View Full Version : My first Post and first set design

04-21-2010, 09:17 PM
Hi all, I hope this is a fitting place to post, I just wanted to show the past three weeks worth of work that have consumed my life.

After pouring myself into writing a script, and going through 4 rewrites, I was ready to begin construction of my back story locations. Wanting to make my first feature chock full of production value, I wanted to construct some sets that aren't frequently seen in indie shoots, and keeping this in mind when I came up with the story, I can say that thus far I am excited about the possibilities. Considering I am going at this production design process alone, it has been a serious undertaking.

The layout of the first back story set was simple in theory: A small band of Native American's led by a shaman. The shaman would have an individual wigwam, and the followers would stay in a 15 foot tall, 12 foot long wigwam/longhouse hybrid. Separating the two lodging structures would be a ceremonial circle.


I am sure there is software that would have given me some better renderings or layouts, but ehhh what can I say, I am a pen and paper type.

Well fortunately a lighting storm broke a pine off 15 feet from the ground, so I had the center post for the ceremonial circle, and construction took off from there.

The shaman's wigwam was the test; to see if I could actually build a Native structure. It ended up solid as a rock and it was time to move to the ceremonial circle.

I cut 18 poplar saplings for the circle's perimeter, and sunk them 2 feet into the ground.


Notice the beginning of my longhouse in the background. This would end up being a very difficult undertaking. However it had to be huge, because it is where the interior shots will take place. So it needed room for all the actors, camera, lighting, and the two or three people that will make up my crew.

It ended up spectacular



Well the construction of the woodland set was a success. I just have to cover the frames, and add some finishing touches to the location, and it will be finished. However, with the structures out of the way, it was time to move on to the serious undertaking of constructing the village of a small band of Natives.

While scouting my family's property for the village location, I found a field that was perfect.


So I pulled out a pencil and paper and came up with the layout, using the topography as a guide.



Now the fun of digging 96 foot deep holes, cutting 96, 15 foot hardwood saplings, clearing a path through the five foot grass and blackberry briars... Then constructing everything. It looks like the next month will be chock full of sun up till sun down work.

If anybody is in the NC area and feels generous I would love any assistance possible

Sorry for such a long first post, I hope you enjoyed it. After focusing so heavily on the story, it is beautiful to see it coming alive.


04-22-2010, 06:45 AM
awesome work, man, keep it up :)

lee caropolo
04-22-2010, 09:48 PM
This is great! I wish i had your patience. What a wonderful thing to see your creation come to life before your very eyes.

04-23-2010, 12:37 AM
Thank you both, I will be sure to post updates when I finish up the second location. Lee, I dont know if it is patience or a borderline obsession at this point, but it is a cool feeling to see it all come together.

04-23-2010, 01:02 AM
Awesome work.
We learned things like that, when I was a Boyscout (many moons ago), but I`m not sure if I still could remember how it was done.

All the best with your project and keep us updated.
Canīt wait to see the whole thing.


04-23-2010, 07:41 AM
Frank, interestingly enough, I have never been a boyscout, but I found a boyscout handbook from the 60's at a yard sale. It has been my bible during this project. I don't know if scouts still do everything that is in this book, but I am constantly amazed at the amount of skills contained within.

Sad Max
04-23-2010, 09:46 AM
This is Great Stuff. Don't worry about the presentation of the drawings or about software, the final product is the set (well, really, the truly final product is the film, but you know what I mean...) and you don't need to think about presentation quality until you're making 'pretty pictures for the lower life-forms...'

You might also enjoy a book called 'Shelter,' and its sequel 'Shelter II' (although the first book is the best and the second can be tough to find...). Both are loaded with all manner of photos and drawings of 'primitive' construction and architecture. If not already in your library, check them out.

Look forward to seeing more as your build and shoot progress.

edit - looking again at your sketches I can promise you that plenty of major tv and film projects have sported sets and dressed locations realized from sketches basically no different, from yours...

04-23-2010, 04:51 PM
Thanks for the book suggestion Sad Max. I will definitely look into it asap, and it is good to hear that my weak sketch attempts aren't completely laughable.


Sad Max
04-23-2010, 04:57 PM
The only weak sketch is the one that fails to convey the intended information.

04-24-2010, 05:05 PM
Wow that sir is how you excite people. By caring about your project enough to get your hands dirty. Congrats and I along with everyone else can't wait to see how she looks when complete.

04-24-2010, 09:49 PM
Touche' Sad Max...

Thanks Zblock, moving back to my family's NC farm after living in LA was a hard pill to swallow to say the least, but I figured what better place to build my pre-contact Native American set. Having the ability to go through script rewrites, pre-production in peace, and planning shots for the past year can only be a good thing in the long run.

I have never been more excited to wake up and spend my time on something, so I can guarantee i will post up progress pics. I have spent the past week clearing the field location for the village.


05-08-2010, 01:18 AM
Well I had to modify the village layout I included in the last post due to the topography of the field. The new layout makes better use of the bowl shaped terrain, and separates the village leader from the rest of the clan. Here is a quick sketch of the new layout:


I liked the fact I constructed the wooded set without power tools but that wasn't an option with this field. I recruited the services of a local farmer to come out and cut 2 acres in the rear of the field for me.


