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Set Designer Career Profile

Do you want to work as a set designer?

READ: This page helps you read about the career and the information you need to decide whether this is indeed the career you want to follow.

RESEARCH: ​Learn about the skills required and minimum subjects to enter this career, as well as the places where you can study further after school.

PREPARE: If you want to plan and prepare for your career, then join the OZT community! Members have access to tools while chatting with other students and experts from around the world. Prepare to be amazed!

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UPDATED:

29 April 2024

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What is a set designer?

A set designer is a professional responsible for designing and creating the physical environment or setting for theatrical, film, television, or other live performances. This role involves working closely with directors, producers, and other members of the production team to conceptualize and realize the visual aspects of a production.

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Alternative Names

Set designers may be known by various alternative names depending on the context and industry. Some of these alternative names include:

Scenic Designer:

This term emphasizes the designer’s role in creating the scenic elements of a production, including sets, backdrops, and environmental details.

Production Designer:

In film and television, the term “production designer” is often used to refer to the individual responsible for designing the overall visual look of a production, which includes sets, props, costumes, and sometimes even special effects.

Art Director:

In film, television, and advertising industries, the art director oversees the visual aspects of a project, including set design, props, and overall aesthetic direction.

Set Decorator:

In some contexts, particularly in film and television, the set decorator focuses specifically on furnishing and decorating the sets, selecting and arranging props and set dressing to enhance the visual storytelling.

Scenographer:

This term is often used in theatrical contexts to describe individuals who design sets, costumes, and sometimes lighting, encompassing a broader range of responsibilities than traditional set design.

Environmental Designer:

This term emphasizes the designer’s role in creating immersive environments for various types of experiences, including theater, themed attractions, exhibitions, and installations.

Artistic Director:

In some theater companies or artistic organizations, the artistic director may oversee not only the creative direction of productions but also play a role in set design and overall visual presentation.

Visual Designer:

This term is sometimes used in more contemporary or multimedia contexts to describe designers who work across various visual mediums, including sets, digital environments, and interactive experiences.

Stage Designer:

In theater and live performance contexts, the term “stage designer” may be used interchangeably with set designer to describe the individual responsible for designing the physical performance space.

These alternative names reflect the diverse roles and responsibilities of individuals involved in designing and creating the visual environments for performances, productions, and other creative endeavors.

Old Career?

Set design is actually thousands of years old, with sets built to host plays by ancient Greeks

Modern Methods?

Most set designers are the artistic advisors on sets, with carpenters, painters and prop crews doing the building

What does a Set Designer do?

Category:

Art & Design

Focus:

The primary focus of set designers is to design specific scenes, according to the script of the play, movie or TV episode. They may even build miniature three-dimensional models showing how each set will look when finished. They work closely with the set builders, such as the carpenters, painters and prop creators.

A set designer might be required to paint an ordinary backdrop, or do more difficult tasks, such as construct a large scene.

Daily Tasks:

  • Discuss brief with director
  • Discuss the brief with the storyboard developers to help with creative ideas
  • Prepare model drawings of each set
  • Create a model of the set, if required
  • Manage the set builders, painters and prop crew
  • Do test runs to ensure the set or scene is perfect
  • Manage budget, administration and filing

Where they work:

Environment –

Set designers will work equal amounts indoors and outdoors, as the environment depends on the kind of scene or set required. Most stage and TV productions will be indoors.

Places of Employment –

Typical employers of set designers are theaters, film, video or television production companies, and even music production companies.

Average Salary:

On average the income per year is around $63,000. This will differ from country to country, and the budget available of the production company. Freelance set designers might earn a lot more when contracted to a specific movie production.

Difficulties:

The most difficult part of being a set designer is being able to work under a lot of pressure and within very tight deadlines. This will also require long working hours, and the possibility of frequent travel.

​Future growth and Possibilities:

The current growth in the production industry (movie and TV) is promising, and with most of the new productions relying heavily on set design, CGI and things like green screen projection, this career will always be in demand.

3. Which Skills are required?

The skills required for a career as a set designer can be divided into two very important groups. The first is the group containing life skills, which are the core skills that are necessary or desirable for full participation in everyday life. The second group is career skills, or the specific skills required to allow a person to enter and operate effectively within a specific career. Some or maybe even all of the life skills can assist in strengthening the career skills, and they might even be the same for specific careers.

