It is a job where the designer has to research, plan, construct and oversee the sets used in ad films, TV shows and plays. S/he has to see that the idea of a director is reflected in the set and that the set works when it comes to camera movement, lighting and cost. Responsibilities vary depending on the scale and budget of the production. For instance, he or she may be responsible for both the abstract conception and the nuts-and-bolts carpentry of the set
What do they do?
These days, there is one person a film director almost always sits down with before even a single scene is shot — this is the set designer, the one who gives the film the look and the atmosphere it needs to make the plot work.
Some of the most talked-about sets in the past few years have been in films like Devdas, Jodhaa Akbar and Saawariya, all of which needed a big dose of research and creativity.
Samir Chanda, a well-known production designer and art director in Mumbai, has worked on films like Ghajini, Omkara, Rang De Basanti and Makdee. A trained painter from Calcutta Art College, he has also done the production design for Delhi-6, Welcome to Sajjanpur, Guru, Dil Se and more. “Today, art directors are considered so important that directors sit with us and discuss scenes threadbare before shooting begins,” says Chanda. “When I started in the early 80s, things were different. Directors almost directed us on the look of the film.”
But with the evolution of TV shows as well as films, the job has become far more specialised. A set designer should have an understanding of space, form and structure, composition, perspective, visual storyboard, design layout and lighting schemes. This goes for film, TV and even stage productions, some of which require very elaborate sets.
A large chunk of the work is to be done before the cameras roll. “A designer has to research the project and confer with the director, producer, writer, costume designer, lighting and sound technicians, and the cinematographer to come up with the right detail. Any creative idea should be practicable, too,” says Manoos Mirza, a set designer/art director. A set designer and art director have a similar job profile, but the latter is in a more senior, supervisory position.
“You have to get the feel of the story, and for that an arts background is a must. You need to have the aesthetic sense to bring out the vision of the director in the most satisfactory way,” says Gautam Bose, an art director who started his career as an illustrator and then moved to films. His first film as a production designer was Ek Din Achanak, directed by arthouse great Mrinal Sen. He has recently been art director for Aparna Sen’s Mr and Mrs Iyer, among other films.
After making some draft sketches, the set designer builds upon those until a scale model for a set is in place. “Then he has to get all the resources to construct the set without missing any detail,” says Mirza.
The work increases manifold if the film is a period film, and the past has to be recreated. “Such films require an understanding of the history and psychology of that particular era,” says Naim Ahmed, who works for a news channel.
Pune architect Dheeraj Akolkar, the man behind the sets of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, has also had a major share in designing for Devdas. He worked under art director Nitin Desai for that film, creating the havelis of Devdas, Chandramukhi and Paro. For Paro’s haveli, Akolkar decided to use a lot of glass — the work was so strenuous that one day he worked non-stop for 10 hours and collapsed on the sets.
There are rewards for such hard work. Once you specialise in set design, films, television and event management companies pay handsome fees for quality work. But for one truly creative, it is a labour of love.
Source: HT Horizons
- Strong aesthetic sense and fine art trainin
- Good research skills
- Patience to work with carpenters, electricians etc
- Ability to cope with the demands of a director, which may change during the course of a shoot
- Good budgeting and planning skills
How do I get there?
Go for a BFA degree. Learn software such as VectorWorks, RenderWorks, PhotoShop, Illustrator, Max etc. People with other areas of expertise such as interior design and architecture can also join this field