Archive for the ‘01: Movie Set’ Category

Edward Scissorhands

September 10, 2009

If I had to choose one master of movie set design, it would be Tim Burton. With his moody, macabre film style, Tim Burton’s elaborate sets completely take on a key role in every one of his masterpieces. He has the ability to transform the viewer’s sense of reality into a surreal, new world. Whether he is taking you on a journey through Beetlejuice’s wacky residence, or the grunge of Gotham City, the films’ backdrops never remain in the background. One of my favorite examples of Burton’s scene-setting success is in the movie, Edward Scissorhands.castle1-500x312

Edward Scissorhands is an imaginary tale of Edward, an inventor’s unfinished creation, who was left to live alone in a dark, industrial castle, with scissors for hands. When the local Avon lady makes her rounds about town, her heart goes out to this lonely creature. She convinces Edward to come to her home, in the over-stylized suburban neighborhood his mansion overlooked. This highly-clichéd sense of suburbia serves as a clever contrast to Edward’s cold, mysterious origins.

Burton heightens the disparity between Edward and his new surroundings by exaggerating his stark, gray interiors with the rows of houses, merrily painted in pastels. The “stereotypical 50’s suburb” is humorously presented, with its freshly mowed lawns and men of the house arriving home from work at exactly the same time. The shift from expansive rooms, devoid of color, to the Avon lady’s light-hearted, colorful neighborhood, emphasizes Edward’s shocking transitional experience.


Though the characters of Edward Scissorhands promote the achievement of the film, it is memorable because the effect the scenes have on the viewer. The interest of the plot comes from the recognition of the two very elaborate, very opposite settings presented. Tim Burton truly understands the effect of space around his quirky casts of characters.


September 9, 2009

Confessions of a Shopaholic

Over the past few years, a series of novels of Shopaholic was written by the UK author Sophie Kinsella.  The series of novels, one of the best sellers, was released as a film with the title, “Confessions of a Shopaholic.”  The stage is set in the glamorous world of New York City, where everything is approachable for shoppers.  Rebecca Bloomwood is a fun- loving girl who just got out college with a serious shopping addiction.

Rebecca has maxed out of her precious 12 credit cards.  In the mean time, she loses her job as a journalist.  Luckily, she lands a job at Successful Saving magazine with her article about spending vs shopping.  Her talent in writing leads to her dream life as a famous journalist, which worsens her debt.  Her debt collector chases after her and becomes a distraction to her career.  She ends up getting help from others to cure her addiction for shopping: opens a public auction to sell all her belongings to pay off her debt.

description 1 shopping

Beautiful and breathtaking stores always attract Rebecca with their fancy clothes, shinny shoes, and leathery handbags.  Scene 1 shows how much she loves shopping and how fancy the shops are by setting Rebecca to rub her cheek on the displayed coat with 7 mannequins in one shot.  In reality, this shop should be for the high-class to display many mannequins with only one rack.  This setting emphasizes her obsession and also gives us a clear assumption of her spending.


Another great scene is when sadly she is covered with bills on the floor and her friend is calculating her debt in the corner.  This is mainly focused on Rebecca’s situation at the moment.  The floor fully covered with bills clearly describes her debt, and her friend’s hand in the corner may imply that she is reaching out her hand to help Rebecca.  Receiving help from Rebecca’s family, friends, and her own talent, she finally gets out of debt.

Lighting and color has great affect on scenes depending on the mood or the message that is trying to come across.  When Rebecca is passing by stores, shopping or even when mannequins are convincing her, it is portrayed as bright, fancy, and vivid scenes.  As she undergoes her tough situation and further goes to a success, scenes not only get brighter, but also, happier.

“they said I was a valuable customer, now they sent me hate mails”

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation

September 1, 2009
Example of the "miniature killer's" crime scene model

Example of the "miniature killer's" crime scene model

When considering the set of any production, the background design has the capability to take on its own life form much like that of a character. This possibility is true of movies, television series, and even musicals and plays. There are numerous movies that come to mind when talking about the background as a character, such as Being John Malkovich, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Harry Potter, Labyrinth, and Nightmare Before Christmas. However consider television. The most prominent difference between movies and television series are their length. Both genres greatly impact our society and sometimes even our personal lives, but television series give viewers an opportunity to become even more connected with the plot, characters, and setting. Similar to movies, T.V. series, too, can accumulate a “cult” following, for example CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation is a long running television series on CBS, under the production of the incredibly successful Jerry Bruckheimer. CSI is a show about a team of crime scene investigators and the cases they encounter. It stems from a docu-drama show on the Discovery Channel, which followed real life forensic detectives.

