographs, 41
sculpture, 41
Clerks, 155–56
Clockwork Orange, A, 101
cobwebs, 91
Coen, Joel and Ethan, 28, 155
Columbia Pictures, 52
color, 77–87
background color, 84
basic colors of the spectrum, 82
black background, 84
chroma, 83
complimentary colors, 83
defining characters, 84
density, 84
desaturation, 83, 84
developing a color sense, 85–87
diffusion, 84
director of photography, 85
emotional qualities, 81
exercises, 86–87
film, 78
foreground color, 84
gels, 79
hue, 82, 83, 85
intensity, 83
lighting, 83–84
luminance, 83, 84
monotone color, 84
Munsell Color Notation System,
82, 83
narrative qualities, 81–82
Ostwald Color Theory, 83
paint, 83
painter’s elevation, 84
Pope color theory, 83
pre-production tests, 74
primary colors, 83
psychological effects, 81, 83–84
purpose, 77
reflections, 84
research photographs, 34–35
saturation, 83
set painting, 140
shade, 83
spectral colors, 83 spectrum, 82,
storytelling, 77

symbolism, 82
texture, 83
theory, 82–84
tints, 83
tone, 83, 85
values, 82, 85 video, 78
white background, 84
color correction, Avid, 85
color palette, 77, 78–82
creating, 78–82
planning, 78
color spectrum, 82
basic colors, 82
creation, 83
color theory, 82–84
Munsell Color Notation System,
color timer, 85
digital platforms
85 film laboratory, 85
Final Cut Pro, 85
computer animation, 168–69
Final Fantasy, 168
Shrek, 168
Toy Story, 168
Toy Story 2, 168
computer assisted design (CAD),
165, 167
computer generated imaging, (CGI),
22, 165, 167, 168
use and purpose, 22
computer graphic artists, 168
computers, 72
concept drawings, 57–58, 99
approval, 58
Alfred Hitchcock, 57–58
Brian DePalma, 57
Ernest Archer, 58
Harry Lange, 58
HenryBumstead, 57–58
Ken Adam, 58, 62
Martin Scorsese, 57
purpose, 57
Richard Sylbert, 58
Stanley Kubrick, 58, 62
Tony Masters, 58
capturing the time period, 108
construction, 99
arches, 141
design process, 99
door flats, 141
fireplaces, 141
use of a parallel, 141
platforms, 141
ramps, 141
three-dimensional weight-bearing, 141–42

walls, 141
construction coordinator, 48–49
budgeting, 130
plans, 99
safety, 74
construction crew, 49–50
carpenters, 49
drafting plan, 62
elevation drawings, 67
materials, 138
members, 49,
painters, 49
safety, 74
scenic door, 141
staircases, 141
windows, 141
working in a studio, 136
construction, set, 48, 49
contact information, 72–73
continuity, 147
Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her
Lover, 9
Coppola, Francis Ford, 106, 109,
Coraci, Frank, 109
costume designers, 53–55, 91, 92
actors’, 54
aging, 91, 92
character design, 55
fashion designers, 55
fashion schools, 55
hair and makeup, 48
low-budget filmmaking, 55
cove units, 145
cover sets, 76
Craig, Stuart
Craven, Wes
cycloramas, 143–45
color, 145
construction, 144
description, 143–44
use during Hollywood studio
era, 144
hiding joins, 145
low-budget production, 161
scenic planes, 145
seamless paper, 144
sky effects, 145
transporting, 149
use, 144
Day of the Locust, The, 108
Day, Richard, 125–26
Dazed and Confused, 156
ceadlines, 75

