4 Classic Movies with Well-Designed Sets
Movies with great set designs create a world that the viewer inhabits. Great set designs can transport us to fantastical, opulent or frightening locations that spring from the imagination of the set designer. Actors breathe life into characters on the silver screen, but it is the often unsung art directors and set designers who create worlds for film characters to inhabit. Here are four movies that are recognized for outstanding set design.
Gone with the Wind (1939) dir. Victor Fleming
Tara plantation sets
Soldiers lying on the ground
Gone with the Wind author Margaret Mitchell is said to have been unhappy with the Twelve Oaks and Tara plantation sets that were created for the 1939 film version of her Civil War epic, but they have become iconic representations of the American South for millions of film goers. Gone with the Wind was shot mainly on Hollywood studio lots using constructed sets and painted backgrounds representing locations in rural Georgia, Atlanta, New Orleans and London. It was one of the first major films shot in Technicolor and made full use of a brilliant color scheme. In addition to sets representing the plantations before and after the war, other memorable sets from the film include the burning of Atlanta and the recreation of Atlanta’s rail yard with hundreds of wounded and dying soldiers lying on the ground.
The Shining (1980) dir. Stanley Kubrick
Danny pedals his bike through the deserted corridors
The Overlook Hotel hedge maze
The Overlook Hotel and its hedge maze add the perfect note of terror to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film version of Stephen King’s classic horror novel. Although the Timberline Lodge on Mount Hood in Oregon was used for a few exterior shots, most scenes were filmed on a set that represented the interior and exterior of the isolated hotel. The hotel set, which at the time was the largest ever built, was constructed on soundstages at EMI Elstree Studios in Hertfordshire, England. The Shining was one of the first films to use a Steadicam mount that allowed lengthy tracking shots to be used. One of the most famous tracking shots in the film follows Danny as he pedals his bike through the deserted corridors of the hotel. The Overland Hotel sets contribute to the menacing tone of the film by creating a space that is both vast and claustrophobic.
Blade Runner (1982) dir. Ridley Scott
Los Angeles in 2019
Japanese style sets
Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction action film has become a cult favorite, thanks in large part to its imaginative scenic design. Blade Runner is a dystopian vision of a world where genetically engineered robots are hunted down and destroyed by special police operative known as Blade Runners. The film’s art direction has been described as futuristic film noir. The setting is Los Angeles in 2019 and some kind of environmental catastrophe has led to continuous rain. Flying vehicles move past sparkling high rises that display huge billboards made from blinking diodes. Several scenes in the film used actual Los Angeles landmarks that were transformed with a retro-future design, including Union Station, the Bonaventure Hotel and Frank Lloyd Wright’s historic Ennis Brown House. Production designer Syd Mead’s dark vision of the future has had a major influence on the imagery of countless science fiction films and graphic novels that have followed in the footsteps of Blade Runner.
Titanic (1997) dir. James Cameron
Dining room sets
The sinking sequences
Rather than relying entirely on digital technology to depict the ill-fated ocean liner, James Cameron commissioned a reconstruction of the ship in a 17-million gallon seawater tank in Baja California. Original blueprints supplied by the Titanic’s builder were used to make the reconstruction as accurate as possible. A lifting platform was also constructed to tilt the ship during sinking sequences. In addition to full-size reconstruction, Cameron’s 1997 film used scale models to depict the sinking of the ship. The ship’s interiors were created with painstaking accuracy with original photographs and all props and furnishings like dining room sets were verified for historical accuracy by two Titanic historians. The film also includes underwater footage of the actual Titanic wreck. Cameron’s attention to detail paid off, providing an entirely believable backdrop for his tale of romance and disaster.
Allison Cooper is a writer and editor for Beyond Stores, an online retailer of discount furniture like kitchen and dining tables in addition to furniture for every other room in the house. When not at work, Allison loves curling up on the couch with her husband for a great drama flick.