Well now that the area was cut down to a 'more manageable' level (the 5 foot grass that was there left some thick grass to trudge through), it was time to mark off the village layout on the terrain. The best option for the task, in my mind, were hot pink marking flags. So one by one I marked off the field.


Using them as a guide I pulled out my POS lawnmower and 8 hours later I had my layout


It is hard to see due to the thick grass everywhere. So I knew my next task. I had to rake up all the grass on the site. Luckily my buddy from college came down for the weekend to lend a hand.

Raking through vines and thick grass in 90 degree heat was a serious task.


Slowly the layout begins to stand out as the thick grass is piled up


Unfortunately my help had to leave as the weekend came to a close, which left me with some huge piles of grass to deal with. Oh what an adventure the past week provided thanks to those d@mn piles.

Mice, rats, voles, and rabbits were everywhere. In fact, one little fella decided to snuggle up to a shirt I left on the ground.


Well all of the rodents I was seeing raised a red flag. Where there are plentiful rodents... there are hungry bellies ready to eat them. The foxes and coyotes I saw the first few evenings of the week as I wrapped up my raking and hauling of piles wasn't my concern. As I pitchforked the piles onto a large tarp, the black snakes, kingsnakes, and hognose snakes let me know the reptiles were taking advantage of the moist grassy piles as shelter and the plentiful food sources. Well as the week was winding down and I was getting dazed from the 12 hour days in the sticky heat. This guy exploded out of a pile and woke my @ss up.


A huge southern copperhead. Talk about an occupational hazard. I tried to shoo him away but he slithered out, curled up, and began taking strikes at my rake. I let him wear himself out, and took the opportunity to take one last pic before he slithered off.


Talk about a hair raising way to cap off the week. One last twelve hour day of hauling piles of grass and the village layout was complete.

An unusable reverse shot of the layout, but until the wigwams are complete the usable shot wouldn't show off the layout quite as well. The herbicide I sprayed on the paths, circular wigwam plots and communal areas seems to be taking effect nicely. Trying to decide if I m going to let the grass around the area grow back up, or if I will keep it cut at a moderately long length.


Now on to taking the post hole digger, digging 112 holes, finding 112 18-20 foot saplings in the thickly wooded hundred acres around this field, pre bending them, putting them in the ground, and lashing the 7 wigwams together... Oh what a fun next week........

Sad Max
05-08-2010, 10:34 AM
Wow. Yeah, you get stuff done, all right.

05-08-2010, 11:43 PM
This is some awesome stuff you're doing.

I used to live in NC, when I was in college. Where are you exactly?

What do you plan on doing about the snakes? Or do you figure they'll end up finding a new home with all the construction going on around them. It would suck to have one of your actors bitten by a snake.

Sad Max
05-09-2010, 09:22 AM
A crate-load of live mongooses ought to sort that right out.

05-17-2010, 10:27 AM
Jason, I am in Catawba County. Where did you go to school in NC? I am a UNC class of 06 grad.

Yeah I have seen a lot of snakes, but only one venomous snake, but it would be a catastrophe to have an actor bitten by a copperhead. It seems all of the commotion is keeping them at bay however. As a snake keeper, I am not bothered by them, but I know everyone isn't so understanding.

Sad Max, lol, if you know where I could acquire a crateful, I am all ears.

So anyhow... I figure now would be a good time for an update.

After I completed the layout it was time to begin digging the 112 holes for the wigwam frames. Armed with just a post hole digger, I knocked out the job in 3 days. 3 verrrrry long days.


Next I had to bring over the 20 foot trees that I had scoured 100 acres to find (112 trees in total). The half a mile hike with 200 pounds worth of trees on your shoulders........SUCKS, and then you realize you have to do it 14 times. My neck and back are not my friends right now, but fortunately I don't have to go to the gym for a while. I somehow coerced my producer to come out and lend a hand for a weekend, one load of sticks was enough for him. I gladly took a picture.


Now that all of the sticks were on the site, we had to drop them into the holes, and tamp the thick NC clay around them using cut off pieces of poplar trees.


The herbicide is really making the layout pop now... only 4 more wigwam sites to tamp.


By the end of this previous weekend, I have completed 6 out 7 of the general wigwam frames. I still have the exterior supports to finish though, but it is a much easier task. After that, I just have to plant my maize crop, haul the ton of river stone to the site for fire pits and lining the pathways, construct some hide stretchers, and cover the wigwams... Looks like another months worth of work, but thus far I have to say, as a crew-less full scale shaman's lair & native village set designer, I am pleased.


An unusable low reverse shot from the top of hill... but it shows off the layout, pretty well for the time being.


05-18-2010, 09:53 AM
I graduated from Elon in '07, but I spent a lot of time in Chapel Hill, because my wife (girlfriend at the time), lived right on the edge of Durham and Chapel Hill. I have to admit that I miss Franklin St.

Looks like you're working hard and making good progress.