Dead Presidents, 28–29, 35
Dealmaking in the Film and
Television Industry: From
Negotiations to Final
Contracts (book), 41
Death of a Salesman (1986), 38
de Chirico, Giorgio, 36
checking film placement, 74
German Expressionism, 120
marking positions on studio
floor, 147
set decorator, 45
studio plan, 70
decorative trim, 147
DeCuir, John, 99
deferred payments, 130
de Kooning, Willem, 86
Demme, Jonathan, 78
DePalma, Brian, 27, 57, 155
design files, 34–35
description, 34
Desperately Seeking Susan, 156
developing a color sense, 85–87
Dickens, Charles, 38
Dickerson, Ernest, 27
Dick Tracy, 79
characters, color palette, 77
concept drawings, 58
makeup staff, 46
prosthetic makeup, 46
Richard Sylbert, 46
shack design, 58
diffusion, lighting, 84
digital production design, 165–70
digital technology, 22, 86, 169–170
Dilley, Les, 124
dimensions, 72, 136
director, 1
approval of concept sketches,
57, 58, 62
budgeting, 130
color, 74
color correction, 85
communicating ideas, 15, 20
determining shooting medium
with director of photography, 78
genres, 111
locations, 70
point of view, 14
Polaroids of locations, 70
pre-production, 20
research, 15
role in visual storytelling, 14
striking the set, 148
director of photography, 1, 6

INDEX / 191

cable or equipment obstruction
of a shot, 74
checking final placement of furnishings and décor, 74
collaboration with the director
and production designer,
color, 74
color correction, 85
communicating ideas, 15, 20
determining shooting medium
with the director, 78
domain of, 15
gels, 79
genres, 111
hot spots, 73
locations, 70
Polaroids of locations, 70
practical lighting, 75 pre–production process, 15, 20
reading the script, 15
research, 15
resolving color problems, 79
responsibilities, 15
tools, 15
Dirty Dancing, 156
di Tiroff, Romain (Erté), 98
Breaking the Waves, 64
The Celebration, 164
Lars Von Trier, 164
Thomas Vinterberg, 164
doors, 141
sticking problems, 74
trim, 147
Doors, The, 108
doorways, 72, 143
Double Indemnity, 117
Dracula (1931), 9
drafting, 62, 63–70
definition, 63
dimensions, 63
dots, 64
exercises, 63–64
machine, 64
methods, 63, paper, 63
requirements, 65
ruler, 67
scale, 63,
standards, 65
supplies, 64–65
table, 64
views, 63
draftsman, 56, 62, 99
dressing rooms, 72
Drier, Hans, 97
Double Indemnity, 97, 117
Driven, 168

192 / INDEX

Dr. Mabuse der Spieler, 96
Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned
to Stop Worrying and Love
the Bomb, 58, 62, 98
dry brushing
aging, 91
painting sets, 140
dulling spray, 73, 74, 140
Dune, 101
DVD, 22, 40, 149
Eastwood, Clint, 107, 113–114
Eco, Umberto, 23
Edward Scissorhands, 53, 55
eighteenth century, 107
Barry Lyndon, 107
Eisenstein, Sergei, 94–95
Eisenstein at Work, (book), 94
elevation drawings, 66–67
camera view method, 67
dimensions, 67
elements, 67
Hollywood, 94
method, 67
overlays, 67
understanding of production
design, 94–95
scale plan, 67 section view, 67
short wall elevations, 67
side wall elevations, 67
studio plan, 67
textures, 67
view, 67
elevations, 137
working in a studio, 137
elevators, 72
Elswit, Robert, 107
Empire Stages, 28
English Patient, The, 16
research, 16
epic films, 10
erasers, 64
eraser shield, 64
Escher, M.C., 23
E.T. The Extraterrestrial, 37
European locations, 107
European modernism, 97
Expresionism, 86
exterior locations
aging, pictorial details of a
street exterior, 106
matching exteriors to interiors,
location scouting, 71

facilities expenses, 132
Fanny and Alexander, 22–23
fantasy films, 55
Faulkner, William, 38
Fauvism, 86
Fax machines, 72
Fellini, Federico, 23–24, 105
Ferretti, Dante 23–24
Ferguson, Perry, 6, 9
fiberglass, 139
Fifth Element, 10
digital tools, 85
lighting and color tests, 83–84
negatives, 85
prints, 85
video, 85
film noir, 86, 116–18
Final Cut Pro, 85
Final Fantasy, 168
firearms, 50
fireplaces, 141
Flash, The (television series), 79
Flash Gordon, 101
flats, 138–39
anchoring objects to, 142
handling, 147
joining flats, 142
low-budget productions, 161
marking positions on studio
floor, 147
transportation, 149
floor manager, 147
floor plans, 72
floors, 72, 145–146
Foley, James, 118–119
Fonseca, Greg, 121
forced perspective, 161
North By Northwest, 161
Ford, John, 112, 122
Fosse, Bob, 52, 123
Frankenheimer, John, 29
Frankenstein, 120–21
Frankenthaler, Helen, 86
French Connection, The, 156
French curve, 64
Frick, John, 119, 156
Friedkin, William, 156
Fuji film stock. 78
Fuller Leland, 117
Fuller’s Earth, 91
aging, 91
cobwebs, 91
Full Metal Jacket, 53, 126
Funny Thing Happened on the Way

