Set designing, the art of creating temporary props to shape up a situation in movies,  theatres and sometimes musical performances in award functions, may not seem like they’re too important, but they give everything more meaning, from using a colour scheme to set the mood of a scene to having hints hidden amongst them. 

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The architecture of set designing may look simple, but a lot of thought goes into making every single thing and all of it has a meaning, down to the very last detail. In this article, we will delve deeper into the art, science and architecture of set designing.

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Lights, Camera, Set Design_©dezeen.com

The Literature Of Set Designing

Set designing might be focused on creating temporary pieces, but the process requires many steps, starting from reading the script and the theme of the performance it will encase. One has to go through the guiding material numerous times, and think from different angles and keep specific needs in mind to come up with a proper plan. The whole process can be compared to literature study and site analysis that architecture students and professional architects both do to get a better understanding of their projects. 

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The more a person reads the script and the guides, the more they will be able to understand the requirements that are to be met by the set that will be designed. The grasping and understanding of the literature related to the project is a very important beginning stage for set designing.

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The First Step To Design A Stage Is To Study The Literature_©rsarchitecture-studio.com

The Science Of Set Designing

When the designer has got a fair idea of what to do, they start making sketches of plans to be able to better convey their concepts to the builders and technicians. They draw plans in scale to specify the positions of different props, and also give rough sketches of elevations. The process of building is intense and requires a lot of details and specifications because it is temporary and most of the time requires to be changed in the middle of a single performance or a single day of shooting. 

There are a lot of mechanisms that need to be incorporated to ensure that the different pieces can be moved or replaced according to requirement, along with making all the pieces light in weight to ensure the same. The making of a set is an inter-disciplinary process that requires the set designer to convey ideas properly to and also coordinate people of different professions like carpenters, painters, sound engineers and technicians, electricians, and so many others. 

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Sometimes even performers using the stage have to be involved in the process of set designing because often they are the ones who need to make the required changes in-between takes and scenes. The building of a set and all the props required can sometimes take longer than when it is in full usage. 

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The Initial Sketches_©getdrawings.com
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The Plan And The Corresponding Elevation_©pinterest.com

The Art Of Set Designing

The art of set designing is the immense attention to detail that is given to every single piece of a set. Even the most minuscule thing can be huge in a scene. The colours, the furniture or the lack of them, the ornaments, and all the accessories are all equally important in a set. The same colour can convey different emotions when put under different light. The same prop can be something useful in one scene and something evil in another scene. The same set of performers can be interpreted differently in different settings. 

Designing a set requires one to consider all these aspects and use them all to perfect the art of set designing. The short time that is spent in a set makes the detailing all the more important because sometimes scenarios, emotions and themes can only be conveyed by the careful use of props, lighting and sound instead of words and dialogues for the same. The proper interpretation of the set helps in understanding the story better, and sometimes also helps to bring the story forward. The art of set designing is how simple, small things can become important in shaping a scene, and in the long run, a story. 

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The Attention To Details_©pinterst.com
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How Sets Tell A Story_©twitter.com

The Amalgamation Of All

A set may be temporary, created to be only used for a short amount to me, but the beauty lies in making something that will be remembered fondly, even when it does not exist anymore. All the numerous people work together tirelessly to create pieces of art that may well be demolished the very next day after being used once in performance, but this lack of permanence makes the set more beautiful – we care more for something we know we will lose. 

Art and architecture are said to be immortal, but the immortality of sets designed lies in the beautiful memories one makes while viewing, and how these memories differ in different people. The best and also the worst part of set designing is the fact that everything created is always ephemeral. 

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The Architecture Of Set Designing_©ksamaarchivs.wordpress.com
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The Ephemeral Beauty Of A Set_©archive.curbed.com

Exemplary Illustrations

The art and architecture of set designing can be explained through aspects that affect or influence it, but it is best understood through studying famous set designs – why, when, where and how they were built.

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“Hamilton: An American Musical” tells the story of the founding father of the USA and set designer David Karins was approached with creating the stage to showcase an important historic event. The play takes place against the backdrop of a dilapidated colonial building along with using Cheever symbolism like hanging guns on the wall to signify war and putting the actors on a turntable to show the whirlwind of history. The set has become so popular that even people who haven’t attended the Broadway show can identify it in pictures.

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The Hymning Set Of Hamilton_©pinterest.com

The movie “Moulin Rouge” tells of a love story set in a famous club during the nineteenth century. The co-writer Craig Pearce and production designer Catherine Martin travelled to Paris to conduct research on the history of Montmartre at the turn of the 20th century and turned all of it into the sets for the movie.  The entire movie was shot in five luxurious and lavish sets that reinterpreted Moulin Rouge and were built through the vision of Martin, with help from supervising art director Ian Gracie and set decorator Brigitte Broch, in Fox Studios Australia despite the movie being set in Paris. The final movie is a thing of beauty. 

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The Dreamy World Of Moulin Rouge_©reelclub.wordpress.com

Designer Maria Grazia Chiuri opened the Paris Fashion Week in 2019 with a Spring collection where the ramp was created in the form of a temporary grove of 164 trees, giving a new meaning to “floral for spring” and celebrating the very nature the fashion industry is known to harm. The trees were later repurposed in various sustainability projects around the city. 

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Fashion In A Forest_©theguardian.com

References

Step-by-Step Guide to Set Design – Dramatics Magazine (2018). Step-by-Step Guide to Set Design – Dramatics Magazine. [online] Dramatics Magazine Online. Available at: https://dramatics.org/read-render-realize/. [Accessed 20 Jun. 2021].

aact.org. (n.d.). Set Designer | AACT. [online] Available at: https://aact.org/set-designer. [Accessed 20 Jun. 2021].

Author

Ipshita Seth has been in love with words for as long she can remember and now that she's studying Architecture, she's found a new love for writing about designing spaces, history of buildings, construction technologies and everything else that comes with them. She has joined RTF to give words to her dreams.

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