Learn how to use these production design basics to create warm summer scenes in your movie and video projects.
It's that time of year! When temperatures rise, layers of clothing are shed, beaches and pools open, and summer is back. And while it may be ridiculous to ask how you know it's summer in real life, in the world of film and video it can be a little harder to convey summer time for a scene than just going outside.
How does a movie let viewers know that it's a hot and sunny summer day? Well, most of the seasonal settings come from production design. Let's examine how combined with directing, acting and camera you can use mood boards, props, sets, colors and lighting to visually simulate the perfect summer scene.
1. Mood boards and planning
The first step in producing a warm summer scene begins long before the cameras start rolling. Most of the production design is done in preproduction as the design team works closely with the producers, director, art directors and any other related departments to start the process. This includes all types of location search, set and prop design, as well as all other elements of production design.
At the beginning of preproduction and planning, good production design actually starts with a mood boarding process. Mood boards help a production choose a color palette and shape the overall visual aesthetic for how a movie should look. This is where most of the warm, bright, and sunny decisions are made, as a good-humored board can accurately reflect many of the final elements that you will see in the movie.
In addition to the video above (which covers everything that should fit in a mood board), you can read up on some other tips and tricks for creating the warm, summery visual tapestry for your movie with the following resources:
2. Paint with light colors
As you work on your mood board and design all of the production sites, sets, and props, keep in mind that warm and hot weather can be projected with bright, vivid colors. You can take inspiration from Spike Lee's famous hot summer movie Do The Right Thing. In the interview above, production designer Wynn Thomas shares some tricks of the trade with the American Film Institute.
He likes bright colors, much like what you would see in the desert after a rainstorm – the colors reflect both the growth and the hitting of the hot sun. Because of this, Thomas worked with Lee to add as many bright hues and colors as possible throughout production, including the iconic bright red wall that Thomas painted over a more natural and worldly color.
3. Places with lots of natural light
Bright, natural light is often used to create that summer mood. Image by Photostriker.
With that in mind, a summer look can also be created simply by using lots and lots of bright, natural sunlight. To sell a season to viewers, filmmakers can simulate how people live. In the cold winter months, the characters will cluster and spend more time inside. While in the summer the characters wear less clothes and spend as much time in the sun as possible.
These outdoor scenes begin in the script, but are continued through location scouting and conveyed through cinematography. While you don't always have to take photos outside to get the natural light, it helps when you're on a smaller budget and with less light. If you'd like more tips, here are some helpful tutorials for working with lighting in different locations:
4. Create the illusion of summer
Regardless of the time of year you are filming, the location, wardrobe and lighting can change any seasonal appearance. Image by Jacob Lund.
As mentioned above, good production design is really about the little details. While on a bright, crowded beach you can be sure to be broke and design entire scenes in production, you can get the same effect with a sunburned character and some sleeves rolled up.
To really create a daylight saving time scene, you need to fully embrace and create the illusion of summer. Put yourself in your characters' shoes and wonder what each little detail could mean. Make sure you think about all the details related to the set, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and even how hot and weatherproof your props could be.
5. Think about fog and condensation
You can't have a summer without sweat. Make sure you have some fog or wash bottles on hand. Image via Universal.
After all, one of my favorite tricks for creating this summer look doesn't come from a prop or a set, but from the characters themselves. As you can see in famous examples from Do the Right Thing and The Sandlot, a lot of the warmth gets with it Transfer sweat. When a character is really out in the hot sun, they will sweat – a lot at times.
A couple of nice misters and squirt bottles on set always help in a pinch to give the characters a sweaty look. Visible sweat is important when doing a close up. Or if you're working in the distance, including sweat drops on the characters' arms and legs, as well as understandable stains on clothing, this can really sell the heat.
However, if you are actually shooting outside in the heat, please remember to stay hydrated, take plenty of breaks, and not let any cast or crew overheat.
For more insights and interviews into production design, check out the following resources:
Cover picture about Don Pablo.