Evan over at Swords of Minaria, has a nice post on using actual historic locations as campaign settings rather than fashioning one. The benefit is saving yourself a lot of work in the process (other than research of course).
I myself love both (research and the creative part) but I certainly get how time consuming world building is. What got my brain ticking was Scott's comment about how he'll pull key elements out of historical and fictional sources to build something new--something, I'm guessing, most DMs and GMs do.
So here's my question: How do your players "get" the references you use to create your homebrew setting? In other words do the players recognize that you taken something from a historical culture, pulp comic book character, etc.? If you mix Vikings and Aztecs--do people get it's a mix of those two civilizations? Or is it all in the DM's brain?
Do you use illustrations? Are they borrowed of the interwebs? Are they original (yours or do you request from a friend) because there is no drawing of a high-ranking warlord with Viking/Aztec aesthetics?
Do you say "this looks like... (the rock formations at Cappadocia, a fire hydrant, a back alley in Tokyo's red light district) when describing to players?
Or are your players "up" on all your references and they just get what you're saying?
Since RPGs are a collective/shared imagination game--how obvious is it to the players about what influences are in the referee's brain? Does it take them out of the situation if you're constantly referencing things in the real world?
It boils down to this: how much work do you do at the table to bring the setting to life?
I set up a poll at the top, right column to see what's most popular, but I'd also like to entertain comments.