The setting of CSI takes place is Las Vegas, Nevada. When the cast is not filming on location, there are two main sets. One set is the laboratory, where forensic tests take place and the second set is the connected police station where suspects and witnesses are interviewed. In addition to the main sets, there are the crime scenes, where the cast goes to collect evidence and provide their expertise in solving their cases.

Stylistically, the CSI labs have clean, crisp window walls. Some are frosted and backlit with blues and greens. The design rings true to what one might associate with a forensics lab and T.V.: clean, sterile, but yet sexy and mysterious. This style continues into “the field” where the team goes on site to collect evidence. The evidence then comes back to the lab, where the tech gadgets and equipment take on a life of their own. The setting is accompanied by the characters lengthy explanations and technical discussions of bullet trajectory, DNA, and fingerprints. The “nitty gritty” of the evidence relates to the sterile set, while the drama of the teams relationships and crimes relate to the sexy mystique created by the lighting and sound design. The style of the set is very consistent, to the point where the viewer is able to identify where characters are at all times, whether they be in an interrogation room, the morgue, or Gill Grissom’s, lead CSI, office.

In season seven, the CSI team encounters a serial murderer, known as the  “Miniature Killer”. The killer sends CSI miniature scale models of the crime scenes to the CSI office, challenging the team to find the location of the victim. The models contain the victim’s real blood and a trace of bleach, the killer’s phobia, in which she is, later, incarcerated and forced to work with everyday. Besides that, the scale models are exact replicas from the amount of glass pieces from a shattered window, the pool of blood from a gunshot wound, to the amount of electricity found in the room of an electrocuted victim.

The viewer experiences the actual crime scene, a perfectly replicated model of the crime scene, and the CSI labs, which makes this season particularly significant. The crime scene is a character within itself. It has a history, or a story made up by several components and events. The history is created by the “miniature killer” since those are her doings. However, the miniature scale models may also be considered a character within themselves because they represent the real crime scene created by the serial killer, thus revealing more her character.

The crime scene scale model is a backdrop for the serial killer, the character the viewer does not “meet” until very late in the season. As the season progresses the audience is introduced to more information about the serial killers past, and how she became a killer. But remember, this is only discovered through the crime scene models, which are made and anonymously mailed, by the “miniature killer”, to the CSI team, who then must find where the real crime took place.

This season has the most impact on the audience as well as the CSI characters. CSI is unable to solve the case in one episode; thus, the viewer continues to see it unfold in the crime scenes and scale models of the crime scene sets done by the serial killer. Viewers tune back each week to see what new mail the CSI office received. Was it a new scale model of the serial killer’s doings? This plot line has the most mystery and technical, forensic aspects the show has ever seen. On top of that are the relationships of the team members, which are pushed to the limits due to the stress of this unsolved case. The clean, crisp set of the lab partnered with the sexy lighting and music are a backdrop to the character of the scale models of the crime scenes. And it is these scale models and forensic settings that lead the viewers and CSI team to the actual crime scene, which is a character of its own.

Gossip Girl

September 1, 2009

Gossip GirlGossip Girl, the alluring television sitcom based upon a successful book series, centers around a group of privileged teens living in New York’s Upper East Side. With such a vibrant and ever moving city as the stage for the series,  allows insight into a world of riches, alliances, and betrayals. In the series, New York City is arguably the most integral character to the plot. The city provides the opportunity for the main characters to prematurely abandon their naiveté and innocence of adolescence and plunge themselves entirely into a high-brow social community replete with avarice, lies, underage drinking, and a continuous selection of parties and events to attend. The Upper East Side is bounded to the east by Central Park, to the west by the East River, and to the north and south, 59th and 96th streets, respectively. As we follow the series and, consequently, follow Blair Waldorf, Serena Vanderwoodsen, Nate Archibald, Chuck Bass, and others through their final years at their Elite private school, the viewer watches as they find themselves in situations few adults would be armed to handle. New York City acts as the playground for the super wealthy and, if anything, forces these adolescents into adulthood that much faster. To place this story line in any other city would not do it justice. New York works in so many ways as just another cast member. With so much activity constantly occurring about the city, you never know who you will see around the corner…or who will be catch you in the act and send the tip into gossip girl, an anonymous blogger who keeps tabs on all her upper east side teens, bringing to light the good, bad, and the ugly. Without the city, we would fail to understand the complexities of each characters psyche. From each characters expansive penthouse or townhome, to their ostentatious school, the amount of money, and the attitude towards it, becomes strikingly clear as the series progresses. In a world where ones parents are continuously off on another vacation or work travels, the teens are left to care for themselves for the most part, aside from their servants and drivers. The city almost forces an adult perception of these teens who are constantly in conflict over what the upper east side society expects and what they desire. The class and sophistication associated with New York City only works to underscore this. Just like the city, the series’ character’s are constantly evolving, growing up, and moving forward with their ever changing lives. New York City and the Upper East Side are, in many respects, who these characters are; It defines what they do, how they live, and the actions they take.

