How to Build a Realistic-Looking Beach Inside a Studio

Roy Andersson A Pigeon Sat On A Branch Reflecting On Existence

Swedish director Roy Andersson has built some impressive sets for his films, and for his latest work A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence — which recently won top prize at the 2014 Venice Film Festival — he built a very realistic-looking beach right on a sound stage:

And here's the trailer of the film with the beach shot at the end:

The set is very impressive, and while they did bring in a lot of sand, the solid structures underneath help sell this effect and probably make the set easier to work on. It may seem obvious when you see it, but the forced perspective, when done right, can convince you of just about anything. The buildings in the background are meticulously constructed and since the camera is at just the right angle (and does not move the entire shot), they feel like they are in the distance rather than being very small.

The lighting is just right, though what also really helps this scene is the slight wind effect. It's almost like our brains immediately flip a switch and we put ourselves outdoors when we see plant life and leaves blowing gently. Lastly (and this works for computer generated effects as well), if you've got things going on in the foreground — in this case the dog moving around — it helps to distract people from looking too closely at the background and finding problems.

For some more impressive sets from the film, and a sense of how Andersson works, here's another BTS clip:

You Might Also Like

Your Comment


Okay so I have a question... why? Why spend so much money and time creating a beach set for a single perspective shot with flat lighting? Is there something in the scene that merits this? I've only ever worked on location so maybe it's just ignorance... but who not just shoot this on a beach and be done with it?

October 23, 2014 at 7:29PM, Edited October 23, 7:29PM

Justin Litton
DP, Editor, DIT

Shooting on beaches with a decent crew is miserable beyond belief. You work more slowly, sand gets into literally everything, and the elements are that much more difficult to control.

But the real reason for all of this is that it fits the style of the movie, and the style of the director. Each shot is almost like its own painting, and so to get total control over that painting, it needed to be done this way.

His films are like this, and clearly this style paid off as the film won the Venice Film Festival.

October 23, 2014 at 8:03PM, Edited October 23, 8:04PM

Joe Marine
Camera Department

Plus, Sweden isn't exactly known for its beaches ... and, if you add travel into the equation, the costs become prohibitive.

I do wonder, however, if one could have made a decent beach set for a lot less than above.

October 24, 2014 at 2:10PM

Dan Leo

because roy anderson shoot only in sets. thats his thing.

October 24, 2014 at 1:17AM


And he's damn good at it. His scenes always have that eerie surrealism to them and the style is just perfect.

I love when build sets can accomplish this kind of feel.

October 24, 2014 at 2:15AM

Torben Greve

It's amazing the result... :D

October 24, 2014 at 12:19AM, Edited October 24, 12:19AM

Ragüel Cremades
Film producer and director

This is Art of Film! Thanks Joe

October 24, 2014 at 5:08AM

Timurbek Nishanov
Director / Editor

I am looking for to the completion of the trilogy that started with Songs from the Second Floor & You, the Living. He is absolutely brilliant. Anyone who hasn't seen his films please take some time.

October 24, 2014 at 7:54PM


Is that a RED ONE they're shooting on?

October 27, 2014 at 1:06PM

Arthur Ross
Producer / Director