The elements of style: The skills required to be a great set designer

Ritika Saxena speaks to Padma Kasturirangan, Production Manager, Annapurna College to understand the essential elements that come together to make a well-designed set.

When you watch a movie, ever wondered who actually creates those magnificent backgrounds and sets you see? Those are the inspired creations of ‘Set Designers’. They are the ones who conceptualise the look and appearance of a set in a film, television show or play. It may seem easy, but in reality, it is quite difficult. If you as a viewer do not enjoy what you’re looking at, then the film’s kaput! Imagine watching a happy song being shot on a set that designed for a funeral. It will look as bizarre as it sounds!

Here are some tips to make sure your sets are simply amazing

Know your script

As obvious as it may sound, it is important for the Set Designer to understand the script. Know the script of your movie/serial/play really well. Only once you understand the scene and its premise, will you be able to articulate the vision of the Director through your set.

Characterisation

You need to ensure you get the characterisation of the actor right. It is essential that you understand the demographics of your characters to be able to design the right set for them. For instance, the bedroom of a 16-year-old will be very different from the bedroom of a 60-year-old.

Time Setting

You must ensure that you have your time and geographical settings all planned out. If the time settings are wrong, you may be in a little bit of trouble. For example, can you imagine Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai wearing today’s outfits in ‘Jodha Akbar’?

Geographies

Similar to time setting, geographies play an exceptionally important role in set design. Geographies in set design can impact the set design in terms of surroundings and the general look and feel of the place.

Props

What if you do not have the right props for a scene on set? Can you imagine a movie without props? Can you imagine how ‘Central Perk’ would look in the TV series, F.R.I.E.N.D.S. without the wall paintings or the curtains or the vase placed on each table? A set designer essentially has two options – sourcing the props or building them, as aesthetics play an important role.

Color Scheme

Color schemes play a large role in set design. Being a set designer, you need to keep in mind the color palette of the setting. The best example of a color scheme playing a vital role in set design is in the movie Saawariya. Going with the blue and black tones that the entire movie is shot in, it was natural for the set designer to create sets in those colors.

Light Design

A new trend in set design, light design is the next big thing.  This aspect of set designing entails how the set needs to be lit up – which part of the stage? Which character? Which part of the stage should be brightly lit and which part should be dim? All these questions are answered in light design.

Co-ordination

An absolute essential skill. You need to co-ordinate with the director and the cinematographer to be able to visualize their needs. At this stage you may also have the Scriptwriter giving inputs on the basis of the scene.

Budget

Once the Executive Producer gives a go-ahead and depending on the budget of the film, the set designer can either build or source the set. For instance, there are sets that have been sourced entirely, but there are also sets that have hired expert craftsmen or have the production team doing a do-it-yourself project for the set to come together!

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