“You Know you Love Me”   XOXO

-gossip girl

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

September 1, 2009

pirates 3

pirates 2 The Popular Disney Movie, Pirates of the Caribbean, which cast the wonderful actors/actress of Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Keira Knightley, greatly uses the set(s) to help draw out the story’s plot. This movie is about a curse that was placed upon the crew of the Black Pearl led by Captain Hector Barbossa in which they can neither die nor live. To remove this curse, Barbossa and his crew must capture the missing gold medallion that was taken away by Bootstrap Bill Turner (Will Turner’s (Orlando Bloom) father) years ago and perform a blood sacrifice from the hands of the person who took the missing medallion. Upon meeting Will Turner, as he was rescued from the sea, Elizabeth (Keira Knightley) takes away the medallion around his neck, without knowledge of the dark secret behind the gold piece. Because of this, Elizabeth becomes the target for the blood sacrifice. Barbossa and his crew kidnaps her and brings her to the treasure cave in hopes of removing the treacherous curse. The drama and climax comes about as Will Turner and Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp) go on the quest to rescue her.

In making the movie come to life, the set provides a vital role in convincing the audience of the story taking place. As this movie is set in the mid 18th century with pirates sailing upon the Caribbean Seas, the attention to detail and making of the set is important in allowing the audience to engage and live in this world with pirates. The ship(s) used in this movie are crucial sets as everything happens aboard the ships. From the capturing of Elizabeth and being taken onboard the Black Pearl to Jack Sparrow/Will Turner’s quest in rescuing Elizabeth, the usage of ship(s) is crucial. The Black Pearl known as the ghost ship is built with black hulls and shredded sails. The ship is made up of wood planks with signs of scratches which show signs of deterioration in the harsh conditions of the sea. Fog appears at night and the ship is camouflaged into the foggy night. The set is filled with dark and gloomy colors to draw out the evilness embedded upon the ship and sends out a frightening mood. The vastness of the ship along with its black sails provides a message of “beware” to intimidate sailors and visitors.

The ship is where all the action takes place. It provides a home for the pirates to dine, sleep, and sail, but is also used as a stage for fighting.  When Jack Sparrow and Will Turner attack the ship with weapons and cannons, pieces of the ship come apart and water from the sea flows in. Wind and water causes destruction and provides a harsh environment for the pirates and colonists to fight in. The “look” of the set creates a point in the movie where evil lurks, destruction occurs, and danger prevails. The set definitely helps drive the climax and provides added depth to the movie.

Barefoot Contessa with Ina Garten

September 1, 2009

barefoot contessa

Barefoot Contessa, a Food Network program hosted by Ina Garten, features gourmet recipes that are simple to make.  Ina teaches how to elegantly entertain with an easy-going attitude.   What contributes to Barefoot Contessa’s success as a honest and inspiring cooking program, is that her show takes place in her own home.

Ina’s home is located in the historic town of East Hampton, New York, where she lives with her husband Jeffrey.  Barefoot Contessa is filmed in Ina’s kitchen, which features an 18 foot long island workspace with black quartz countertops, white wood cabinetry, and stainless steel appliances.  The neutrality of the finishes allow for the colors in the food and flower arrangements to be emphasized to their fullest and most appetizing potential.  The kitchen, in plan, makes the most sense in a functional way, as a “work triangle”.  The sink is built into the workspace, which is parallel to the stove and refrigerator.  The length of the workspace allows for Ina and her assistant to work side by side while testing recipes for the show, but isn’t too long that she “needs roller skates to get around”.  The design of Ina’s kitchen provides an ideal for a pleasing and functional workspace.  The success of this design is proven on television, as the viewers watch her work efficiently in the space.

