Set Building

Set Building.


So you have a plant, and you have a camera, and you want to do a timelapse.  You will also need to figure out exactly how you want to present the timelapse. You have an infinite amount of options of what to do. I had decided i wanted to try to make it look as if the plant was growing in the wild. Which means I had to get creative because i would be growing these plants in my basement.  I have experimented around with various techniques, but as of now my favorite is to build a set. It ca be as simple as a photo placed behind the plant, to a full out automated and functioning set. Ill give you some pointers on how I build my sets, there are always many ways to skin the same cat, and you may find techniques that work better for you, but hopefully looking through this will get you started on the right track.


Carnivorous Garden Set

I enjoyed building this set, this is only the second set i had built at the time, and it was a bit more ambitious that the first set, but the design elements are all pretty much the same. I learned that the worst thing you can do is pour water on the plants, the best bet is to create some sort of a watering system that will water the plants from the bottom up.

The first thing you need to do is consider the size of the plants, try to sketch it out and get an idea of what you are wanting to accomplish. Dont just start going all willy-nilly, make a plan and think about the shots you want to execute and how you will need to design the set.

For your first set I suggest making a simple backdrop style, once it is done it can be reused with other set pieces to create new sets as well!


You will need.

  1. Cardboard
  2. Scissors
  3. Insulation foam
  4. Tape
  5. Coconut FIber
  6. Black Caulking compount (stay away from roofing compound)
  7. Fake moss, twigs, etc.


Once you have an idea of what you want to do, go get some cardboard and cut out the basic shape. This will be a skeleton to attach the first few layers of foam.



Seen above, I used an old cardboard box and drew out the basic shape. I knew i wanted to have some areas in the set that i could grow plants and water them from the back. Using cardboard I mocked up the basic shape.



Once you have the basic shape cut out, and any cup holders taped into place you will need to start building this up with spray insulation foam.  You can use the types that is intended for terrariums, however it is pretty expensive. I have done very well with cheap insulation foam.



I used about 6-7 cans for this project, the best bet is to use a single can at a time and let it cure, don’t expect to be done with this in an afternoon you want it to have time to dry. It will continue to expand as it dries. Just put the first coat on and let it dry overnight and you will have a good idea how much you can get out of a single can.


On this set i wanted to have about a 60 degree bent at one point, once the foam dried i used a razor blade to cut a channel in the foam so I could bend the card board giving sort of an L shape.



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Next i used some blue painters tape, quite a bit actually so I could add in extra grow cups and built the shape up a little bit. Any tape would do, i just happened to have plenty of painters tape laying around.


Next i sprayed foam around the cups and built the set up a bit more. Before you do this, if you plan to have water fill and drain hoses you should probably install them and run the tubes out the back. it will be pretty hard to do this later. To seal the hole from the tube to the cups i use this awesome glue called GOOP, if you do not already own any of this do yourself a huge favor and buy some. This glue is incredibly awesome, it never fully stiffens up and retains a bit of flex to it, it is waterproof, it dries in about half an hour or so. I use this shit all the time.




Below, the set is sitting on its side to keep gravity from pulling the foam off while it cures.


After this was done i used a sharp knife and cut some holes in the back so i could see the cups within, this allows me to check the water levels in the cups so I know if I am overfilling or not.


SO unfortunatly i cannot find the pics of the Carnivorous Set at this stage, but i DO have pics of the last set at this stage. Seen below i have the foam (i used the aquarium stuff on the first set) used and i am ready to make it look like earth.


First, go but a brick of Coconut Fiber. This is what i use to make it look like dirt.  It normally comes in a hard pressed block, all you do is put it in a large bucket or bin with some water and let it soak a few minutes, break it apart a bit, wait another 10-15 min, break more apart, until it is complete broken apart. it will look like a bit pile of dirt. The hard part is drying it out. I would put some black plastic all on my countertop and spread the coconut fiber over it. Every 3-4 hours i would mix it up and stir it up, eventually it starts to dry out. This will take 3-4 days. Generally i recommend doing as much of it as possible, whatever is left over can go in a bag and be ready for use on the next set without all the wait.

Get some rubber cloves and 4-5 tube of BLACK caulking compound from the local hardware store, and squirt it all over the dried hardened foam, you want to take your time and cover ALL the foam with this, be careful not to get it all over any wood pieces or what not you may have in the set.

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Once it is totally covered with the caulking, take the Coconut Fiber and dump it all over the fresh wet caulk (giggity) and be sure to fill in all the nooks and crannies. Press it on firmly and be sure the entire thing is covered, and let it dry overnight. The next day (give it 24 hours) you should be able to sit the set upright and most of the coconut fiber will drop off leaving it covered in a nice layer of what looks like fresh dirt!

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From here you can go get some dried / fake moss from any craft store, i used some goop to glue it in place.


You may need to do a little bit of touch-up., using the black caulk will make it harder to see any areas that did not get covered in the coconut fiber.

Below with the Carniverious set i added 4-5 different types of fake moss and glued on some sticks, dead leaves, and such

When it is all said and done you should have a pretty good looking set. This one can be used as a simple backdrop, or it can hold plants in its various cups.  Total cost of the Carniverous Set  was probably under $75.

You can use several together, and add in additional props such as fake grass, logs, etc, to change up the look. Once you have a couple of these set pieces you can change up the look and feel pretty easily.


Here is the Carnivorous Set along with the older set I built, add some extra fake plants and a watering tray and it gives a pretty good outdoor feel.

Below: The sedum tile set, which can also been seen on the right on the picture above.


Below: During the shoot. This is a shot of the equipment running a 10 day timelapse, linear motion on one camera with pan and tilt on the other one. All timed off the BCM.


Below: another angle of the same setup. 




As you can see, creating lifelike sets for Biolapse is really not that difficult . The larger Biolapse set only weighs about 8 or 9lbs, and it ended up being pretty durable too!


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