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What Does a Scenographer Do?

By L.K. Blackburn
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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A scenographer is in charge of coordinating the costumes, setting, backdrops, and props of a theater production, television program, or movie. The overall look of a production, show, or film is determined by a scenographer working with the director, producers, and other crew members, such as set and costume designers. A production's mood, time period, and themes are all brought together by a scenographer.

In any production, many different people are responsible for a variety of roles in costumes, sets, music, and sound. It is the job of scenographers to ensure that each of these roles are working together towards the same presentation of the tone and setting of a show. They may decide the direction a production will take, or they may work more as facilitators for the director's or producer's vision for the production. The setting and time period of a show determine the type and style of all costumes and props used by the actors and designers.

Training to become a scenographer usually involves attendance in some type of theater-focused college degree program. Many of the skills used daily in scenographer duties are learned throughout the course of gaining experience working in theater production. Scenographers may begin their careers by first working as set or costume designers. Skills learned in these areas can easily be applied later because the scenographer job description includes guiding the direction of costumes and background presentation.

There are regional differences in the role and use of scenographers. In some areas, a scenographer is always used and is a critical job in the making of a production. Jobs covered by the profession in other areas are highly compartmentalized and managed by many different people, each working in their respective areas. The size of a production may also determine whether scenographers are used to produce a play, musical, or show. Smaller scale shows may not have the budget for the job, while larger scale productions need the role to coordinate all of the different areas to produce a fluid presentation of tone, style, and setting.

Skills needed to begin the job include costume making, design skills, and knowledge of historical time periods and settings. Starting out early in their careers, scenographers may actually be in charge of sewing and assembling costumes alongside other costume designers. Additionally, they may work directly building sets and gathering appropriate props. Once experience is earned, a scenographer can move more towards a management level role in production coordination.

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