Set Designer

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Set designers conceptualise, develop and create sets, and dress locations for film, television and stage productions. They study scripts and interpret the descriptions of locations, creating sketchesFuture Growth Strong and drawings and translating these into built sets, and locations that are altered or 'dressed' to resemble those in the script. They buy furniture, fixtures and other props, and use art and craft supplies to make other elements of sets, or supervise technicians in building them. They liaise with directors, producers, lighting designers and camera operators to get the right look or feel for a production, and ensure that other areas of technical production such as lighting or sound recording work in conjunction with the set.

Alternative names: Art Director, Production Designer

Large stage
Large stage being constructed

The Conversation: 18 March 2014: Explainer: what is production design?

The Conversation


Here are some more questions that production design helps us answer, sometimes in very subtle ways:

•How do we know what kind of story we are about to embark on?

•Should we take events seriously or see the humour in them?

•When should we be concerned for characters in this story?

•When should we feel relaxed and confident that all will end well?

•How can we tell what a character is feeling?

•Where have these characters come from?

•What has led them to this point in their lives?

•How do we know if we can trust them?


At times designers will provide audiences with very precise information. A specific date in clear view will show when the film is set, for example.

But most of the time the choice is to give clues rather than being too explicit: using natural textured materials and warm natural colours in a character’s home can suggest they are more caring and humane than the character whose home appears more glossy, hard-edged and more artificial.


Actors talk about “bringing a character to life” – and production designers work hard at doing the same thing with the world around them. Each depends on the other and if there are flaws in either one, the magic can be broken and the film’s impact lost.

Production design is a major contributor to the mood, or emotional tone, of a film.

Knowledge, skills and attributes

A set designer needs:

  • an interest in design and the performing arts

  • creative flair

  • problem-solving skills

  • manual or practical skills

  • organisational skills

  • the ability to work to tight deadlines

Working conditions

Set designers work in film and television studios, and on-location on sets.

They often work long hours and may be required on set late at night, early in the morning, or on weekends and public holidays.

Some of their work may require heavy lifting or the construction of large objects such as set walls, doors or furniture. They may be required to travel locally, interstate or internationally to construct sets.

Tools and technologies

Set designers work with a range of materials to construct sets, including art and craft supplies such as paper, card and glue, as well as more sturdy building materials like wood, chipboard and plaster.

They obtain and work with decorative elements such as fabric, furniture, fixtures and wallpaper. They also use tools such as scissors, hammers, saws, nail and stapleguns, and other light construction equipment.


Education and training/entrance requirements

To become a set designer you usually need to complete a qualification in live production, production and design, theatre arts, interior design and decoration, industrial design or a related area.

The Diploma of Live Production and Technical Services and Advanced Diploma of Live Production and Management Services are offered at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA). At the National Institute of Dramatic Art [NIDA], you can undertake a Bachelor of Fine Arts (Design for Performance).

 


The Diploma of Interior Design and Decoration, Diploma of Industrial Design and Advanced Diploma of Industrial Design are offered at TAFE colleges and other registered training organisations throughout Australia.

You can complete a degree majoring in production and design, theatre arts, interior architecture, environmental and spatial design or a related area.

Some universities in Australia offer relevant courses. Contact the universities you are interested in for more information.


Did You Know?

Deborah Riley

Australian production designer Deborah Riley takes over the design of the most watched TV show in history - The Game of Thrones.

Congratulations Deb, amazing work!
(Source: APDG - May 2015)
 

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