• Set Design: A Guide to Manifest Stories into Built Environment

    Set Design, also known as Scenic Design, is the process of building a physical environment for the story. The process of set design dwells into the storyline, catches its themes, and incorporates the emotions and feel into the built aspects on stage. It tries to establish the film’s visual aesthetics and moods while creating various backdrops for characters to role-play. Moreover, set designs involve the planning and construction of spaces that are both visual and tactile for the events to transpire.

    Set Design
    Swift Setup (Image Credits:

    To design an effective set for a movie or theatre, one needs to know the important steps that make the process of set design easier and simpler to understand.

    1. Dwell Into The Script/ Story:

    Vision through story (Image Credits:

    Reading the scrip is the first step a set designer takes while commencing the design. This script, or story, is the vision of the director for the particular movie or play. Hence, one needs to read it and understand the vision by knowing the hierarchy of scenes, the characters portrayed, and the kind of backdrops or elements needed. The script also defines the location and time for the story, which determines the overall look of the movie. There are various types of scripts, such as short scripts, TV pilot scripts, documentary scripts, plays, etc., that would help one decide the nature of the setup. There can be various locations that would have to be displayed, which would create the experience of the movie for the audience. Hence, the script is the basis for any designer to start designing the built environment for the movie.

    2. Scribble The Basics:

    Imagine the basics (Image Credits:

    After one goes through the story, they can start by scribbling rough ideas that come into their heads while reading the script. These sketches would help one get a clear image of what the set might consist of. Also, it would help others look into the images that would be formed physically. They are the raw form of the images that pops up along with the emotions and feel one has to make it experiential.

    3. Discuss And Write The Itinerary:

    Talk and Confirm (Image Credits:

    Once the designer has the raw sketches or ideas that can be conveyed to the director and other crew members, they can sit down and discuss them beforehand. In any movie, the decision of the director will matter in the end. Along with the director, the other members of the crew, such as the light and sound director and the characters, would also be a part of the discussion. Hence, these discussions would help the set designer make a list of elements that would be added to the set.

    4. Materialising The Set:

    Set Design
    Check The List (Image Credits:

    The design of the set is highly dependent on the kind of elements used to communicate the idea. Any scene that will take place in the three-dimensional space will be created with various physical elements such as furniture, drapes, rugs, pots, etc. Also, the elements of light would play a vital role in designing certain spaces. Hence, the designer must put a check on the list of things that will be needed for the set to be complete.

    5. Make The Visual Renders:

    Set Design
    Render Visuals (Image Credits: SketchUp Warehouse)

    Once the itinerary is ready, one has an idea about suitable colours and materials The dimensions of the set are almost up to the designer, through whom he or she can now create a visual render for the crew members to see. The renders help one to see through the imagination on a smaller scale with the clarity of the effect that can be produced when executed. This step also allows one to make changes if needed. Further, these visuals can determine the movement of the characters along with the storylines. Hence, as they are a crucial part, software such as Microsoft Nickelodeon 3D Maker, Blender, Wax, Zara 3D Maker, etc. are very useful.

    6. Budgeting:

    Calculative decisions (Image Credits:

    A designer has to know the overall budget of the filmmaking from the director to make a decision regarding the materials. Deciding the backdrops, curtains, the roof, all the elements, and their character comes later. For example, a realistic set contains windows and doors with articulations and decor that would cost more than an image hung on the wall. Similarly, when one uses paint on the backdrop of the wall, it will cost less than the actual elements placed. Also, the technology behind the stage or set determines the budget for the designs. Hence, consideration of these aspects before designing the set becomes necessary.

    7. Designing and Planning:

    Design and Plan (Image Credits:

    Here, the designer needs to draft the plans from the rendered and sketched visuals. This step starts to concretize the ideas and vision of the story in reality. The plans and designs must keep the location in mind. For example, the drawings must contain the stage or set layout that fits in the space and let the characters of the play or movie move naturally.

    To achieve free-flowing movement, one needs to set up the elements in the proper dimensions. The designer must keep 4-5 feet of distance between all the set pieces since the actors will need to move through the set. Also, there must be clear entrances that exist on both sides of the set. Sketch out a layout of the floor set, designing a large place with walls at both right and left angles that allow maximum set area.

    8. Location Scouting:

    Location check (Image Credits:

    When a story is written by the director, he sets a certain image of the place and its character in his imagination. This descriptive imagination will determine the kind of location the set will have. Nowadays, the stories are not confined to closed spaces; they are explored in different outside places too. Hence, once the story is read by the designer, he can visit the place and start designing accordingly. Many times, the requirements of the scenes demand that different elements be used differently. The quantity of the décor would be completely dependent on the space and time.

    9. Knowing The Elements:

    1. Furniture

    Set Design
    Pieces of Furniture (Image Credits:

    The right amount and size are important aspects of placing the furniture in a scene or for the set. For example, if the story has a particular description of a character being from a high-class family with a high amount of decorated furniture, it would include two to three coffee tables, chairs, and sofas, along with the silk-woven fabric and curtains in the background.

    2. Light

    Set Design
    Light Effects (Image Credits:

    Along with the director, other members, such as the production designer and light designers, will help the set designer execute the ideas of the physical elements along with the characters, lights, and sound. Set design is the collaboration of these elements together. When the designer keeps a sofa on set, the amount of light determines if the colour is appropriate for the communication of the scene to the audience. The placement of the elements can vary according to the effect the light has.

    3. Sound

    Set Design
    Sound driven (Image Credits: Twitter – Theatrical Rights Worldwide)

    This aspect is present in the head of the set designer while reading the script to decide the overall movement of the set. For example, when there is a scene of blasting a bomb in the movie, the set must have certain rogue colours that include stones and pebbles being thrown upwards from the floor.

    Hence, from this, it can be said that set design is not a singular process, led individually. It has to combine with the props, costumes, lights, and sound that would define the overall mood of the setting for the audience. In fact, after understanding the script, the designer has to decide what belongs on the stage and what doesn’t. Even the smallest element, such as the type of curtains, plays an important role.

    10. Construction and Execution :

    Set Design
    Life on stage (Image Credits:

    Once the designer collaborates with the production designer and sound and light designers, there is certainty in the props, furniture, rugs, curtains, and other various architectural elements. Now, the miniature models constructed while designing can actually be put into construction. The actual sizes and colours on set would define the roles of the characters and how the story is delivered to the audience. On-stage or on-set rehearsals would make definitive changes to the design and plans.

    Right from conceptualization of the set through the script or the story until the execution of the visions of the directors, set design is a collaborative process. Hence, choosing even a small piece of furniture speaks a lot to the audience regarding the story of the movie. The steps mentioned above are the overall measures when one designs a set that enhances the story and enlightens the visions of the directors to the audiences. Every movie has a theme that a director sets, through which they convey a particular message to the audience.

    Hence, to communicate this message experientially or in a way that a person can feel what one wants to say, a good set design matters. Hence, when the design collaborates with the director, cinematographer, locations scout, producers, and others, it ensures the film’s visual style, narrative, and character development. The process of set design is a testament to the collaborative nature of filmmaking, and its importance cannot be overstated.

    Content Writing And Research By: Ar. Rajeshwari Pandya Modi

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