Whatever the story, a film contains a world for the viewer to explore. Creating a world for the characters and the ones invited in on the story is one of the most exciting things I like about production design.

Being able to imagine, dream and visualize then bring that into reality is a powerful thing to share. Everything begins somewhere. The idea is to first know what seed exists to know how to grow from it in imagination. Establishing or discovering the overarching theme is the first goal.

What does the world need to communicate?

Is it fear, isolation, joy or adventure? Consider the context. There are the obvious things that come to mind when we think of hope; maybe sunshine or smiley faces, but for a farmer, it may be rain.

Once the context is established by considering the characters and the story, specifics of the world will begin to take shape. What places have you been recently in which you experienced the emotions the film seeks to induce? Taking the time to explore the way colors, sounds, lighting and surroundings make you feel will give clues to the world you are creating.

Color schemes, the way colors are used together, play an important role in creating a world. In the movie Amélie, green and red, complimentary colors on the color wheel are used as the dominant color pallet. This theme subliminally carries the viewer into the world where two perfectly complimentary people find each other.

Characters, settings and props all make the world what it is. Specific colors can be given to rooms or characters to drive or emphasize this aspect of the world.

Determine the speed of the world. Is it slow or fast paced? Is it grainy and gritty, warm or elusive?

The more questions you pose and answer for the environment you wish to create, the more developed it will become.

The use of lights and darks can create bold statements or subtle, soft filters in which the world is viewed. Set the tone for the world by establishing how mush contrast or flow you want the film to contain. Once the theme, context and tone is established, and an exhaustive image gallery, sketches or items that reflect these decisions,  choosing the specific props, set dressings and wardrobe will be easier and you should end up with a cohesive, clear message for your world.

Creating something from nothing is fun because you have limitless possibilities. However the more limits you have the more creativity tends to birth. The ebb and flow of paring down and expanding ideas is an important part of brainstorming. Stay open, ask specific questions, allow others to ask specific questions about the world and discover what unfolds.

Questions: What are your favorite movie worlds? What are your set design and location philosophies?

Sarah Hascher


Sarah Hascher is a native yankee, but wears her southern charm like a necklace. She designs, creates and moves like the waves.

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