to the Forum, A, 80–81
furniture, 62, 70, 74, 147
Furst, Anton, 126
futurism, 10–11, 98
gaffer, 75
gaffer’s tape, 142, 147
Garwood, Norman, 108
Gangs of New York, 20
gangster film, 114–16
Gassner, Dennis, 8, 28
Gauguin, Paul, 86
gels, 79
genres, 111–27
film noir, 116–18
gangster films, 114–16
horror films, 120–12
musicals, 121–123
prison films, 116
science fiction, 123–24
war film, 124–26
the Western, 112–114
film noir, 116
German filmmaking, 86
Gibbons, Cedric, 125
Giger, H.R., 124
Gladiator, 22, 168
glass, 74
aging, 91
texture, 89
Glory, 37, 108
Godfather, The, 10, 35, 106–107
Gogh, Vincent van, 86
Goldfinger, 58
Gone with the Wind, 2, 37, 44
GoodFellas, 49, 108
Goosson, Stephen, 98
Gothic style, 7, 120
Graduate, The, 25–26
Granger, Bertram, 117
graphic artists
Giger, H. R., 124
gray scale
black-and-white filmmaking,
84, values, 84
Grease, 105
Green Mile, The, 116
greensman, 53
grid, 137
Griffith, D.W., 10
ground areas, 145–46
area carpeting, 146
artificial grass, 146
fiberglass, 146
molded rubber mats, 146
Groz, George, 36

grummets, 142
guerrilla filmmaking,163–64
definition, 163
history, 163
Gypsy (television adaptation), 39
Haas, Robert, 118, 122
hair and makeup, 45–48
actors, 46
budget, 48, 131
characters, 47
costumes, 48
as design elements, 46
logistics, 48
materials, 48
period, 47
region, 47 responsibilities, 45
screenplay, 48
time frame, 47
hairdresser, responsibilities, 46
Hall, Charles D., 9, 120
Hall, Walter L., 10
hallways, 143
hand props, 73
hard backing, 142
Hathaway, Henry, 117–18
Hawks, Howard, 113
Haworth, Ted, 29, 107, 123–124,
Haynes, Todd, 33
heating, 72
Heaven Can Wait, 144
Heckel, Erich, 86
Henry, Buck, 144
Herman, Al, 10–11
Hitchcock, Alfred, 57
North by Northwest, 48, 154
rear screen projection, 166
Rear Window, 11–12
Robert Boyle, 98
Vertigo, 13, 57, 58
Hobbs, Christopher, 33
Hollywood, 108
Hollywood studio system, 2, 135
Homer, Winslow, 36
home interior, 106
Hook, 74, 75
Hopper, Dennis, 119
Hopper, Edward, 35–36
horror films, 9, 73–74,119–21
House and Garden, 35
House on Carroll Street, The,
Howe, James Wong, 29
hues, 82, 83
color correction, 85

psychological effect of warm
and cool colors, 83
Hughes, Albert and Allen, 28
Hunte, Otto, 11
Hunt for Red October, The, 146
Huston, John, 118
I Know What You Did Last Summer,
Illustrators, 130
Imazu, Eddie, 112
India ink, 90
Indiana Jones series, 166
insurance, 51
location, 71
Interiors, 10
interior sets, 153
Internet, 40, 71
Internet Movie Database, 171
interpreting the characters visually,
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1956), 123–24
James Bond series, 98
Jarman, Derek, 33
Jesus Christ Superstar, 122
Jiuping, Cao, 21
Johnson, Joseph Macmillan, 11–12
Kandinsky, Wassily, 86
Kazakow, Ben, 156
keeping ahead of the company, 75
Kettlehut, Eric, 11
Killing, The, 126
King Kong (1933), 10–11
Kirchner, Ernst Ludwig, 86
Kiss of Death, 117–18
kitchens, 72
kitchen sink realism, 12
Klassen, David, 44
Kleiser, Randall, 105
Kodacrome film stock, 107
Kodak film stock, 78, 107
Kokoschea, Oskar, 86
Kubrick, Stanley, 12, 37,
53, 58, 107, 126
Kurosawa, Akira, 126
Lachman, Ed, 78
landscapes, 106
Lang, Fritz, 11, 95–96
Lange, Harry, 13

