set design on a sci-film film

A Step-By-Step Guide To Film Set Design (2023 Update)

Film Set design can make or break a production!

Not only does set design affect the pace of your production, but it has a huge effect on your video’s atmosphere and feel.

The job of a set designer is to make the physical environment so seamless with the story that nothing feels out of place or mistaken. They bring a story to life in a way that completely immerses the audience into the world of the film.

If you’re curious about the process of set design in video production, or you want to know how to get into the profession, you’re in the right place! We’re covering the basics of all things set design here.

Understanding the Purpose of Production Design

In film, set design falls under the category of production design. Production design is the process of creating the environment and look of a film through things like sets, costumes, makeup, props, and special effects.

Set designers usually work under the direction of a film’s production designer— the person who runs the entire design team. However, on smaller sets, a production designer may be in charge of set design as well.

The entire process of production design is a vital component of the filmmaking process. The three factors that influence production design decisions are:

  • Theme
  • Mood
  • Character

Each design component needs to be cohesive with each other and with the overall theme of the film. For example, if a film takes place in the 1970s but the characters are wearing modern clothes and eating at a restaurant decorated with 1990s decor, everything will feel out of place and messy.

Step by Step Guide to Film Set Design

When it comes to designing a film set, there are two different mediums: “on location” and in a sound stage.

  • On location: “On location” refers to when filming takes place in a real-world setting, not a studio. For example, you may film inside a real Victorian mansion or outdoors at a real park. Even when shooting on location, there are design elements to add, subtract, or change to match the environment to the story.
  • In a sound stage: Shooting in a sound stage or a studio requires a set designer to essentially build the set from the ground up. They need to turn an empty space into one that is accurate for the film. Sound stages may be used to build sets like living rooms, hospital rooms, restaurants, and more.

Creating a set design from start to finish involves following these 4 steps:

Step 1: Read the Script

The first job of every single crew member on a film is to read the script. Everyone from the director to the key grip to the hair and makeup designer needs to read the script (preferably multiple times) and take notes, gain a solid understanding of the story and setting, and start thinking about how their role will play a part in bringing the script to life.

When it comes to working in film, there’s no such thing as being too familiar with the script.

film script

Step 2: Conceptualize & Draw

Once the production designer and set designer have a solid understanding of the script, they can move on to conceptualization. The set designer will perform research about certain time periods and styles, and begin mocking up concept illustrations.

When the concept designs are completed, they get sent to the director and producers for approval. (In the entire production design umbrella, mockup designs for costumes, hair and makeup, and props also get sent over.)

The director may have some edits or suggestions for the designer. The two will collaborate until the director is happy with the design and things can move forward.

Step 3: Planning & Budgeting

When the designs get approved, things move to the planning and budgeting stage. This is when blueprints for set construction get drafted, budgets are made, and more research is performed.

If there will be scenes shot on location, the set designer works together with the location scout to find ideal real-life locations to secure for filming. When those locations are secured, the set designer can easily visualize how they may add to or change the area to create the perfect set.

Step 4: Bringing the Set to Life

The final step of set design is to take the approved illustrations and bring them to life. This involves hiring a construction crew to build the set, finding furniture and other items, and putting the finishing touches on the set.

There are two other important crew members when it comes to set design: the set decorator and the set dresser.

  • Set decorator: Develops the look of the set and finds the items to fill the set
  • Set dresser: Arranges the items the set decorator found to put final touches on the set

Filmmaking is incredibly collaborative, so it’s very common for multiple crew positions to work together to bring the story to life.

the production designer adding details to a film set design

How Can I Become a Production or Film Set Designer?

If you want to become a production designer or a set designer for film, you can get an education in production design, architecture, interior design, or general filmmaking. Getting an education will help you learn the design process and make connections.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you go to the most prestigious film school in the country or if you don’t have a formal education. The film industry is all about making connections. People on set won’t care where you went to school, they’ll care about your skill set, work ethic, and how easy you are to collaborate with.

Focus on getting experience on real film sets and making connections if you want to be a set designer.

Trust the Set Design Pros for Your Upcoming Project

A good set designer can make or break the execution of your film. When you need a skilled set designer to bring your film to life, trust the producers at Stringline Pictures. Our team can take care of the entire production process from storyboarding and set design to casting actors and making the final edit.

When you want to experience a real film set, bring your idea to Stringline Pictures. Contact us today to get started!