Set Design

Set Design

Theatre set designers have known for decades that perspective can easily be tricked for people watching at a distance. So they rarely specify life-sized reproduction in sets because it is often unnecessary and even overpowering in scale to the cast (who are sometimes quite small). The same is true for TV and movie sets. On a guided (and carefully scripted) tour of Granada TV studios 20 years ago, the guide said the following about the real TV sets: “Many of you may have noticed that the permanent sets here are much smaller than normal. The reason is that television makes everything look 10% larger than they do in reality. So smaller permanent sets are always built to compensate.”  The tour then went to the outdoor Coronation Street set built in 1982. We were informed it was 80% life-size, but was much larger than the original set which was less than 2/3rds the size of a typical terraced street.

Also there was the full-sized outdoor set of Baker Street, built for filming of the Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. The guide told us it was rarely used, as the directors of photography thought it “dwarfed the actors.” They preferred to shoot on location with early Georgian era streets that were much smaller than the grander scale found in Victorian London. However if the series were remade today and shot with native 3D, it would be advisable to avoid unnatural alterations of scale and to use full sized sets. The reason is our perception of true size and relative scale information can be retained with 3D imaging. This would have shown that not only were the sets small, but any backgrounds built using ”forced perspective” (progressively much smaller the further they are from the camera) would be obvious to anyone with normal stereo vision. So an illusion that works perfectly in 2D would fail immediately the scene was shot with 3D cameras.

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