INDEX / 193

Larsen, Tami, 113–14
Last Emperor, The, 53, 77, 11,
Last Picture Show, The, 109
Last Tango in Paris, 81
leads, 65
lead holder, 64
lead man, 45
lead pointer, 64
Lee, Spike, 27, 109
lenses, 67
Lester, Richard, 80–81
lettering, 64–65
Life magazine, 37
light, 83
color, 83–84
diffusion, 84
in work areas, 138
practical lamps, 142
line gauge, 65
line weight, 65
Ling, Barbara, 108
Linklatter, Richard, 156
literature, 38–39
as source for design ideas,
Little Big Man, 100
Litwak, Mark, 41
location fact sheet, 72–73
location files, 34
location manager, 51, 53
floor plans, 72
responsibilities, 51, 53
location releases, 71
locations, 20, 51–2, 72, 136, 151–57
location scouting, 50, 70–73,
Long Goodbye, The (1973), 126
Look magazine, 37
LoQuasto, Santo, 156
Los Angeles, 152
Losey, Joseph, 28
low-budget productions, 159–62ethods, 159–62
Lubitch, Ernst, 108
Lucas, George, 12, 109
Lumet, Sidney, The Morning After,
80, 144
luminance, 83, 84
Lynch, David, 9
MacDonald, Richard, 80, 108
magazines, 37–38
Magnolia, 11
Makeup, 46–47, 131

194 / INDEX

Malcolm X, 109
Malley, Bill, 9
Malpaso Company, 113
Maltese Falcon, The, 118
film noir, 118
private investigator film conventions, 118
Sam Spade’s office, 118
sets, 118
studio design, 118
Manchurian Candidate, The, 11
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, The,
Married to the Mob, 51, 78, 163
color palette, 78
décor, 78
Marsh, Terrence, 146, 155
M*A*S*H, 45
Masters, Tony, 13
matching location and studio work,
materials, 89
for construction, 139–40
fiberglass, 139
as metaphor, 89,
low-budget productions, 160
ordering, 99
papier–mâché, 139
plastic foam, 139
recycled materials, 161
timber frames, 139
shell moldings, 139
storytelling, 89
Styrofoam, 139–40
Matisse, Henri, 86
Matrix, The, 101
matte artist, 22, 166
matte shots, 166
McCabe and Mrs. Miller, 126
Max, Arthur, 12
Mayer, Louis B., 98
MGM, 98
Mean Streets, 153
Méliès, Georges, 93
Menzies, William Cameron, 2, 44,
Metal, 89–90
metaphors, 8, 10–12, 25–31
MGM, 98, Louis B Mayer, 98
modernistic sets, 98
miniatures, 153, 166
Mirrex Mirror Scrim, 52
mirrored surfaces, 74
miscellaneous expenses, 130
mise-en-scène, 7, 29
Miss Firecracker, 152
Mobry, Moss, 55

models, 62
modernist design, 97–98
Mondrian, Piet, 86
monotone color, 84
Morning After, The, 80
Moulin Rouge, 123
Munsell Color Notation System,
basis, 83
complimentary colors, 83
primary colors, 83
Murder on the Orient Express, 144
Murnau, F. W., 13
musicals, 121–23, 155
Name of the Rose, The, 23
Natural, The, 34, 130
Neoclassical architecture, 97
Fred Astaire–Ginger Rogers musicals, 97
neo-noir, 118–20
After Dark, My Sweet, 118–119
Blade Runner, 8
description, 118
The Hot Spot, 119–20
notable examples, 118
neo-surrealism, 9
New Jersey, 155–56
New York, 99–100, 107–8, 117–18,
123, 152–55
Nicholas and Alexandra, 99–100
Nichols, Mike, 22, 23–26
Nightmare on Elm Street, A, 121
color, 121
contrasts, 121
horror, 121
1909–1920, 115
1930s, 9, 108
1940s, 10, 106–7, 166
1950s, 108–9
1960s, 108
1970s, 9, 11, 12, 33, 107, 108, 126
1980s, 108, 109
Ninth Gate, The, 22
Nolde, Emil, 86
non-practical props, 73
Norris, Patricia, 54
North by Northwest, 154, 161
Oklahoma!, 122
Ondricek, Miroslav, 40
openings, 142–43
oral history, 40
Ostwald Color Theory, 83

