The visual mood and atmosphere of the film project is developed in preproduction, often by close collaboration between the director, the production designer, and the cinematographer. The ultimate goal of production design is to translate the director's vision of the script into a workable design that can be effectively captured by the camera.
Set Design and Construction
Film sets are often created entirely from scratch on vacant land or lots. A great deal of ingenuity and craftsmanship is used in building sets, especially on major motion pictures where sets are unbelievably complex. The most critical element of any set is that the images that appear on film look as realistic and convincing as possible. Most film sets are anything but real. Building fronts often have doors that don't open and roofs that extend only a few feet and cover nothing but bare ground. Spaceships have no insides, or even backsides or bottoms, and living rooms and pool halls can't be lived or played in. What's important is that the camera sees enough tangible structural information to create an undeniable sense of realism.
Rome Wasn't Built in a Day, or Even in Italy
Set construction always takes time, and there are stories galore about film crews and casts standing around while the last handful of nails is driven. More than a few motion pictures have begun filming while paint was still drying in the background. Getting the sets designed is the first step in the process, but getting them built and ready for the shooting schedule should come right on the heels of design approval.
Materials and Artistic License
The materials for set construction can come from just about every source imaginable. Major productions will have truckloads of brand-new material dropped off directly from lumberyards. For low-budget productions, salvage yards and scrap piles are gold mines for construction material. As long as the set doesn't fall down or blow away, the materials for construction can be scavenged from innumerable cheap or even free locations.
Paint can be mixed and matched from the seemingly endless supply of partial cans in the garages of nearly every homeowner in America. There's nothing unethical about begging everyone involved in the production for any excess material from home-improvement projects.
Soundstages can be rented or leased for a price, and with that price also comes a number of significant benefits. Most soundstages are fully equipped with electrical outlets for every piece of machinery used in a shoot. The soundstage is also built for recording audio in the best possible acoustic atmosphere. Soundstages can be created from scratch in warehouses or abandoned office space. Virtually any standing structure can be converted into use as a soundstage with enough soundproofing and power. Relatively inexpensive spaces can also be rented or leased for the few weeks that most film productions will take.