Production Designer Vs. Set Designer

As they work together, production and set designers determine the look of a film. See how their salaries, career outlooks, and education requirements compare.

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Comparing Production Designers to Set Designers

Working alongside directors and talented artists, production and set designers aim to bring a movie or play script to life. They determine the scenery and props for films and set the artistic mood and theme for a production. Learn more about the similarities and differences between these two careers here.

Job Title Education Requirements Median Salary (2016)* Job Growth (2016-2026)*
Production Designers Bachelor's Degree $112,140 (art directors in the motion picture and video industries) 7% (all art directors)
Set Designers High school diploma or equivalent $50,990 (all set and exhibit designers) 11% (all set and exhibit designers)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Responsibilities of Production Designers vs. Set Designers

Both production and set designers use their creativity to draw audiences in. Production designers guide the art departments on films, which include sets, costumes, lighting, and makeup. Set designers, however, are more focused on creating an engaging backdrop for the story. Additionally, production designers typically work solely on television and film productions, while set designers may also work in theater settings.

Production Designers

Production designers have a variety of duties on a production set, meeting the needs the artistic desires of the director on any given project. Costume designers, makeup artists, set builders, and even cinematographers may answer to these designers. These professionals help choose the themes, colors, and settings that will evoke emotions in the audience. After reading the script, they turn to images and similar films to research wardrobe, lighting, and setting possibilities that will fit the director's vision for the film. They then sketch original ideas for props and characters and determine a budget based on the necessary materials and workforce.

Job responsibilities of a production designer include:

  • Helping the cinematographer select camera equipment, such as black and white film, that best captures the tone
  • Scouting shooting locations and obtaining permission to film there
  • Ensuring the makeup suits the characters and time period
  • Determining how much money to allocate to computer generated images in post production

Set Designers

Sometimes, the backdrop for the action in a play or movie can tune audiences into the emotion and tone of the production, and set designers are responsible for designing these elements. Any furniture or props used are carefully selected by these artists as they design the style for the physical surroundings that tell an audience a lot about the time and place for the action. Even as they read the script, they are creating sketches and drawing scaled floor plans for the sets. They may even create three-dimensional or computer-generated models. To practice their craft, these professionals gain work with film studios and production theaters.

Job responsibilities of a set designer include:

  • Creating a list of any materials, props, and tools needed to create the set
  • Proposing a detailed plan for the building of a set, including any timetables
  • Researching the time period or fantasy world to ensure the scenery is accurate
  • Developing computer generated images for the scenery, even the black, star-spattered backdrop of space

Related Careers

If a job as a production designer appeals to you, you may want to research a career as a movie director since both focus on bringing a script to life. If a career as a set designer interests you, however, a job as an interior designer could be for you, as both use their creativity to create functional and aesthetically-pleasing spaces.

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