Outlaw Josey Wales, The, 113–14
overlays, 67
paint, 140
acrylic, 90
intensity, 83
saturation, 83
painters, 49, 140
flats, 139
low-budget productions, 159
responsibilities, 49
vertical painting, 140
painter’s elevation, 84
painting, 140
paintings, 35–37, 85–87
papier-mâché, 139
parallel, 141
parallel straight edge, 64
Paramount Studios, 97
Parking, 72
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 91,
Paull, Laurence G., 99–9, 101
Pearl Harbor, 168
Peckinpah, Sam, 90
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 107
pencils, 65, 67
Penn, Arthur, 100
Pereira, Hal, 10–11, 13, 112, 117
period filmmaking, 92, 103–109
definition, 103
determining the time period,
Gordon Willis, 92
hair styles, 46
Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, 33,
91, 104–5
personal props, 73
perspective, 6, 9
petty cash, 71
Philadelphia, 155
photographic wallpaper, 91
photographs, 35, 37, 149
archival, 37
history of, 37
original, 37
researching, 37
Picasso, Pablo, 85–86
pictorial balance, 74
plans, 62, 65–70, 99
staging plan, 65–66
title height standard, 65
title block requirements, 65
plastic foam, 139
platforms, 141, 149
Polanski, Roman, 12, 22, 27

Polaroid camera, 70
photographing a location, 70
Polglase, Van Nest, 10–11
political thrillers
The Manchurian Candidate, 11
Pollack, 53
scenic artists, 53
Polly Platt, The Last Picture Show,
Pope color theory, 83
post-modernism, 100–101
post-production, 160
power outlets, 138
practical lighting, 75, 142
practical props, 73
pre-production, 56, 57–76
advice, 76
budget and scheduling, 129–33
concept drawings, 57–58, cover
sets, 76
deadlines, 75
drafting, 63–70
list of final pre-production steps,
location scouting, 70–73
low-budget productions, 159
organizing the prop department,
working in a studio, 136
storyboards, 62
pre-visualization, 22–24
primary colors, 83
prison film, 116
characters, 116
environment, 116
genre reinventions, 116
locations, 116
storytelling, 116
studio creations, 116
locations, 70
Polaroids of locations, 70
striking the sets, 148
art director, 76
production designer, 76
production assistants, 130
budgeting, 130, low–budget
productions, 159
production design
aging, 90
art department, 136
atmospheric qualities, 28–29
black-and-white filmmaking,
budgeting, 129–32
camera rehearsals,147

checking final construction of a
set, 147
checking final position of furnishings and décor, 74
collaboration and supervision of
hair and makeup staff, 47
collaboration with director and
director of photography, 1,
color correction, 85
color palette, 77
color, 74
communicating ideas, 15, 20
digital production design,
diplomacy, 51
early days of art direction, 2
finding a production designer,
fiscal responsibilities on a
low–budget production, 160
gels, 79
genres, 111
historical perspective, 1–2
interpreting characters visually,1–2, 30
locations, 70
low-budget productions, 159
merging CGI with production
design, 168
point of view, 24
Polaroids of locations, 79
pre-production, 20
production, 76
research, 15
responsibilities to communities,
scheduling, 132
supervision of the art department, 43, 56
working in a studio, 137
working with location owners,
working with the production
manager, 132
production illustrators, 55, 62
production manager, 56
scheduling, 132
script breakdown, 56
working in a studio, 136
product placement, 41
props, 50, 73
hand, 73
non-practical, 73
personal, 73
practical, 73
prop department, 50

