Set designers, also called as scenic designers or directors, are essential to the showbiz and entertainment industry. Their creativity and vision in creating the perfect design help in the process of achieving the "feel" of the story or production. Set designers must study the script or the main objective of the program and research every detail of the scenes, such as time, settings, and fashion to fully understand the need of the set.
After reading the script or conferring with event organizers and producers, set designers start their work by producing sketches of their concepts and show them to the directors. Once their concepts are approved, they help in creating scale models, design props, and oversee the creation of the sets.
Set designers consult with other professionals in order to fully achieve the look they have visualized. They confer with production specialists and the director of photography in order to establish a mental image of the set and establish its visual and aesthetic interpretation. Set designers also work with costume designers, makeup artists, and hair stylists, collaborating with them so the characters or presenters mesh well with the atmosphere of the set. In film productions, set designers partner with special effects specialists, location manager, and the director to avoid visual confusion and errors and establish a unified, coherent appearance.
Other professionals a set designer must collaborate with are:
In most productions, set designers are tasked to supervise crews of electricians and carpenters during construction. They must always keep open communication channels with the members of the creative team in case there is a need for adjustments and changes. Set designing is also influenced by lighting effects, which is why set designers must also work hand in hand with the light director and the lighting team.
While the median set designer salary in the United States is $48,480 a year, those in the top 10 percent of the labor demographic are earning approximately $91,570 a year. Set designers in the bottom 10 percent are making $25,290 per annum.
Set designers usually find work where the entertainment and showbiz industry is booming. They often work long hours and even during weekends and holidays. Set designers in big theater productions like Broadway have to work several months in just one production.
The motion picture and video industries are the largest employers of set designers as well as the top paying sector for the said occupation. There are about 1,800 set designers employed by film and motion picture companies in the United States and they are paid with an average set designer salary of $76,860 per annum. Museums, historical sites, and other similar companies also provide high employment rate for set designers. Around 1,080 set designers work in museums and historical locations. The pay rate is just slightly below the national average at $48,140 a year. Other industries that offer good employment prospects for set designers are: performing arts and theater productions ($39,570), support services ($55,260), and independent artists, writers, and performers ($42,880).
Aside from film and video industries, other employer types that offer substantial set designer salary rates are; Federal executive branches ($68,390), medical equipment and supplies manufacturers ($63,220), amusement parks and arcades ($63,090), and companies that engage in specialized design services ($58,870).
Set designers often hold a bachelor's degree in set design, scenic design, or theater to qualify for an entry level position.
College courses in set design and theater often include basic art-related subjects such as drawing, painting, model building, hand drafting and computer-aided drawing. College students are also trained on how to research the details of a story such as time, setting, and essential historical details. Many colleges and universities that offer set design programs also provide internship courses for students so they can build their portfolios which they will need once they graduate and look for work.
There are an estimated 300 colleges that are recognized by the National Association of Schools of Art and Design. The National Association of Schools of Theater has approved 150 programs in theater arts across the United States.
Membership in recognized organizations also enhances a candidate's qualifications and may help him or her land a job with high set designer rates. The Set Decorators Society of America, the American Association of community Theater, and the Art Directors Guild are some of the institutions that provide membership plus benefits to professional set designers in the United States.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that the set designer profession will grow by as much as 10 percent within 10 years, from 2010 to 2020. The said agency describes such growth as about fast as the average for all occupations.
The area that will enjoy the most growth will be in the museum and historical sites. The numbers of museums and similar establishments are currently rising in popularity and with them, the demand for set designers also rises. Many production companies are now keen on hiring set designers on a contractual or "by show" basis instead of regularizing them. This move may hamper growth and possibly lead to regular set designers losing their work. However, it will also increase the demand for freelance set designers.
Set designers usually start out as set design assistants, working under the supervision of an experienced set designer. In most cases they coordinate with other production personnel, specifically those involved with the creation of the stage and props, costumes, make up and lighting. Set designers with experience and recognition are promoted to head a team of fellow set designers. In the long run, a set designer who has achieved many production successes may be elevated to the position of art director or creative director.
Professions closely related to the set designer occupation are:
The set designer plays an important role in any TV, film, or theater production. Without a set designer's vision and creativity, a production, a TV program, or even a stage event can't achieve that visual quality that entertains the audience and allows them to fully experience the creator's intended message.