Working literally from the ground down, they began by digging an actual river, and then constructed a war-torn French town around it. Sanders had first crafted three-dimensional models of towns he had visited during location scouting. Then, using carving knives, he simulated bomb damage until he had obtained a realistic look, which he could subsequently reproduce in large-scale. By using models as opposed to two-dimensional drawings, Sanders was able to design nooks and alleyways that were then built into the sets, from which Spielberg could shoot from various angles. With careful art direction and planning, the one set became two different village backdrops for two pivotal battle sequences.
Dale Dye's military expertise again proved invaluable to the filmmakers in planning and filming the final combat scene. He was instrumental in mapping out a realistic battle plan, to which Spielberg added his own input to accomplish his vision.
In England, other principal locations included a wheat field in Marlborough, which became the Ryan's Iowa farm, and Thame Park, Oxfordshire, which provided the setting for several scenes, including an intense skirmish between Miller's squad and a German machine-gun nest.