INDEX / 195

organization, 73, 138
property master, 21, 50, 70, 159
prosthetic makeup, 46–77
Proust, Marcel, 38
psychological nature of production
design, 27–28
Public Enemy, The, 115–16
Raging Bull, 47
Raise the Red Lantern, 21
rear screen projection, 166
Rebel Without a Cause, 21
Red River, 113
reflections, 74
rehearsals, 147–48
rehearsal space, 147–48
Reimann, Walter, 9, 95–96
refrigeration, 72
releases, 71
Rembrandt, van Rijn, 35
Renior, Pierre-Auguste, 36
rentals, 130
Requiem for a Dream, 12
research, 33–41
restaurant interior, 106
restrooms, 72
retrofit, 8
Reversal of Fortune, 34
research notebooks, 34
Rinzler, Lisa, 28–29, 116
RKO, 97
Rockwell, Norman, 37–38
Rogers, Ginger, 97–98
Röhng, Walter, 9, 95–96
Rosemary’s Baby, 12
Roth, Ann, 54
Rothko, Mark, 86
Rubeo, Bruno, 20, 130
rulers, 71
Rush, 26–27
Saboteur, 161
Sacrifice, The, 23
safety, 50, 74, 137, 146, 147
sandbags, 142
San Francisco, 118, 155
Sardell, William, 153
saturation, 83
Saturday Evening Post, 37
Saturday Night Fever, 39, 122
Saving Private Ryan, 39
scale drawing, 67
Scarface (1932), 114
Scarface (1983), 22
Scarfiotti, Ferdinando, 11, 36, 54,

196 / INDEX

77, 81, 108
Paul Schrader, 108
Scarface (1983), 22
scenery, 137
low-budget productions, 161
raising scenery from a studio
grid, 137
studio plan, 70
scenic artist, 53
hot spots, 73–74
responsibilities, 53
painting, 140
scenic backings, 143
scenic paintings, 149
scenic planes, 145
scheduling, 132–33
Schlesinger, John, 108
Schlöndorff, Volker, 38–39, 54, 108
science fiction, 101, 123–24
Alien, 124
description, 123
The Fifth Element, 10
Invasion of the Body Snatchers
(1956), 123–24
makeup, 46
Metropolis, 95–96
notable science fiction films,
purpose, 123
Star Trek, 46
Star Wars, 46
2001: A Space Odyssey, 13
Scorsese, Martin, 57
After Hours, 154
The Age of Innocence, 107, 154
Gangs of New York, 20
GoodFellas, 49, 108
Mean Streets, 153
Scott, Ridley, 58, 80, 101, 124
Scream, 12
screen credits, 56
screenplays, 5–24
scrims, 149
Seconds, 29
section view drawings, 67
Seidelman, Susan
Desperately Seeking Susan, 156
Seitz, John, 117
Selznick, David O., 2–3
Selznick, Lewis, 98
Servant, The, 28
set construction, 20, 48, 49
bracing sets, 141–42
budgeting concerns, 131
drafting plans, 62
low-budget productions, 160
procedures, 146–47

set decoration
assistant set decorator, 70
checking final placement of furnishings and décor, 74
Chuck Pierce, 113
components, 21
Darrell Silvera, 112
décor elements, 21
Edwin B. Willis, 125
furniture plot, 70
low-budget productions, 159
practical lighting, 75
prop plot, 70
responsibilities, 45
Sam Comer, 112
set design, 20
set designer, 44
budgeting, 130
collaboration with production
designer, 44
responsibilities, 44
set dresser, 56
background, 56
furniture plot, 70
job description, 56
prop plot, 70
reflections, 74
set dressing, 20–23, 131, 140, 148,
Se7en, 12
Seymour, Michael
Alien, 124
shade, 83
Shampoo, 19, 26
Shawshank Redemption, 116
shell moldings, 139
Shining, The, 12, 126, haunted
house convention, 126
shooting at one location for another,
shooting schedule, 99
Showboat, 122
Showgirls, 122, 123
Shrek, 168
Siegel, Don, 123–24
silent films, 10, 11, 13
silicon spray, 74
Silkwood, 26, 40, 77
Sissel, Sandi, 79
Smith, Jack Martin, 125–26
Smith, Kevin, 155–56
Society of Motion Pictures and
Television Art Directors,
Sonnenfeld, Barry, 80
sound design, 160
soundstage, 11–12, 20

