A few months ago we were approached by our good friends, and amazing talents, Josh Ruben and Vincent Peone. They had a project coming up and were requiring small sets for use in a series of web videos. The client was Greenpeace and they were going to combine our sets and an actor via green screen, Mr. Reggie Watts, improvising the words/message. Of course we said YES! The sets they wanted were to illustrate some very different environments –an alpine mountaintop, a jungle, a desert, and kind of a swampy bayou. It was great. All super different with vastly different styles of plants and terrain. They needed certain elements for each scene to fit their overall approach: stream for the jungle, floating lilypads for bayou, open meadow with windmill for alpine setting, and big open area with prairie dog holes for desert. Apart from those, and a few other must-haves, we were able to design the sets as we saw fit. (That is the beauty of a long-term work relationship. They trust us to be creative and we make sure they have plenty of options for creative flexibility with the sets.) We had about a month to complete the models. We made them so they could be disassembled and transported to the shooting studio.

Shooting days are always really long and tiring for us. I’m sure for those that do it all the time they become accustomed to the schedule and the pace, but for Lori and me it is exhausting. The plan was to shoot the sets in the morning and in the afternoon they would do the green screen work with Reggie. They had numerous tech guys on set working their magic so the video footage would be ready for the afternoon. It was intense! A huge production crew, plus people from the advertising company, plus a small delegation from Greenpeace, made for a full house. Here is the breakdown of how it went shooting each set.

Alpine Mountain-Three main elements consisting of background mountains, a long line of rolling hills, a grassy plain for everything to sit on. Round hay bales of varying size (to force the perspective) dotted the landscape. Had to flatten one so a small gramophone could fit on top and without thinking I took off a big slice – I had no hay colored paint to touch up. Oops! Flipped it over and had to make due with the unfinished (but painted) underside. The windmill, special ordered from Germany, did not turn as needed. Not realizing it was wired differently, we blew the motor even before we started. Luckily, resourceful guys from their art department came up with a solution and saved the day.

Kathleen adjusts the gramophone on the bale of hay.

Alpine mountains and windmill in progress in studio.

Going old school with a gramophone (it's actually a pencil sharpener!)

Hay there!

Desert- Two main elements – “expansive” open desert with flats of mountains in the distance and a smaller section of desert, elevated and close to the camera, where they could have Reggie do his thing. The spotlight they were using to simulate the sun peeking over the mountains started melting the set. Tried to block out the melted areas with gaffer's tape and Cinefoil. We also couldn't get our tumbleweed to adequately tumble across the set. It kept getting caught in trees and things. I think they fixed it digitally.

The full desert landscape. (The tiny people and dog are not in the video)

The tiny stage is set for Reggie. They added green screen animals too!

Jungle-  This had one main element with removeable trees for easier transport. Pretty smooth shoot on this one. Got to use the fog machine too!

On set. Almost ready to shoot the scene.


Bayou- One big dog pan of water, a box of individual trees, and a handful of paper lilypads. The lilypads proved to be the tricky part here. Lori and I had to pull one across the width of the pan at an even pace. Our fishing line proved to be too wimpy and we had to redo it on set with line from the art department. Also, we lightly stirred the water to make it look more real, causing all our of smaller lilypads to consistently flow to the front of the pan. I got to/had to stand right by the fog machine. It was not vanilla scented like our machine at home.

We only needed the bottom half of the trees, so why make extra?

All in all, another great experience in our little world of set building. It is something we enjoy and hope to continue to explore. Check out the completed videos at Greenpeace Videos