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Set Designer

Set designers design and plan settings, scenic environments and properties (props) for theatre, dance, opera, television, video, gaming and film productions.

  • Avg. Salary N/A
  • Avg. Wage N/A
  • Minimum Education Varies
  • Outlook below avg
  • Employed < 1500
  • In Demand Lower
Also Known As

Designer, Production Designer, Scenographer, Stage Designer, Theatre Designer

NOC Codes

In Canada, the federal government groups and organizes occupations based on a National Occupational Classification (NOC) system. This alis occupation may not reflect the entire NOC group it is part of. Data for the NOC group can apply across multiple occupations.

The NOC system is updated every 5 years to reflect changes in the labour market. Government forms and labour market data may group and refer to an occupation differently, depending on the system used. Here is how this occupation has been classified over time:

  • 2006 NOC: Theatre Designers (5243.1) 
  • 2006 NOC-S: Theatre, Fashion, Exhibit and Other Creative Designers (F143) 
  • 2011 NOC: Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers (5243) 
  • 2016 NOC: Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers (5243) 
Interest Codes
The Set Designer is part of the following larger National Occupational Classification (NOC).
Theatre Designers

Interest in synthesizing information to create settings, scenic environments, properties, costumes and lighting for theatre, film, video productions, operas and ballets; and in preparing working drawings, creating special stage lighting patterns and selecting colours, decor and accessories


Interest in precision working with tools to construct miniature sets in cardboard, plaster and other materials; and in sketching and painting plans and submitting them to directors and producers for approval


Interest in speaking with workers when overseeing construction of sets

Reading Interest Codes
A Quick Guide

The interest code helps you figure out if you’d like to work in a particular occupation. 
It’s based on the Canadian Work Preference Inventory (CWPI), which measures 5 occupational interests: Directive, Innovative, Methodical, Objective and Social.

Each set of 3 interest codes is listed in order of importance.

A code in capital letters means it’s a strong fit for the occupation.

A code in all lowercase letters means the fit is weaker.

Learn More

Updated May 20, 2021

Duties and responsibilities vary from one type of production to another but, in general, set designers:

  • Read and analyze the script and consult with the director and others to develop themes, objectives and design concepts
  • Use a variety of artistic techniques to explore traditional, conventional or abstract methods to visualize the production
  • Research architectural styles and building interiors appropriate to the time period depicted
  • Research stylistic elements such as paintings and art objects
  • Propose concepts that may include the use of metaphorical, psychological or mythological approaches
  • Create technical drawings, sketches or scale models to work out lighting, cameras and prop placements with other department heads
  • Develop production plans for the construction crews or digital modellers to build from
  • Work within budget, labour and space restrictions
  • Select materials and supervise the construction and painting of sets and props
  • Attend rehearsals and oversee the integration of set design with performance

Most set designers supervise the construction and painting of sets and, in small theatres, help with these activities as well.

For many film, video or gaming productions, set designers may be required to develop partial or full virtual sets, using digital 3D modelling software to build a computer-rendered scene. Where real life actors or their recorded movements will be merged into these digital sets, set designers often are required to construct green screen sets. These special sets have basic key objects or shapes built with the exact same dimensions and locations physically as are modelled on the digital set. The shapes are then covered with a special green material that allows footage of those areas to be erased using computer software, and replaced by footage from the 3D modelled version of the set. The green screen sets have many spatial coordinate markers placed at key locations throughout the set (which remain visible to the camera, and special mapping software), so the footage and camera movements from the real-life performance can be accurately reproduced and mapped onto the digitally-rendered set.

Working Conditions
Updated May 20, 2021

Set designers often work long hours to meet deadlines. Most work on a freelance basis out of their homes or studios during the creation phase of a production. Later, they may work indoors or outdoors to supervise set construction. Set designers working on film or television productions are often required to be on hand to supervise the current day’s set location during shooting, while also remotely managing the construction of sets for the next day’s shooting as well. Sets for touring shows or concerts require repeated management of set-ups and take-downs for each venue.

Due to the freelance nature of the occupation, a designer may have to work on many projects at once. Projects may be at different stages of production and for a variety of companies. This may result in long periods of working at home or at a personal studio, and long periods of travelling.