space, 99–100
Spartacus, 22, 46
spectral colors, 83
spectrum, 82–83
Spielberg, Steven, 37, 39, 74, 75,
Saturday Evening Post, 37
Saving Private Ryan, 39
staging plans, 70
elements, 70
stairways, 72, 141
Star Wars, 12, 101
Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, 78
Steadicam, 49
stomp, 64, 67
stone, 90
Stone, Oliver, 108
storage of sets, 148
Storaro, Vittorio, 36, 77, 79
Storyboards, 62
storytelling, atmosphere created by
architecture, 22–23, 30
street exterior, 106
studio work, 135–49
Styrofoam, 139–40
Sullivan, Michael, 105, 119
supervising art director, during the
Hollywood studio system, 2
support services, 73
surrealism, 36
swing gang, 45
Sylbert, Paul, 36–27, 144, 155
Sylbert, Richard, 9, 11–12, 19,
21–22, 58, 77–79

three-in-one, 74
tile, 89
timber frames, 139
time and place, 106
tints, 83
Titanic, 168
title blocks, 66
Tolstoy, Leo, 38–39
tone, 83
tools, 72, 138
Top Hat, 97–98
Tora! Tora! Tora!, 125–26
Townsend, Jeffrey, 154
Toy Story, 168
Toy Story 2, 168
tracing paper, 67
trailers, 72
translights, 142, 167
transporting sets, 136, 149
T-square, 64
Tucker: The Man and His Dream,
2001: A Space Odyssey, 58, 101
Twentieth Century Fox, 100
Tyler, Anne, 39
Tyler, Walter, 99

Tarkovsky’s, Andrey, 23
Tavoularis, Dean, 8, 10, 100, 106,
telephones, 72
templates, 64
Terminator 2: Judgement Day,
color, 84
lighting, 84
Texas, 109, 119–20, 155–56
Texas Film Commission, 20
texture, 67, 89–92
That 70s Show (television series),
theater schools, 171
Thomas, Wynn, 27, 109

values, color, 82, 83
color correction, 85
Vanlint, Derek, 124
Vanos, Ben, 9
Vehicles, 71–72
Vehoeven, Paul, 33, 155
vertical painting, 140
Vertigo, 57–58
video, 39, 40, 83–84, 69–70
video assist, 85
Vietnam films, 126
Vinterberg, Thomas, 164
Virginia, 156
visual storytelling, 7, 29
visualization, budget and
scheduling, 129–33
Vollbrecht, Karl, 11

Unforgiven, 107
unit production manager, 72
Universal Pictures, 9
Universum-Film AG (UFA), 97
Untouchable, The, 27
used clothing stores, 92

Von Brandenstein, Patrizia, 8, 16,
26, 40, 54–55, 77
Von Trier, Lars, 164
Wachowski brothers, 101
Walker, Roy,12
walls, 141
Walton, Tony, 8, 52, 38, 54, 144
wardrobe, 131
war films, 124–26
Warm, Herman, 9, 95–96
Warner Bros., 115
Watteau, Jean-Antonine, 36–37
Wedding Singer, The, 109
Weil, Dan, 10
Weir, Peter, 13
Welles, Orson, 6, 145
Westerns, 112–114
Western literature, 112
Western paintings, 112
Western town, 111
Wheeler, Lyle, 117
White, Cary, 119
Wienne, Robert, 95
wild walls, 20, 49, 139
Wild Bunch, The, 91
Wilder, Billy, 117
Willis, Edwin B., 125
Willis, Gordon, 81, 106
Witness, 13
Wiz, The, 123, 146
Wizard of Oz, 123, 146
Wolfe, Tom, 39
Wolsky, Albert, 54
wood, 138
working drawings, 99, 137
Working Girl, 24
working on location, 151–57
Wurtzel, Stuart, 81, 103, 104
Yates, Peter, 103–04
Yimou, Zhang, 21
Zanuck, Lili, 26–27
Zanuck, Richard, 26–27
Zea, Kristi, 49, 51, 54, 78, 108,
129–30, 152, 163
Zelig, 34
Ziembicki, Bob, 9, 107

INDEX / 197

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