Set designers create the overallÂ ’look’ ofÂ a theatre, television or film production. In the film and TV industry they are often known as production designers.
As a set or production designer, your work would begin at the start of the production planning process, and end on the opening night or when filming begins. You wouldÂ create the design ideas, but would usually delegate the practical work to others. Your work could include:
- studying scripts and discussing ideas with the director
- communicating your ideas to costume, make-up, props and lighting designers
- overcoming any logistical problems, such as lighting or complex scene changes
- researching the right historical, contemporary or futuristic details for the production
- creating effective designs within the available budget
- sketching design ideas to produce a â€˜storyboardâ€™, showing what the sets will look like scene by scene
- using computer-aided design (CAD) packages
- building and photographing scale models
- estimating costs and preparing a production schedule
- overseeing set building and decoration
- making any adjustments needed during rehearsals.
In theatre, you might work alone or with an assistant. In TV/film, you would manage a team that might include art directors, assistant art directors, storyboard artists and model makers.
What qualifications and experience will employers look for?
You will need a high level of design skill and creative vision. You would normally start as a designerâ€™s assistant or prop maker in the theatre, or as an art department trainee or runner in film and TV. You could then work your way up to designer as you develop experience and contacts in the industry.
In practice, many set designers have an art-based BTEC HND or degree. Several universities, colleges and drama schools offer specialised courses in theatre design, performing arts (production) or design for film and television. Other useful subjects include interior design, fine art, 3-D design and architecture. You should check entry requirements with course providers.
Whatever your qualifications, you should find practical experience and build a portfolio or ‘showreel’ DVD of your design work to show to potential employers. You could get relevant experience through getting involved in:
- student theatre or film
- local amateur or community theatre
- low-budget independent films
- fringe theatre.
In film and TV, you may be able to receive apprenticeship-style training at the start of your career from new entrant schemes such as the BBC’s Design Training Scheme, or those run occasionally by regional film agencies.
- BBC â€“ Design
Competition for places on new entrant schemes is very strong, so you will need to prove your enthusiasm and commitment by building relevant experience before you apply. Contact Skillset Careers for information about any new entrant training schemes that may be available.
Click on the links to find out how a successful design assistant and theatre designer built their careers.
- Get Into Theatre â€“ design assistant case study
- Get Into Theatre – theatre designer case study
What further training and development can I do?
Most of your training would be on the job, learning from experienced designers and production staff.
You should continue to build your portfolio/showreel, and develop your skills and contacts throughout your career. It can be useful to join organisations like the Society of British Theatre Designers, for professional recognition, networking and training opportunities.
As a working set designer, you could choose to take a postgraduate diploma or degree in theatre design, scenography or design for film and television. You could also take short courses to improve your skills in areas such as computer aided design (CAD).
See Skillset’s database of media courses to find relevant training for film/TV set designers and production designers. For courses relevant to the theatre, see the Society of British Theatre Designers.
Career progression can takeÂ several years. For example, in theÂ film industry youÂ might go from art department trainee to draughtsperson, assistant art director, and art director before becoming a production designer.