  • Strength Required Lift up to 5 kg
Skills & Abilities
Updated May 20, 2021

Set designers need:

  • Creativity and artistic vision
  • Design rendering skills, both for physical construction plans and digital design
  • Management skills, to coordinate builders and stick to timelines and budget
  • Flexibility to adapt to problems and changing ideas
  • Spatial awareness
  • Physical fitness to work long hours
  • Self-discipline in time management and work ethics
  • Communication and interpersonal skills required to work effectively with others and market their ideas or services
  • An ability to work under pressure

They should enjoy synthesizing information, experimenting and finding innovative solutions to problems, doing precise work with tools and equipment, and supervising the work of others.

Educational Requirements
Updated May 20, 2021

Set designers must be able to interpret scripts and written texts into visual images, and convert those images into functional set designs. This requires:

  • A working knowledge of artistic principles (such as colour and composition), theatre history, art history, architecture and historical interiors
  • An understanding of the principles of interior design and construction
  • An understanding of a wide variety of construction materials and their properties and limitations
  • A sense of architectural style
  • Drawing, painting and modelling skills
  • An ability to draft working drawings and produce renderings (computer-aided drafting skills are a definite asset)
  • Practical knowledge gained from related experience (such as carpentry)

Training in drafting, computer-aided drafting, 3D modelling and design, freehand drawing, scenic painting and scale model making are essential.

This is a very specialized field: a bachelor’s or master’s degree in fine art with a specialization in set design, or training at a specialized conservatory such as the National Theatre School of Canada is recommended.

Related Education

The following schools offer programs or courses that are related to this occupation but are not required to enter the field.

Alberta University of the Arts

Grande Prairie Regional College

Red Deer College

Thompson Rivers University

For a broad list of programs and courses that may be related to this occupation try searching using keywords.

Certification Requirements
Updated May 20, 2021

There is currently no provincial legislation regulating this occupation in Alberta.

Employment & Advancement
Updated May 20, 2021

Set designers work for:

  • Theatre companies
  • Film and television production companies
  • Opera and dance companies
  • Festival and concert producers
  • Computer gaming companies
  • Special event coordinators

Some theatre companies employ resident designers, but most set designers work as freelancers and negotiate contracts for specific projects. Therefore, aspiring set designers need to acquire related experience and develop a portfolio of their work. Working for amateur theatre companies or cable television stations provides valuable experience.

Graduates of design programs usually start as designers for smaller productions or as assistant set designers in larger ones. Advancement generally takes the form of more demanding assignments. Some set designers teach in university and college programs.

Set designers are part of the larger 2011 National Occupational Classification 5243: Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers. In Alberta, 75% of people employed in this classification work in the following industries:

The employment outlook [pdf] in this occupation will be influenced by a wide variety of factors including:

  • Trends and events affecting funding for the arts
  • Location in Alberta
  • Employment turnover (when people leave existing positions)
  • Occupational growth (when new positions are created)
  • Size of the occupation

In Alberta, the 5243: Theatre, fashion, exhibit and other creative designers occupational group is expected to have a below-average annual growth of 0% from 2019 to 2023. In addition to job openings created by employment turnover, 0 new positions are forecasted to be created within this occupational group each year.

Occupational growth may be highly influenced by the number of productions companies will do in a year, and the scale of those productions.

Wage & Salary
Updated May 20, 2021

Most set designers work on a contract basis. Their incomes therefore vary considerably from one designer to another and from one year to another.

Related Post-Secondary Field of Study
  • Communications
  • Fine Arts and Performing Arts
  • Human Ecology, Fashion and Food Sciences
Other Sources of Information
Updated May 20, 2021

Associated Designers of Canada (ADC) website:

Canadian Institute for Theatre Technology website:

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 212 in Calgary website:

International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) Local 210 in Edmonton website:

Get information and referrals about career, education, and employment options from Alberta Supports.

Updated May 20, 2021. The information contained in this profile is current as of the dates shown. Salary, employment outlook, and educational program information may change without notice. It is advised that you confirm this information before making any career decisions.

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