Become a Scenic Designer: Job Description and Career Guide

Aug 20, 2018

Learn how to become a scenic designer. Explore the education requirements, training opportunities, and experience required for starting a career in scenic design.

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  • 0:04 Scenic Designers
  • 0:45 Career Skills & Info
  • 1:24 Step 1: Education
  • 2:12 Step 2: Experience
  • 2:39 Step 3: Film Commission

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Scenic Designers

Scenic designers, also called set designers, design physical surroundings to set the tone, atmosphere, time frame, and location for movies, television shows, and theater productions. Scenic designers use furniture, props, structures, backgrounds, and other design elements to create an accurate setting as dictated by a script.

Scenic designers start by reading a script and meeting with directors to define a script's concept and the best way to design it. They then sketch ideas and floor plans to indicate a set's layout and prop placement. After drawing a final model to scale, set designers supervise the construction workers who build the set.

Career Skills & Info

Scenic designers should have good communication and teamwork skills. Tact and patience are often necessary when working with other creative people, such as directors. Scenic designers should also be artistic and know how to work with 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional design software. The average annual salary of set and exhibit designers in May 2015 was $54,920, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Aspiring scenic designers should be aware that this is not a nine-to-five job. Work hours may be irregular, often involving evenings and weekends.

Step 1: Education

Professional productions are usually handled by scenic designers who have an associate's or bachelor's degree in theater design or set design for film plus some work experience. Scenic design programs teach students about acting, makeup, lighting, and costumes in addition to set design. Local theater or independent production companies generally prefer some experience but usually don't require formal education.

Success Tip:

  • Build a portfolio. Student assignments, school productions, and community plays provide opportunities for scenic designers to build a portfolio with photos and designs of their best work. Employers often reference portfolios to determine which set designer to hire. Some programs provide a course designed to help students create a portfolio.

Step 2: Experience

Scenic designers can work their way up to bigger productions by building a reputation in the industry. Novice scenic designers can start with small community productions at local theaters, schools, or independent productions to gain experience for larger markets. Crew members for small or independent productions are not always paid, but the ambitious set designer can build a good reputation with hard work, creativity, and an ability to work within an established budget.

Step 3: Film Commission

Scenic designers should register with their state film commissions, which are intended to assist out-of-state production companies with finding actors, crews, and locations to film their projects. They should also get listed on their state sites so out of town production companies that are looking for set designers can consider them for projects.

Let's review. Set and exhibit designers earned an average salary of $54,920 a year as of May 2015. Aspiring scenic designers who are interested in joining their ranks will most likely need a degree in theater design or set design for film, along with some experience, which they can document in a portfolio.

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