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Tag Archives: Set Design

What is your set design’s motivation?

What’s the point of a set? Why is it there?  What’s it doing?   If you haven’t ever thought about that because … “Well, duh, that’s obvious!”, take a moment and think about it for each and every scene in the script you have. 

If a play or video is really well done, does it need a set? We often hear about how this actor or that actor ‘carried the show’ or ‘swept me away’… but you don’t often hear that about the set. Great Actors, carry a scene – or steal a show because their characters come a live.  But no one (well almost never) ever says, “The sets carried the show and raised a mediocre set of background characters to a new level by challenging them.”  The reason is that sets, are literally in the background. No one ever talks about how the sets kept everyone riveted in their seats.

At least, unless it’s Cirque or something like that – we really hope that isn’t the case because when sets are done right people forget they are there. They’re a way to immerse the audience, and it’s really hard to immerse someone if you’re the only thing they think about. They’re literally the background, the canvas, on which all the other artists that make up the performance will paint.

So if you haven’t asked yourself what the point of the set is – for each scene in a play – you’ve missed out on a very important set of details in your planning, which is that it has to be a part of the story itself, it has to take and grab the viewer and make them forget their in a theatre, or watching a video or whatever medium they’re viewing in.

Here’s a set that’s really impressive.  It’s got the floor of an ancient desert temple in Egypt, even the clouds in the sky are eerie realistic.  They even have a vehicle on the stage. 

Most of us, will never have the kind of budget to do this – there’s so much carved foam here it’s almost more sculpture than set.  It’s an amazing job. 

But the truth is, for as awesome as the first set is, this set, which is very humble and very simple for it’s purpose (video production) is just as impressive.  It’s the dressing.  It’s the way it’s to be used and will it immerse the viewer – that makes it a great set.  It looks like a small apartment.  Sure here in this photo your not immersed.  Look at it through cropped shots with adjusted depth of field and yeah, it could easily fool you. 

The best sets are built first by reading the script and understanding what the sets purpose is for each scene.  Once you understand what the set will be used for, then you can begin the process of design.  Get as detailed as you can – view it in your mind over and over – and then draw it out, and don’t miss any detail, just add them to your annotated drawings. 

Greg Chown, on his website has some awesome detailed sketch designs for  projects he’s done, and they’re not just a set design – if you follow his sketches – they become a character themselves setting the mood, the feel of the scene in a way no actor can.  He sets moods with side comments about key elements, colors. 

Look at his “crappy hotel room” set design sketches and see how they really made the room…

When Greg sets up the design – he makes a point of little details like “* No Toys *”, even details like “T8 x 2” fluorescent lights – which if you’re familiar with those – they give a particularly crappy color light to a scene, they flicker sometimes, really you usually see them in shops not hotel rooms  — they’re what you’d expect not just in cheap hotel room but a cheap hotel that has busted up or burned our stuff and its been replaced with even cheaper/older/wrong kinds of things as a part of maintenance.  The pink/baby blue refrigerator and stove really set a specific time and type of room from the late 60’s/70’s – so he’s really describing the room’s age and oddities by calling that out. 

He’s actually defining the room the way an actor would define their character. 

The set, is in a lot of ways an actor.  And part of what every actor does, is ask themselves –  for every scene, “What’s the point of my character?”, “What’s my motivation?”, “Why are they here?”, “What are they doing”?”.    A good set design, will do this as well. 

 
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Posted by on June 3, 2013 in Resources, Theatre

 

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Paint Markers and Spray Painting Sets…

One of the headaches of painting sets is the need to get it done quickly and easily.  Especially if you don’t have a lot of time and resources and… maybe, like me, your not the greatest with a brush.   Sure the big wide areas are easy enough but for details you really wish someone made like… a big marker you could just follow a pencil line with, or feather things out like with a spray paint can.

The problem with most paint markers from Autoparts stores and the like is, they’re usually enamel based paints that don’t play well with the PVA (Poly Vinyl Acrylic) paints we use on sets.  Well the good news is, they actually make those.  In fact graffiti artists and well, regular artists have known about these for a couple of years.  My personal favorites are the Montana Gold series, and the Liquitex lines of paints and markers.

Why?  Because they’re really made for art in mind.  They come in a variety of tips, even the sprays have adjustable nozzle sizes to go from very fine detial all the way to wide sprays you may be used to… and in every color you can possibly imagine. 

The closest distributor in my area is www.dickblick.com in Seattle, so – a lot of links here are from their site.

Before I completely dive in to the paints/markers, lets stop for a second and look at who these were made for originally because that really helps give you some idea of what you can do with them.  These are really meant for Graffiti artists.  They can say whatever they want, but the markers are really just well made NYC Street Mops.  What’s a street mop?  It’s basically when you take a roll on deodorant or shoe shine applicator, empty it out, shove a hunk of felt in where the roller/foam goes, and then fill it with a very thin paint/ink combination.

These are used by Graffiti artists so because they allow very precise control of paint, very quickly in a easily storeable media. Ever wonder how all that graffiti literally pops up in minutes with all those colors and so on?  the secret… a spritz or sixty with a spray can, and details with the mop.  In two days, a wall can be covered by a good artist with an insane amount of detail using nothing but sprays and mops (markers).     

Graffiti artists problems are very similar to Set Design art problems – and for similar reasons.  You’re covering a big area and it’s not just with defined color splotches.  Sometimes you need to do clouds or forrests, or any number of things, even paint offices, cityscapes, you name it – your problems will not be the same as those of someone who just has to paint a wall.  So take a few minutes on Youtube and check out some of the work done by graffiti artists. Watch their techniques.  Regardless of how you feel about the vandalism aspect of it – there’s a lot of really great art out there by people who have to work with very uneven surfaces, often fooling the eye and on very large scale. 

How these people accomplish their graffiti, is a great way to learn how to do scenic art for theatre.  The tools they use, are ones you can put in your tool box for sets because they really can be time savers with really impressive results. 

Top to Bottom: Extra Extra Large, Extra Large, Large, Short LargeMontana Hardcore & Acrylic Markers

Lets look at markers first… all of Montana’s markers are Acrylics – and as you can see the Montana Hardcore paint markers have a variety of sizes – everything from 1/2” to 2” sizes.   Montana also makes smaller sizes in their standard Acrylic line from (15mm) 1/2” all the way down to ball point pen sizes. But since these are for sets… bigger is better in a lot of cases.

Montana makes several types the Hardcores are the largest and you can get almost any color you can imagine.  Here’s an example of what’s available from my local retailer just for the plain Montana Acrylic markers… http://www.dickblick.com/products/montana-acrylic-markers-and-refills/#photos

 

Montana Gold Acrylic & Liquitex Spray Paint

Acrylic Spray paints are amazing to use.  Low pressure, High Pressure cans, multiple nozzles for almost everything from a fine point to big broad swaths of color.  Best of all – they’re acrylic – they work on canvas, wood, old paint, you name it.  With a very short time to get used to how to use spray paints – you can achieve some amazing effects. 

http://www.dickblick.com/products/montana-gold-acrylic-professional-spray-paints/#videos

http://www.liquitex.com/spraypaint/

 
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Posted by on April 12, 2013 in How To, Resources

 

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