A creative mind that works to picture scenes or bring somebody else’s ideology to life and implement them as well is known as a set or scenic designer. Set design is known using various terminology like scenic design, theatre design, stage design. Often set designers are misinterpreted as production designers. Production designers are the ones that act as the eye of the director to bring every vision to reality. They are responsible for various activities like costumes, sets, makeup, and lighting. 

The set designer’s job is to create an environment for the artist to work by understanding the script and scene. Let’s dive a little deeper to capture the essence and the importance of the presence of a set designer.

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set design_©richard Finkelstein

History of Set Design

The history starts from the Greek period. The planning and architecture were in a manner that helped the audience from the last row to have clear visuals and audible. Complex Cone shapes were the planning preferred for that. The initial period had only the main character to a maximum of 3 people playing their roles. As the art of acting reached a wider crowd, the crew grew large, and to have the audience engaged and make them feel that they are travelling to different scenes along with the actors’ needed backdrops that suit the scenario, that’s when the set design was born.

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ancient greek theatre planning_©scroll.in

17th century

Initially, people used scenic painted pictures as backdrops hung on the rear wall of the stage and were of lesser importance, and at times, they were announced by word of mouth at the start of different scenes. The 17th century was the Italian renaissance period, which is said to have brought life to set design. Perspective painting originated in the era to give some sort of depth in the paintings and different elevations

Note-worthy people who contributed to set design from this century are Vincenzo Scamozzi, Giovanni Battista, Nicolo Sabbattini, and Ferdinando Galli Bibiena. Scamozzi for his solid drop background and one-point perspective by enlarging the central arch; Battista for his flats, the painted canvas stretched over wooden frames; Sabbattini for his lighting techniques and Bibiena for his multiple perspectives.

painted backdrops for setting the scene_©operahousetheatre.com

18th century

This is the time when set designers started thinking about aspects like how the backgrounds speak of the purpose it was created and how they can act as a tool to unify everything and blend with the scene. The thought on the importance of light and shadow struck designers from this era. This is a period when classicism was revived. It is only in this period when the curtain was lowered to change scenes. Chandeliers became fashionable.

19th century 

It was when the 2D backdrops of scenes started becoming 3D’s. This period is known for its romanticism. The stages were made of wood. Elevators, slots, and traps made the play more interesting. This not only benefited the audience but the actors, as well as they, were able to interact with the set thus performing better. The gift of electricity gave better control of lights which was a great challenge imposed in the previous period. Apart from 3D sets, historical accuracy and realistic sets were the trends. 

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conventional type of stage design_©flickr.com

20th century

The Bauhaus movement inspired the century. It is when set design started making its way of being considered an essential role in making any film or drama. This was a pioneering period to today’s set design and a period of innovation. Though there was electric power, it was scarce; thus, non-electrical lighting was in use. 

21st century Set Design

People become bored of seeing the same old sets again and again. So now, a revolution of creating interesting spaces for both audience and actors became the focus of the century. Along with sets, the theatres also evolved to accommodate a larger crowd and also for experiencing the play from a different seating position. This is a century where set designers started working on small-scale models before executing setups, as this started involving a lot of money. 

a. Computer-generated imagery (CGI)

Computer graphics are ruling the current generation of the world as it has proved to be more advantageous and helps to create an imaginary world at a much faster pace. It makes it more fun to work with, but it has the disadvantage of making it feel robotic and rubbery. Making a movie or whatever entertainment, for that matter, if it is done with complete CGI, doesn’t feel good for the audience’s visuals as it makes its artificial nature obvious. 

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real vs CGI_©redsharknews.com

b. Green Screens

Apart from the conventional way of model making and setting up structures but building them from scratch, this century has shifted focus towards technology to help set design less time-consuming and easy to work. This is where green screens intervened. But this made it tough for actors as they couldn’t sense the environment as it was in the traditional method. This is considered the difference between Marvel Entertainment and DC Entertainment. 

DC relies more on CGI and green screens, which makes it fall behind marvel. Marvel uses both live-built and green screens, making it easier for artists to perform knowing their immediate surroundings.

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movie making using green screen later scene set using CGI or VFX_mountpleasantstudio.com

c. LED Walls

Compared with the previously discussed green screen and CGI, LED walls are beneficial as giant LED screens would be the backdrops on which the scene is projected, so the actor finds it comfortable to work and excel in their performance. LED Screens also reduce the time as the errors or changes in the background could be made then and there. 

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_film making using LED walls_©cined.com

Architecture and Set Design

In the past, people who did set design were either architects or artists—but this is a century where dedicated courses are available to master the art and engineering of set design. Set design is a fascinating profession. It attracts architects as the set design has fewer limitations when compared to architecture. Architecture involves both art and engineering one has to master both to be successful, so does set design. 

Set design involves diverse work as it plays around with fashion, trend, research, capturing the essence, knowing history, replicating or recreating spaces and objects from the past when needed, sketching, graphical illustration, and involves product designing. Set designers work with every medium possible.

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architects know the history and the elements used in different period of time_©fred howarth

The only difference between architecture and set design is that set design is a temporary setup. Though technology has taken over this field, some designers work the old-fashioned waypencil sketches and white models. Every act has its negatives and positives of its own. Technology has lowered the cost of producing things, and it has reduced the amount of waste produced by the temporarily built sets as most of these cannot be reused. 

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waste generated through set design_©greenfilmmaking.com

Set design is a great career to start with for any designer out there as it involves every paradigm found in the design industry. Qualities needed in a set designer are Creativity, experimenting, researching, the urge to break free from mundane routines, and knowledge on how things work. Anyone who finds these qualities in them or is willing to invest in them choose set designing; it will sure teach a lot.

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set design for fashion show_©architecturaldigest.com


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Stephy is an intrigued explorer of various paradigms of Architecture, choosing writing as a catharsis to her never ending thoughts.