Set designer

Set Designer

aka: set designer, draughtsperson, or scenic designer 

The set designer drafts and creates the sets that appear in the film. They work in the art department with the production designer

On this page, we break down the role of the set designer (sometimes known as the draughtsperson). They play a key part in creating the film’s world. What sets they make will depend on the film’s genre, budget, and the director’s vision.

It is a popular job role that requires both creative and technical skills. Keep reading to learn more about this role, including a set designer job description and salary expectations.

What is a Set Designer?

A set designer creates the world shown on screen. First, they read the script and create the sets by drawing sketches, blueprints and making models. After they have designed the sets, they will buy the raw materials for building. They will also help to hire the construction crew.

The set designer is part of the art department. They follow orders from the production designer and work closely with them to create the film’s look.

What Does a Set Designer Do?

The set designer is responsible for designing the sets for film, TV, or theatre projects. They do this by creating 3D designs, plans, and blueprints of the set. You will find them working closely with the production designers and art directors.

On low-budget sets, the production designer might also build the set. In contrast, films with a good budget will have a set designer and a construction team. This team includes carpenters, riggers, plasterers, scenic painters, and various stagehands. Sometimes this team is the largest on the whole film set. For example, when on fantasy and sci-fi films.

Film set design is a very creative job. After all, it’s their designs that you see on the screen. How the audience views the film’s world relies very much on them and their ability to bring the set to life.

Set Designer Job Description

The set designer job description can change depending on the film’s budget. Some sets won’t have one but, instead, hire an art director to look after the locations. However, on creative projects with a set designer, there are three main tasks that they will follow.

  1. First, the set designer will hire their team. As I have said, the size of this team will depend on the film’s budget. They will also meet with the director and production designer to discuss the film’s look. The art design will mostly depend on the director’s vision. For example, Wes Anderson set design is iconic throughout all of his films.
  2. Next, they will create sketches and mood boards to show to the director. In addition, they might make a scale model of the set before they build the real thing. A scale model helps when creating floor plans and also acts as a guide for carpenters and lighting designers.
  3. Lastly, they will construct the set with their team of builders. The set designer will oversee this whole process. It’s their main responsibility to create accessible sets for cast and crew to work within. After filming, the set designer will help to take down the set, also known as striking the set.

Pre-Production Duties

Film set design begins with a script breakdown and a meeting with the key creatives. They will then hire the construction team alongside the production designer. Before making the sets, they will create sketches and mood boards to show to the director. Then they will build the sets and manage them throughout production. 

  • Read and breakdown the script
  • Attend meetings with the director
  • Hire a set construction team  
  • Create sketches and mood boards
  • Build and manage the film sets

Production Duties

Overall the set designer job description focuses on pre-production. However, there are some duties during filming. To begin with, they will look after the sets and manage their team’s budget. The set must be safe for the crew and cast to work within. After, they will also help take down the set, which is known as striking the set. 

  • Looking after the sets
  • Managing the set budgets
  • Making sure the set is safe
  • Taking down ‘striking the set’ 

Education and Skills

To begin with, you might get a degree in filmmaking. You can also find film schools that teach construction and film art design. Keep in mind that education can only teach you the basics, and you will still need work experience. 

To find work experience, you can start with an internship in film or theatre. The entry-level roles in the art department are a runner or art assistant.

You will need to learn a range of film set design, painting, and building skills to get into this role. Because it is a higher position, many people in this role have plenty of experience and a portfolio of work. The film set designer must also network and make contacts. 

Key Set Designer Skills:

  • Understand the filmmaking process
  • Plan, draw, and design film sets
  • Teamwork and leadership skills
  • Construct and build film sets
  • Manage budget and set safety 

Set Designer Career Route

The set designer leads the construction team on a film set. You can work up to this role, from runner to art department assistant and any stagehand position. It’s important to learn as much as possible about the film industry and how the art department works.

Then, when you have enough experience, you can start to find paid work. To do this, create a portfolio of work and make the most of your film industry contacts. You can also begin by working on low-budget films and then working up to higher-budget sets. Keep in mind, that film crew are always freelancers working from project to project. 

The best set designers learn a mix of skills from scenic painting to model making. They also work with the same directors and producers.

Art Department Job Roles:

  • Art Department Assistant, Runner
  • Graphic Designer, Concept Artist
  • Set Designer, Art Director
  • Production Designer 

Set Designer Salary

The day rate of all film industry crew members depends on the project type and budget. So, you will get less pay for a low-budget indie film than for a high-end TV project. If you look at our crew rates, you can see how the rates change depending on budget and job role. Of course, your pay will also take into account your personal experience.

The IATSE recommends a salary of $40.15 per hour for a set designer. This salary equates $441.65 a day or $2,649 for a typical 6 day, work week. In addition, experienced set designers on higher budget projects can make a higher salary.

Finding Work

It will take many years to master the skills needed to work as a professional set designer. You can learn these skills on set, but taking a course on set design might also help.

You can find work experience by helping on low-budget film projects or taking a traineeship. Once you have some experience, you can use this to apply for higher-paid art positions. Remember, you need various art and construction skills to become a set designer. 

Like all film crew jobs, finding work often depends on who you know and on recommendations. So, it’s important to build up your networking and communication skills. 

US 🇺🇸UK 🇬🇧
Backstage CrewScreenSkills Jobs
Backstage magazine lists crew production jobs throughout the US. This list includes all art department job roles, from entry level to head of department. They also have jobs in theatre set design which you can use a stepping stone into the film industry.ScreenSkills is a charity that provides industry news, training and resources for the UK film industry. As well as, having regular training opportunities they also now have a jobs board for professional production positions.

Wrapping Up

We hope you have learned more about this job role. To sum up, this is a highly creative, hands on job role. You can work towards this role by working within the art department. However, you will still need to learn skills in your spare time and create a film portfolio.

This career is perfect for people who want to work as part of a team, create with their hands and use their imagination. It will take time to make enough contacts and skills to find highly paid work in this role. But if you are good at your job you can have a long career in set design. 

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