Life Skills:

  • Self-awareness
  • Empathy
  • Critical thinking
  • Creative thinking
  • Decision making
  • Problem Solving
  • Effective communication
  • Interpersonal relationship

Career Skills:

  • ​Good business knowledge
  • Good artistic skills
  • Basic customer service skills
  • Good health and physical fitness
  • Excellent computer literacy (drawing software)
Life Skills
40%
Career Skills
60%

4. Which Subjects must I have at School?

The subjects you choose at school are important as they lay the foundation for further studies at college or university. While still at school, it’s also important to learn more about the animals you will work with, as well as gain some experience.

OZT has a list of various tertiary institutions where you can study further, after school. Each of these institutions also have their own Group page on OZT where you will find the exact subjects they require of you to have passed in school. Keep these requirements in mind, and discuss it with your school, guidance counselor and parents to ensure that you are prepared!

5. What will I need to Study?

Minimum Requirements:

Although it is possible for someone with just a High School Certificate to find an intern position, working under a mentor, most employers will require new set designers to have a minimum of a College Diploma, or even an University Degree.

Focus:

A good background in drawing is essential, so be sure to perfect your doodling and sketching skills. Study focus on diplomas or degrees in theater studies, creative arts, performing arts, drama, fine arts, visual arts, graphic design, 3D design, illustration, architecture or even landscape architecture and interior designing. They also need to be able to use computer-aided design software (CAD).

Duration:

The duration of College and Bachelor’s Degrees can be up to 3 or 4 years. Short Courses are usually between a few weeks and a year.

Possible Career Preparation Paths:

If this is your dream career that you want to pursue, then it’s important to plan the way forward.

Why is planning important?

​To ensure that you understand the requirements for your career, and that you are always prepared for the next step on the road towards your dream. A Preparation Path is like your road map to where you want to be.

Possible Paths:

Possible Combined Career Paths:

It is possible to sometimes combine two or more related careers. This normally happens when you study and practice a specific main career, but the knowledge and experience gained also help you to have a paying hobby or secondary income career.

Possible Alternatives (there are a lot more):

Stepping Stone Career:

Being a set designer can also be used as a stepping stone career. A stepping stone career is one which is used to help you get to another career, normally because the other career is too difficult to reach (sometimes due to things like high fees etc).

You can begin as an intern after basic short courses and expert guidance (maybe working under a mentor). The money made can then be used to pay for studies towards a promotion or another career, and the experience helps in gaining knowledge. One paying to help get to the other.

Some of the possible paths:

Training and apprenticeship:

Even though it is important to study to get into some of the animal careers, most of the skills you will need as a set designer will be acquired through practice. This means that you will learn how to perform some of the daily tasks by actually doing it a few times and learning the steps.

In some cases entry level positions (or junior designers) require training sessions even before you are allowed to actually perform your job duties. These sessions are offered by the place of employment, after you have successfully applied.

Apprenticeship is also possible where you need to learn skills from a more senior set designer or expert.

Join the Set Designer Group in STEP 8 to learn more and even interact with the educational institutions that will help you secure your dream career!

Average entry level of education across the career:

High School Certificate 0%
Diploma or Short Courses 0%
Degree or Higher Studies 0%

6. Licenses, Certificate, Registration and Professional Associations

Certain animal careers require some form of legal certification to prove that you can indeed do the work, and work with the necessary equipment.

Although not required by law, certifications may help workers establish their credentials and enhance their skills.

Learn more about requirements by joining OZT in STEP 8.

Professional Associations:

7. Where can I study further?

All of the above information will help you understand more about the Career, including the fact that there are different paths to take to reach it. But if you are almost done with High School (Grades 11 or 12), you also need to start thinking about further studies, and WHERE you will study.

See the List of Universities, Colleges and Online Training Academies who offer courses towards creative arts.

Set Designer Career_opt

8. Join the OZT community

Join us as a special member and learn more about becoming a set designer.

Members of the Platform have special access to:

  • Info on the best places where you can study (colleges, universities and online)
  • Expertly designed advice to prepare you for the career, and links to places where you can gain valuable experience. For some career experience is necessary, otherwise you wont get the job!
  • Top notch info on each of the different species you will work with
  • Make friends around the world and share knowledge
  • Compete and win points, badges, games, prizes and certificates. Be the best of the best, while you learn and prepare!

If you have decided on being a Set Designer, please click on the JOIN GROUP button. Members will be directed to the group, while non-members will be assisted to register first.

If this career is NOT the career for you, then you may return to the MAIN CAREER menu, and search for something different.

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Career Mentors are Members who assist by volunteering to keep each Career Page factual and current, while mentoring Students in the related Career Group.

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Contributions by expert members are always appreciated to allow the Students to make informed decisions. Please add your contribution through the attached Form:

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List of Career Mentors/Educators who have contributed to this Career info:

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