What is it like to be a Set Designer?
Set designers in the theater, film, and television industry generally work in large, metropolitan areas. Opera houses and dance groups also employ in-house set designers.
Set designers are often involved in all stages of the creative process, from directing lighting, choosing fabric, drawing designs for props, and most importantly, coming up with an overall ‘storyboard.’ Set designers’ responsibilities vary depending on the scale and budget of the production. For instance, he or she may be responsible for both the abstract conception and nuts and bolts carpentry of the set. For an international opera, the designer may draw up a ‘storyboard’ and then manage and collaborate with the lighting technicians, carpenters, prop stylists, and costume designers to make it a reality.
If a designer was working on site for a historical Merchant-Ivory film, per se, the scenes might take months in advance to research and create an overall historically accurate effect. However, a stage production of Waiting for Godot could consist of two chairs and a few lighting effects.
Many of the most compelling artistic productions are achieved through the convergence of story, melody or dance, and the mood created by the set. Director and set designer Robert Wilson’s luminescent stages play with the fine line between material and immaterial, and creating fluid spaces between fantasy worlds.
The nature of the industry means that set design is not a nine to five, Monday through Friday job. Often, it requires physical labor, long hours through evening and weekend performances, but the pay-off is in the picture. No one is a famous professional set designer overnight. Most set designers pay dues through apprenticeships, education, and working in lower tiers of the creative process. Spells of unemployment are inherent in the industry, but designers possess a diverse skill set that can translate to other creative jobs, such as visual merchandiser, stylist, exhibition designer, and stage manager, and director.
Outside of major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, New York, and London, there is minimal demand for set design—with the exception of university drama programs and small theaters.
Set designers are often involved in all stages of the creative process, from directing lighting, choosing fabric, drawing designs for props, and most importantly, coming up with an overall ‘storyboard.’ Set designers’ responsibilities vary depending on the scale and budget of the production.
- Louisville, KY
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