Learn the steps to becoming a set designer. Research the various job duties and the education requirements, and find out how to start a career in set design.

How to become a set designer
  1. Observe set design. …
  2. Earn a bachelor’s degree. …
  3. Complete an internship. …
  4. Build your portfolio. …
  5. Expand your professional network. …
  6. Create a resume and digital portfolio. …
  7. Apply for an entry-level job.

Tips in 60 seconds… How to get into set design

What does a set designer do?

The job of a set designer is highly collaborative and creative. Whether a person is working in film or live theater, each stage design or set design they create begins with the development of a project outline. Set designers use scripts, screenplays and stage notes and meet with directors and producers to identify the core meaning of each scene and the overall tone for each act of a performance.

Set designers use that information to create a visual story map and outline. They meet with decorators, carpenters, lighting professionals and other members of the production crew and creative team. Together they make decisions regarding artistic mediums and materials used for backgrounds, backdrops and visual props.

Especially when designing visual features for a live performance, props and backdrops often need to be reversible and lightweight enough to move on and off the stage quickly. Additionally, props also need to be versatile, as many times actors are required to sit on, stand-on or dance using stage props.

What is a set designer?

A set designer is responsible for creating physical and visual scenery for theatrical performances. Their work is used in plays, musicals, films and television shows. They create backdrops and props that help convey information and elicit specific emotions from the audience. They are trained artistic professionals, who often have Bachelors or Masters degrees in fine arts or theater arts.

Work environment for a set designer

Set designers work in creative environments. Those who are hired as a part of larger corporations and design firms typically work regular office hours, and those who are self-employed and to work longer or more irregular hours. Most set designers split their workdays between using computers and artistic materials and meeting with directors, producers and carpenters to discuss various aspects of design.

There is a possibility for upward mobility in set design, and some entry-level employees can advance to senior or managerial roles. Opportunities include senior set designer, art director and visual design manager.

How to become a set designer

Here are seven steps to follow for starting your career as a set designer:

1. Observe set design

The first step in becoming a set designer is to make observations regarding professional set and stage design. Watch movies and theater productions as a way to learn techniques and imagine the creative process. Use a notebook to write on your observations regarding the way the colors and lighting help add to the mood and tone of each scene.

Pay attention to how backdrops and other visual elements help tell a narrative story. Take notes about versatile set pieces and how the actors interact with props on stage. Doing this will help you get an idea of industry norms, and it can also help you progress on your creative journey.

2. Earn a bachelors degree

A bachelors degree is a four-year academic program offered by colleges and universities, and most design firms, stage companies or production crews require that candidates have a bachelors degree or masters degree in a related field. When preparing for a career working as a set designer or stage designer, consider earning your bachelors degree in theater arts, fine arts, graphic design or interior or visual design. Courses in theater production, performing arts, marketing and film appreciation are also beneficial to developing a successful career in this industry.

3. Complete an internship

Internships are typically unpaid work-related learning experiences, though some theater companies or design firms may offer a small stipend to participants. These experiences provide students, and recent graduates, access to industry equipment and software programs, and they can help people make connections with directors, producers and other professionals in the creative arts. While in your junior or senior year of college, or directly after graduating college, its important to gain experience as an intern. Your academic adviser or professors can help you find information about securing an internship.

4. Build your portfolio

Your set design portfolio is a compilation of your creative abilities, experiences and design ideas. As a student, your portfolio can include a narrative introduction and mood board, paintings and photographs of your work. You can also include your theoretical beliefs and research findings, as well as any positive reviews you received during your academic study or internship.

5. Expand your professional network

Your professional network is the combination of your social and industry-related contacts and connections. People use their network contacts to help stay up-to-date with industry standards and find out about opportunities. After earning a four-year degree, completing an internship and building your portfolio, you should work on expanding your professional network. Here are seven things you can do to develop a robust professional network as a set designer:

6. Create a resume and digital portfolio

Set designers use their resumes and portfolios to showcase their talents and skills in production and design. Take some time to brainstorm ideas regarding your skills, professional traits and most impressive abilities. Additionally, make a list of your design or production achievements and any awards or accolades you may have earned as a student, intern or volunteer. Use these details to create your resume.

Set design is a very visual and creative job, and securing a position in this industry is heavily reliant on a persons design skills and artistry. For this reason, its important to leverage your online resume or application by including a link to your digital portfolio or personal website. If your portfolio is physical, set aside time to create an electronic version.

7. Apply for an entry-level job

After earning your degree, completing an internship developing your portfolio and creating a resume its time to apply for an entry-level job as a set designer. Reach out to your professional network or use a reputable job board to find out about positions in production companies, theater groups and design firms. Research each company or employer you wish to apply to and use the information you find to personalize your resume and cover letter. You may also benefit from sending a follow-up phone call or email in regards to a position youre interested in.

Tips for success as a set designer

Here are four tips for finding success in your career as a set designer:

Let yourself be creative

The most important element of set design is creativity. Designers collaborate with producers, directors and members of the production crew to tell visual stories that entertain or inform audiences. Set up a creative space in your home to practice with different mediums. Experiment with paint, textiles, building materials and play to express your moods, feelings and ideas. Engage in the creative process to generate ideas and get familiar with different tools for design.

Practice using design software

Its important to keep up-to-date with industry norms and standards. As the field of set design has grown, many employers preferred candidates who have a strong understanding of computer design software. Practice creating digital renderings of your creative ideas and storyboards or mood boards. You can use programs like SketchUp, VectorWorks or AutoCAD to develop these digital skills.

Engage in purposeful viewing

Most people watch musicals, plays and movies for the purpose of entertainment. As a set designer, its important to engage in purposeful viewing. Research television shows or films that have won awards for set design. Read the scripts for those productions and then watch the accompanying films or plays.

Use a notepad to write down observations about scenery, backdrops and other props that you see. Compare the visual storytelling with the notes and script that you read. Engaging in this type of study and purposeful viewing can help you understand the creative process used by successful set designers.

Develop a personal brand

Your personal brand is a part of your professional reputation. It represents your strengths and skills, and it helps employers, managers and colleagues know what they can expect from you at work. Creating a personal brand is especially important when trying to succeed in a creative career. Most creative professions require a high degree of collaboration. Having a well-established professional brand as a set designer helps producers and directors determine how easily they can connect and collaborate with you.

Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

FAQ

What qualifications do you need to be a set designer?

You’ll need:
  • knowledge of the fine arts.
  • design skills and knowledge.
  • to be thorough and pay attention to detail.
  • the ability to use your initiative.
  • the ability to work well with others.
  • the ability to come up with new ways of doing things.
  • the ability to accept criticism and work well under pressure.

How long does it take to become a set designer?

With at least two years of college, set designers can take on university productions and community theater. Some set designers may create sets for low budget movies at this point. During this time, set designers gain knowledge and understanding of building materials and techniques.

How do I become a film set designer?

How to become a set designer
  1. Look at set design. The first step to becoming a set designer is understanding the craft of the profession. …
  2. Study for a degree. …
  3. Find work experience. …
  4. Create a professional portfolio. …
  5. Grow your network. …
  6. Build your CV. …
  7. Apply for set designer roles.

Is it hard to get a job as a set designer?

Breaking into a set design job can be difficult if you’re not well known in your area; create a powerful portfolio and find jobs where you can to help build your experience and reputation.

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