Civil engineering plays an important role in the film industry, often making the backdrop of blockbuster films look realistic and appealing to moviegoers. In this article, we’ll take a look at how civil engineering is used in movies, including how its role has evolved over time and what it looks like on screen. Let’s start with the most basic question that many people may have when seeing civil engineering in movies: what exactly is civil engineering? Civil engineering (or civi-engg) involves designing and building structures such as buildings, bridges, and roads, along with roads and sidewalks that connect those structures.

Exterior Shots

In movies, exterior shots are usually taken outside a studio. With exterior shots, civil engineers have to create something that looks like what they want it to look like. If you’re filming a movie about New York City, for example, but actually shooting on a soundstage outside L.A., then you’ll need to build an exterior set of Manhattan using authentic materials and methods. Civil engineers are handy with structural design, excavation and props. They don’t just design houses; sometimes they also help build them! Actors walk into sets that these types of engineers have designed and constructed. As an actor, if you’ve ever wondered why your character walks into a room where there is no door, now you know why—it was built by someone else!

building set

This can be one challenging job when dealing with high-end visual effects or having to work around weather elements such as rain or snow. A well-executed scene depends heavily on how well civil engineers hide these facts from audiences. Much like a good cheat code can make a video game more fun, smart use of CGI and other tools helps film crews achieve their vision more easily than without technology. While not every shot will rely entirely on CGI, knowing how to best utilize your resources makes every task easier from start to finish.


Though perhaps not as awe-inspiring as skyscrapers, bridges are an important piece of infrastructure that hold societies together—and they make great set pieces. This is especially true if there’s a chase scene (or something similar) on said bridge. So while you may not be responsible for maintaining a large bridge, take some time to watch films with chase scenes on bridges. Pay attention to how realistic it looks, what challenges it presents, and so forth. Use these observations as inspiration when writing your screenplay or storyboard—when it comes time to create shots involving your own bridges. After all, others won’t know whether you got every detail correct; but they will know if it feels right!

While bridges themselves aren’t particularly complex to build, designing and building one can prove very challenging. Filmmakers rely on civil engineers extensively because a filmmaker needs their bridge(s) to look realistic. Civil engineers collaborate closely with art directors; putting thought into design during preproduction will save hours of frustration during production! These three words pretty much sum up what it takes to create something believable within any given medium: research, understanding (of real-world objects), and experience (from life or other work).

bridges in films

The more you study how things work, how they’re made, what they’re made from, etc., the easier it is for you to re-create them. Because we have no innate knowledge about how something is supposed to be made until we see it being done first hand! Learning all these different aspects of the film is necessary if you want to succeed as a writer/director/producer, but there’s also an important part that many overlook: Asking questions. Though filmmaking has been around forever and seems like it should be easy enough to figure out without asking questions, so few people bother asking questions that those who do often seem leagues ahead in skill level.

Subways & Underground Tunnels

For many of us, when we think of civil engineering, we imagine large-scale projects like bridges or buildings. But our civil engineers are behind some other really cool stuff as well, like tunnels for subway systems. But how are these massive tunnel systems built? And what does it look like on a day-to-day basis? Check out our breakdown below to learn more about these underground marvels!… Now that you know what civil engineering is, let’s take a closer look at some of its uses. One common use is with underground tunnels – by far one of the coolest ways to travel across town.

Storm Drains & Sewers

Storm drains are a common fixture of a city’s infrastructure, typically designed to take rainwater runoff from streets, parking lots, and other hard surfaces away from populated areas. On-screen storm drains often show up as dark, dank tunnels that serve as tunnels or impromptu shelters for characters; check out scenes from The Matrix (1999) or Oblivion (2013) to see them in action. In movies such as Children of Men (2006), they can also double as weaponized environments—those with access to specialized technology can drop grenades into storm drains, creating havoc at street level when they explode.

IT movie sewer set

Quarries & Dams

In movies, quarries are often used to film car chases. Quarries also commonly appear as dams in sci-fi films. Several scenes from Titanic (1997) were filmed at California’s Kualoa Ranch. The ranch also appears on screen as Mount Doom in Lord of The Rings (2001–2003). And if you watch X2(2003), remember that a dam collapse was an important plot point! Want to learn more about movie filming locations? Read our guide here. Other common roles civil engineers fill in Hollywood include bridge builders, construction site foremen, and infrastructure planners.

civil dam in x2

Here’s where you may recognize civil engineers in film… Walking away after building Millennium Bridge in London for Love Actually (2003) Building Stonehenge with special effects for 10,000 BC (2008) Sliding down icy hills with Superman in Man of Steel (2013). Playing themselves explaining how bridges work for How It’s Made – Bridges episode of Discovery Channel documentary series. Road Work Ahead, History Channel documentary highlighting highway design in progress by using computer animation (2004). Being swallowed by San Francisco Bay during The Big One earthquake while they were evaluating seismic hazards. Calculating risks involved in climbing a tall skyscraper during flashback sequence in Spiderman 2 (2004) when Peter Parker visits his Uncle Ben’s grave.

Discussing structural needs and their designs for character Emmet Brickowski’s home during the animated film The Lego Movie (2014). Hosting science shows such as MythBusters. Perhaps even starring as a highly respected scientist, Hank Pym in Ant-Man (2015) – although he studied electrical engineering rather than civil engineering!


Many movies feature cars, planes, ships, boats or spacecraft. These are often heavily influenced by civil engineering practices for both film-making and practical purposes. The most noticeable examples of these are seen in science fiction films. However, some action films will also feature vehicles with heavily armored exteriors – to help viewers believe that these things can realistically protect its occupants from serious injury. A great example of a vehicle like this is an MRAP military vehicle (mine resistant ambush protected).

These types of vehicles are becoming more popular due to terrorist activities in war zones, but they still don’t exist within Hollywood unless it is a sci-fi movie. Because many sci-fi movies have armored characters inside futuristic automobiles, movie producers will use real photographs of soldiers inside their military trucks as reference while filming their scenes on location with actors. This helps prevent any inaccuracies when creating props. Civil engineers are very important to make sure roads, bridges and buildings in large cities do not fall over during major storms such as hurricanes, tornadoes and snowstorms. They ensure these structures are safe before moving forward with construction plans.

Opening Doors & Gates

Without an understanding of civil engineering, it’s difficult to imagine a world where everything from buildings to bridges function as they should. Hollywood has typically provided some entertaining representations of civil engineering; take, for example, The Italian Job – with its iconic opening scene involving a bridge collapse. Although many movies use civil engineering as a backdrop or plot device, few give viewers insight into how things like structural integrity or pneumatic doors work. In reality, how can you tell if something has been designed well? And what makes a particular design notable over another? These are all questions that require knowledge of both art and science…and, as it turns out, even some clever thinking. With technology advancing at such a fast pace, there are several ways we could see civil engineering make great strides in movie-making moving forward.