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By Rose Meza |

Building Sets — On the Fly, and on Budget


Do you ever notice the backgrounds in our live-action courses at lynda.com? Building sets is part of our production process. Our stellar team works with directors, producers, and builders to plan and assemble eye-catching sets in our soundproof, well-lit studios. But when the sandwich shop next door to our studios closed, leaving the space vacant for a few months, we saw an opportunity to create a new stage and build a fun new set in that space.

First, we’d need to make it viable for shooting. Our normal studios have ample room to allow for crew and camera movement, and they have large doors that make it easy to move sets, walls, or props in and out. They’re also soundproof with built-in lighting grids.

But the sandwich shop was built for making, well, sandwiches—not movies. So we had some challenges ahead of us. Besides all the spiders and dust that had settled in the shop, its high-vaulted ceiling made it an echo chamber, and hard linoleum flooring made every footstep audible—both of which would cause sound problems. Its large south-facing windows and skylight created lighting problems, and an old counter blocked space that we’d need for cameras. In short, we had our work cut out for us—and we had a new course we wanted to shoot there in just a few weeks: Von Glitschka’s 21-Day Drawing Challenge, which publishes later this month.

We started with a brainstorming session, bringing the producer, director, designers, audio team, and set manager together to solve the problems before us. We wanted the set to have a casual feel to complement Von’s drawing course, in which he tells us that you can draw anywhere. We thought a cafe would be perfect, so viewers could feel like they’re joining him for his morning cup of joe. But the set will also be great for future courses that call for a relaxed setting or intimate, one-on-one environment.


We demolished the counter with sledgehammers, saws, and crowbars to make room for cameras and lights.


We addressed many of our audio and lighting issues by hanging sound treatment pads over the shop’s windows to block out both light and outside noises. We covered the floor with sound-absorbing carpet squares leftover from other shoots. We brought in large LED lights to create our own lighting rather than relying on natural light. We then created a false lower ceiling by building overhead frames draped in muslin dropcloths, and installed furniture pads and sound treatment panels on the surrounding walls. Once the stage was ready, we went to work building our set.

CafeModel CafeModel2

In just 30 minutes, one of our designers, Greg Pickard, was able to use SketchUp to generate a 3D model of what we wanted the set to look like. He actually learned how by watching our course SketchUp Pro: Tools and Techniques. We also used lynda.com courses to help us pick complementary colors for our set: Mary Jane Begin’s Foundations of Color and Von Glitscka’s Drawing Vector Graphics: Color and Detail.


Once we had our model, the team got to work tearing things down, laying flooring, and painting. It took two weeks of all-hands-on-deck to make the space camera-ready for our shoot. Many of the sets you see in our courses are facades; they’re made to look like real walls, but in fact they’re lighter, thinner, more flexible versions of the real thing. In this set, the black “chalkboard” is actually just painted wood, and we use colored tape to mimic the look of trim. These tricks made it easy for us to stay within budget, and to reuse materials for future shoots.


Here’s the final product. The place looks so great we’re surprised we don’t have people waiting in line for a cup of espresso on their way to work—even if we do still get an occasional spider straggling through.


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