You know, I wonder if you could use that reverse shot by using a digital matte painting to cover any structures, etc. Might be more post-work than you were planning, and might be unnecessary if the shot wouldn't add much.

05-18-2010, 03:06 PM
I have been thinking about using it as well. I have no experience with digital matte painting, and I was trying to avoid that route, but the more I look at the framing from that angle, it seems like a useful master. I pulled out the ladder today and looked at the same angle from 12 feet up and it is gorgeous (and the downward angle of the shot eliminates the house in the background), so I might be purchasing or building a jib in the near future.

Any good links for digital matte painting? My experience in the digital post world is limited, so any resource recommendations would be much appreciated.

... and yes Franklin St. saw many a ridiculous evening during my time in Chapel Hill.

05-19-2010, 12:04 AM
I would just try to hook up with someone here who has experience in matte painting. I bet if you took a high res photo of the area you want matted out, someone could use it to create a matte. And with the high production values you have for this, I wouldn't be surprised if you found a number of people who would be willing to help out, with both creating the matte, and compositing it into your shots.

05-23-2010, 08:35 PM
Well it took two months, but I am finished with construction of my back-story sets. All I have to do is cover the frames, plant my maize crop, fight some poison ivy, decorate, and add talent voila.... back-story complete. As a set designer without a crew, it has been an experience to say the least.




05-24-2010, 12:08 AM
This is fantastic:

...After that, I just have to plant my maize crop, haul the ton of river stone to the site for fire pits and lining the pathways, construct some hide stretchers, and cover the wigwams... ...I am pleased.

Well, dammit, you should be! Have you seen Fitzcarraldo, or the documentary about it's making, Burden of Dreams? If not, I think you'll find some inspiration there. Given you can find the time of course...


No Handle
05-24-2010, 11:03 PM
Curious about what you used to lash the saplings together, and what you plan on covering these with...

What's historical for covering a hut down in Carolina, reed mats?

Anyhow, looks fun, like a fulfilling way to spend some time.

-For that reverse master shot, you could probably blue screen the background with a couple rolls of felt or some damn thing.


05-24-2010, 11:35 PM
Sean I have seen Burden of Dreams. Though I am a bit obsessed with this project, dragging a ship over mountains through the jungle definitely takes the cake. However, it is definitely inspiring to watch.

No Handle,
Reed Mats are the usual Spring, Summer, and early fall covering. Once winter rolls around most were covered with either birch, poplar, or elm bark. For my purposes I have opted with pre-sewn grass mats which will be cut and layered in a large shingle/scale like fashion. A similar covering style (different material) can be seen in the Powhatan style lodging used in Terrence Malick's, The New World.

As far as lashing is concerned, traditionally the inner bark of a Basswood tree would have been used, but convenience and lack of Basswood trees sent me looking for a more accessible option. It was a toss up between jute and sisal twine. I tried the sisal on my smaller, shaman's 10 ft diameter wigwam, but found it hard to lash and make knots with. The jute was a lot easier to work with, and it became my go to material for lashing. I am sure the people at Lowe's wondered what I was doing with all the twine I ended up using for this project.

No Handle
05-25-2010, 12:32 AM
I've never run across basswood up here, but I've found cedar bark works pretty well for cordage (provided there's a down tree somewhere). I figured jute or hemp twine would've been your choice for a project this size... there's a time for realism, and there's a time for productivity, each in its place.

"I am sure the people at Lowe's wondered what I was doing with all the twine I ended up using for this project."

Next time you go in there, buy a bunch of duct tape, a hacksaw, some clamps, and make a big point of asking the cashier, hypothetically, how he/she would go about stopping massive bleeding. Then, as an afterthought, grab a tube of krazy glue from the checkout aisle and throw that in your cart for good measure. Might as well give them some excitement.

06-10-2010, 11:40 AM
If I was closer I'd donate a few weekends to coming and helping build.... actually wait just a min. I'll be traveling around the country for 6 weeks with the Kavadba Roadtrip and one of the things on our bucket list is to do a day of volunteer work. You can find more information out at www.kavadba.com

I suppose most of the hard work is done but if you need 5 guys for a day we'd work for lemonade and maybe a small donation for gas. We leave the 28th of this month and will probably hit the south 3 1/2 weeks later.

Brickhouse Media
06-14-2010, 06:14 AM
This looks totally kickass. When are you planning on shooting? Will it impact your construction/design/materials? It reminds me of the way they built the Hobbit town a year in advance for LOTR so it looked overgrown and real.

07-02-2010, 09:56 AM
Brickhouse... that is the whole reason for me building right now. I begin shooting in late Sept., but I don't plan on shooting any exteriors until Oct. So everything will become a tapestry of fall color. But yeah, it has been a balancing act between maintaining the site so it doesn't get too wild, and making sure it has time to grow up. It is honestly looking good right now, wildflowers are all over the site, and butterflies are everywhere... it would make for an interesting shoot right now honestly.

Zblock, Ill check out the site, and let you know asap. I am about to have to cut a trail through 100 acres of forest and any help would be good help for this task. It won't be glamorous, but if you are willing to lend a hand and are still available when you come through the south... feel free to come on by.