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Set Designers, or Production Designers, create the look of a theatre, TV or film production by designing the space in which it’s set.
They’ll be involved in the planning process of a production, when scripts will be studied, research carried out and ideas brainstormed with the director, right up to the opening of a theatre production or the start of filming. If it’s an ongoing TV series, they may stay involved indefinitely.
A Set Designer will sketch scene-by-scene ideas of how the set should look, and use computer-aided design (CAD) packages to help with this. Scale models will also be built.
A Set Designer must communicate their vision to the people who work in costume, make-up, props and lighting, and oversee the set build itself, before making adjustments once they see it in action during rehearsals.
How to become a Set Designer
A Set Designer needs to be artistic and creative. Regarding education, they usually have an arts-based BTEC HND or a degree. While there are courses specialising in set design, other helpful subjects to study include interior design or architecture.
Work experience through student or amateur productions and independent film and theatre is a good opportunity to build up a portfolio of work to show potential employers. A portfolio is essential in the industry.
Some organisations such as the BBC run apprentice-like schemes for people wanting to start in the industry, while an entry-level position as a Set Designer could be a designer’s assistant, a runner or a theatre prop maker.
As time goes by, and skills and contacts develop, the individual works their way up to the position of Set Designer.
Skills and knowledge required
- Have strong creativity
- Artistic flair, drawing skills and the ability to make models
- An eye for detail
- The ability to work within budget restrictions and to deadline
- Research skills
- Lateral thinking and adaptability
- Knowledge of film and theatre production processes and technical aspects within them
Theatre set designers can earn between £18,000 to £28,000 or above. Film and TV set designers can earn considerably more when they’ve gained enough experience.
These can be long, and can include unsociable hours, with the potential to work both in the evenings and weekends.
www.getintotheatre.org – Get Into Theatre
www.stagework.org.uk – National Theatre Education Department – Stagework
www.theatredesign.org.uk – Society of British Theatre Designers (SBTD)
www.bectu.org.uk – Broadcasting Entertainment Cinematograph and Theatre Union (BECTU)
www.equity.org.uk - Equity