Ina’s priority in entertaining is not only preparing delicious food, but also creating a quality atmosphere for her guests.   She emphasizes the importance of enjoying yourself and your company, and demonstrates this genuine hospitality by throwing a party for her closest friends in each episode.  This is a refreshing idea compared to most cooking shows on the Food Network.  Instead of cooking for a studio audience, she invites friends to test her food.  Instead of looking out a fake window on a studio kitchen set, the camera follows her outside into her beautiful garden.  The viewers even join her on excursions to the local farmers market, bakery, fish market, and florist.

Whether it’s a dinner party in her backyard garden, cocktail hour in her living room, or a romantic dinner for two by the fire, the setting is her home, a character that is invaluable to both Ina, and her cooking show.  Viewer’s look forward to who’s coming over for supper, what flowers are growing in the garden, and when her husband Jeffrey is going to come downstairs to test-taste the brownies.  With the gesture of bringing the show into her own kitchen, the audience feels as if they are invited to pull up a barstool and join in on the fun.

“Now how fabulous is that?!” – Ina Garten

Where The Wild Things Are…

September 1, 2009



This film has not yet been released, but the stills and previews that have been are leaving me ‘wildly’ anticipating its arrival. The visual conceptualization supersedes what I have imagined this story to ‘look like’in the past as a child reading the book before bedtime. The concept of bringing the imaginary creatures of a child into the landscape of reality is a beautiful interpretation of the moral to the story, that reality is a state of mind and that our dreams can have a direct and very real impact in our lives.

The film is shot with the intermingling of realities (the landscape and the child Max) and computer generated imagery (the ‘Wild Things’). The physical landscapes play an important role in the overall dreamy mood to the film. Although the physical appearances of the landscapes exist in reality, they also have an element to them that seems to primarily exist in our imaginations. For instance in the image above, Max and his fellow Wild Thing are on a voyage through a vast and empty desert. For the most of us, when asked to visualize an endless, sand filled desert, we would recollect tidbits from television or images we have seen in a National Geographic. Few have the personal experience of being in the middle of the desert, to recollect actual memories. In this way, although we believe that these places exist in reality, many of us are forced to imagine what they look and feel like. The scenes in this movie take place primarily in landscapes like the middle of a vast desert, or the edge of the highest mountain peak, or standing below a forest of huge ancient trees. These places resonate with our imagination, despite the fact that we know that they exist in our world. Thus our imagination can begin to resonate with the imagination of the main character Max. The scene engages with the viewer and stimulates imagination bringing all of the characters to life, even the Wild Things.

 The lighting in the scenes is another aspect of the environment that brings the characters into reality and to life. In the image above the light is bouncing off the sand dunes (something real) in the same fashion that it is bouncing off of the child Max (something real), as well as in the same fashion that it is bouncing off of the fir of the Wild Thing (something imagined). All of these aspects of the scenes begin to blur the distinction between reality and imagination in a beautiful coherent way.


September 1, 2009

The comic, Spiderman, was created in the early 1960s about an ordinary teenager struggling with rejection, loneliness and inadequacy in addition to fighting crime. Peter Parker aka Spiderman is an orphan raised by his aunt and uncle. Peter’s uncle’s last words to him before he was killed were “with great power comes great responsibility.” Peter’s depressing and overwhelming life is mirrored in the Spiderman movies with muted and dull atmospheres. Although, scenes featuring Spiderman and his villains appear in bright, vibrant colors. Not only are bright colors present, but buildings and objects are manipulated to look somewhat cartoon-like; this creates a comic resemblance. The two differences in scenery distinguish the split personality of Peter and Spiderman.

In the chosen screen-shots, the office of the Daily Bugle editor is completely gray; the walls, the chairs, the desk, even the clothing is gray. Peter sells pictures of himself, Spiderman, to the Daily Bugle just to make ends meat, when in turn the editor slanders Spiderman’s name, representing him as a villain rather than a hero. The gray building represents Peter’s bitterness towards the paper based on his forced suffering of these accusations all for a few measly dollars. The only source of color in the room is the framed article about Spiderman. Spiderman embodies great power and basically the antithesis of Peter Parker, thus explaining its focus in the room. While the view from outside the editor’s office is dull, the backdrops during the action scenes are flashy and detailed; there is a presence of light. The scene pictured with the Green Goblin during the parade is obviously computer generated to look almost drawn, like a page in a comic book. Buildings are shades of red, orange and purple, and the scene is much brighter. The transitions between realistic and comic scenes are obvious, but are vital to the ambiance of the movie. Not only do they define the differences between the two personalities, but add an excellent entertainment quality. Most superheroes are incapable of being related to nor do they have troubled lives, thus the “average” life of Peter Parker adds drama and intrigue to the film, rather than just being yet another typical action movie.

