How do I Become a Set Designer?

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  • Written By: Mary Elizabeth
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 22 July 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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In theatre, television, and film productions, the stage or set is often, though not always, transformed through a variety of changes to create the setting against which a play, musical, or opera is enacted. The two people most responsible for how things look on the stage are the lighting designer, who is responsible for all of the illumination, and the set designer, who is responsible for the scenery, props, and furniture that appear on the stage. One can train to become a set designer through a university degree program, but it is necessary to augment this with practical experience in order to get jobs.

To become a set designer, it is usually wise to complete a relevant bachelor’s degree, such as a B.A. or B.F.A. in Theatre Production, Technical Theatre, Costume and Scene Design, Theatre Arts, or Theatre Design and Technology, depending on the college or university. As an undergraduate, you are likely to encounter a pre-professional curriculum that includes aspects of set design such as drawing, rendering, drafting, construction, and stagecraft. Theatre history, dramatic repertoire, dramatic theory, acting, and costume design and lighting, may all be included. The managerial aspects of theatre and the integration of the engineering elements of scene design with the artistic goals of the production may also be treated.

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Besides academic training, experience in the industry is important. This can start as a teen helping on sets for school productions and local community theatre productions. The earlier you start, and the more you volunteer and learn, the more likely that you will have the opportunity to participate in a wide range of relevant set design activity.

In addition to specific training and experience, there are certain personal qualities and talents or character traits that, if not absolutely required, are certainly extremely important to become a set designer. The ability to solve complex problems in transforming the artistic director’s or the director’s vision into a workable set that stays within budget is one example. Others are visualization — the ability to imagine how things would be if something changes, excellent communication skills, and working both independently and as a part of a team.

The motion picture and video industries are the largest employers of set designers, followed by performing arts companies. California is the place in which most are employed, followed by New York. In addition, unions are important in the motion picture and video industries Therefore, to become a set designer, choosing to live in one of the places in which you are likely to be hired and also join a union.

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