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What Does a Set Decorator Do?

The set decorators for the Star Wars movies added technological devices to the Mos Eisley set in Tunisia.
A set decorator might need to hire a seamstress.
Article Details
  • Written By: Misty Amber Brighton
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 31 July 2014
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When people watch a television show, movie, or play, they are looking at the work of a set decorator. These individuals are responsible for creating scenes, including the location of many props. They might do this by reading the script or by looking at sketches produced by an artist. Some of the things involved in set decoration could include creating backdrops or arranging furniture.

A set decorator may work for a small theater company or a large production team. He might be responsible for creating the scenes for many plays, musicals, or movies. In some cases, the set decoration must be done entirely from scratch, which means the scene is "built" on a stage and then dismantled. Movie set decoration may be less subtle and involve adding only a few items to a location where a particular scene is being filmed.

Many large theater productions use artists to depict what a scene might need to look like. In this case, a set decorator will work with this individual to provide the type of decoration required. The sketches may be informal and only depict what items are needed and where they should be placed, or elaborate ones that detail specific colors or patterns.

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Set decorators are often responsible for purchasing items they need for scene decorations. They might be called on to rent or buy furniture, backdrops, or accessories in order to create the look and feel required by the production. Other times they may make the things that are needed for set decoration. They may do this by purchasing the materials or enlisting the aid of a professional, such as a seamstress or carpenter. This aspect of the job involves good business skills, and price negotiation is often required in order to keep the purchases within the budget allotted for set decoration.

There are generally no educational requirements for becoming a set decorator, although a high school diploma is usually helpful. Many people do this type of work on a part-time or volunteer basis, as there are typically very few full-time openings in this field. People who would like to learn the basics of set decoration can usually do so by volunteering to help with a local high school production or community theater. After becoming well-known for their work, individuals could then apply with a traveling theater group or a movie production company. Those who are able to land a full-time position may need to hold down a second job, as this line of work can largely be seasonal.

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