Moulin Rouge

September 1, 2009

Fantasies become reality in the film Moulin Rouge.  The story focuses around the love of a young writer (Christian) and a courtesan (Satine) for the Moulin Rouge who fall in love under dream-like circumstances.  The pair must hide their relationship during the transformation of Moulin Rouge from a night club into a theater, from the rich investor less they be discovered and Christian killed.  Moulin Rouge is a modern take of the Tristan and Iseult a classic story that deals with the complexities of balance and adultery. 

When the audience first meets Christian, the film is shot in a sepia-esque style which mirrors the solemn tone of the opening.   However, as soon as the love story is begun to be told through flashbacks, the film switches into full color.  The color schemes continue to alternate throughout the opening sequence, going to sepia when Christian is without Satine.   The love story is filmed in full color, with the filmmakers only using sepia when Christian has lost Satine, either before or after the love story is told.    

Sets are whimsical and fanciful throughout the ideal and magical moments of the movie.  The more fantasy filled the story, the extreme the set.   From a swing extending from the 30 foot ceiling in the dance hall, to the discovery of love inside the famous Moulin Rouge elephant, to the disquieting Gothic Tower, nothing is too outlandish in this setting.  Audiences just except the wild sets as a part of the story because it is a part of the fictional world of Christian and Satine.

Ultimately the story is a tragedy and as the story turns darker, we go deeper into the depths of the Moulin Rouge and see the not-so-glamorous side of the characters’ lives, going behind the scenes of the fantasy.  The public rooms are stripped of their colorful façade, being replaced by heavier fabrics, exposed beams, and unfinished walls.   As the layers of the Moulin Rouge fall away, the true relationship of Christian and Satine is also exposed, offering the question of whether the play is a reflection of the relationship, or the relationship a reflection of the play.  Trapped in their own worlds, Christian and Satine’s relationship has flaws much like the true side of the Moulin Rouge.  As Satine’s illness progresses, the sets become darker and darker culminating in her death.  The final scene in the story takes place in the dimly lit backstage of the Moulin Rouge theater, with nothing but dark empty space surrounding the actors.

The Fountain

September 1, 2009

The spaceship scene from The Fountain by Darren Aronfsky shows an example of how built sets are not always composed of an interior space surrounded by walls which house furniture.

This particular portion of the movie focuses on a futuristic theme of space travel. Here, Huge Jackman’s character, Tom, occupies a redefined vision of a spaceship carrying a dying tree headed for a nebula. This travel is in pursuit of the tree’s hopeful rebirth among the dying star. The evocation of death in this portion is in support of the main theme of the constant struggle with accepting death, and the search for a cure to preserve our time with the people we love. The set’s extremely raw and rugged appearance helps support and convey the impression of death, and the process of dying. This set within the movie places the same theme within a new, futuristic, and intellectual atmosphere where the character can only interact within the means of the spaceship, and its contents.

The set is composed simply of the spaceship which is depicted as a large, clear, floating space that is very bubble like. The spaceship encompasses an organic area filled with natural elements which includes an enormous, dying tree composed of rough, undulating wood in a small encased environment. The surrounding is as if a small section of land were dug out and simply placed into the spaceship for its travels. It is comprised of numerous amounts of other dead vegetation, a small pond, and earth. The set also includes a few personal belongings and some primitive tools which are implied to have been hand crafted by Tom from the surrounding environment. The background scene, which was originally a green screen, was replaced with actual close up footage of small chemical reactions that take place in a Petri dish. This approach yielded a beautiful, abstracted depiction of space and the nebula’s explosion. The lighting for most of the set is very subtle and almost tranquil until the nebulas explosion in which the set becomes flooded with light. Here, there is a shift even in the coloration of light from a bluish hue to golden which falls in line with shift in plot.

Overall, this set within The Fountain shows an exquisite example of how a futuristic and semi-abstract setting can be formed to support the story being told without the confinement of walls, and what we as viewers expect.