Set builder

Set builder article illustration


Set builders construct, build, prepare, adapt, and maintain scenic elements used on stage and for filming movies or television programs. They use various materials like wood, steel, aluminium, and plastics. Their work is based on artistic vision, scale models, sketches, and plans. They work closely with the designers and may build exhibition stands for fairs, carnivals, and other events.

The duties of a set builder typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Selecting the appropriate materials for each set, including lumber, plywood, sheetrock, insulation, paint, brushes, hammers, nails, and other construction supplies
  • Creating plans for structures such as houses, stores, offices, or restaurants in order to determine how they will be built
  • Measuring dimensions of rooms and other spaces to determine how much lumber or other materials are needed
  • Making changes in construction plans as needed to ensure that the set is built according to specifications
  • Preparing sketches and drawings of desired sets to share with architects, builders, and other members of the construction team
  • Building models of sets using computer modeling software to help visualize the final product
  • Constructing sets using wood, drywall, cardboard, or other materials
  • Installing curtains and other materials on stage to create desired effects
  • Determining how much equipment, furniture, and other items need to be purchased by the theater company or production crew

Other titles

The following job titles also refer to set builder:

set builder and designer
property maker & set builder
set designer & builder
set constructor
stage and set builder
set builder and property maker
chief carpenter
prop maker & set builder
set builder and dresser
set builder & prop maker
scenic builder
set builder & property maker
set and stage builder
set dresser and builder
set designer and builder
prop maker and set builder
set & stage builder
set builder & dresser
exhibition builder
stage & set builder
set builder & designer
property maker and set builder
set dresser & builder
set builder and prop maker
blacksmith welder

Working conditions

Set builders work in a variety of settings, including studios, warehouses, and on locations. They typically work long hours, including evenings and weekends, and may be required to work overtime to meet deadlines. The work can be physically demanding, and set builders must be able to lift and move heavy objects. They also work with various tools and equipment and must be able to use them safely.

Minimum qualifications

Set builders typically need a minimum of a bachelor’s degree in a construction-related field, such as construction management, civil engineering or architecture. Some employers may prefer candidates with a master’s degree in construction management or civil engineering.

Set builders typically receive on-the-job training from their supervisors or other experienced set builders. This training helps the new hire learn the specific procedures and safety requirements of the job. They also learn how to use the equipment and tools specific to the job.

ISCO skill level

ISCO skill level is defined as a function of the complexity and range of tasks and duties to be performed in an occupation. It is measured on a scale from 1 to 4, with 1 the lowest level and 4 the highest, by considering:

  • the nature of the work performed in an occupation in relation to the characteristic tasks and duties
  • the level of formal education required for competent performance of the tasks and duties involved and
  • the amount of informal on-the-job training and/or previous experience in a related occupation required for competent performance of these tasks and duties.

Set builder is a Skill level 3 occupation.

Set builder career path

Similar occupations

These occupations, although different, require a lot of knowledge and skills similar to set builder.

scenic painter
prop maker
followspot operator
video technician

Long term prospects

These occupations require some skills and knowledge of set builder. They also require other skills and knowledge, but at a higher ISCO skill level, meaning these occupations are accessible from a position of set builder with a significant experience and/or extensive training.

mask maker
lighting director
production designer
puppet designer
video designer

Essential skills and competences

These skills are necessary for the role of set builder.

  • Work ergonomically: Apply ergonomy principles in the organisation of the workplace while manually handling equipment and materials.
  • Understand artistic concepts: Interpret an artist’s explanation or demonstration of their artistic concepts, inceptions and processes and strive to share their vision.
  • Follow work schedule: Manage the sequence of activities in order to deliver completed work on agreed deadlines by following a work schedule.
  • Adapt sets: Adapt and move set pieces during rehearsals and live performances.
  • Work safely with machines: Check and safely operate machines and equipment required for your work according to manuals and instructions.
  • Use personal protection equipment: Make use of protection equipment according to training, instruction and manuals. Inspect the equipment and use it consistently.
  • Adapt to artists’ creative demands: Work with artists, striving to understand the creative vision and adapting to it. Make full use of your talents and skills to reach the best possible result.
  • Prevent fire in a performance environment: Take steps to prevent fire in a performance environment. Make sure the space complies with fire safety rules, with sprinklers and fire extinguishers installed where necessary. Make sure staff are aware of fire prevention measures.
  • Prepare personal work environment: Correct settings or positions for your working instruments and adjust them before starting operations.
  • Maintain theatre equipment: Check up on, maintain and repair tools and machinery used for onstage purposes, such as lighting equipment, stage sets or scene-change machinery.
  • Paint sets: Paint set constructions and stage props.
  • Finish project within budget: Make sure to stay within budget. Adapt work and materials to budget.
  • Translate artistic concepts to technical designs: Cooperate with the artistic team in order to facilitate the transition from the creative vision and its artistic concepts to a technical design.
  • Work safely with chemicals: Take the necessary precautions for storing, using, and disposing of chemical products.
  • Maintain workshop space: Keep the workshop space in working order and clean.
  • Manage personal professional development: Take responsibility for lifelong learning and continuous professional development. Engage in learning to support and update professional competence. Identify priority areas for professional development based on reflection about own practice and through contact with peers and stakeholders.
  • Work safely with mobile electrical systems under supervision: Take the necessary precautions while providing temporary power distribution for performance and art facility purposes under supervision.
  • Work with respect for own safety: Apply the safety rules according to training and instruction and based on a solid understanding of the prevention measures and risks to your own personal health and safety.
  • Build set constructions: Design and build wooden, metal or plastic set constructions and set up stage pieces using carpets and fabrics.
  • Maintain theatre sets: Install, check, maintain and repair stages and sets.
  • Keep up with trends: Monitor and follow new trends and developments in specific sectors.
  • Follow safety procedures when working at heights: Take necessary precautions and follow a set of measures that assess, prevent and tackle risks when working at a high distance from the ground. Prevent endangering people working under these structures and avoid falls from ladders, mobile scaffolding, fixed working bridges, single person lifts etc. since they may cause fatalities or major injuries.

Optional knowledge and skills

Optional knowledge

This knowledge is sometimes, but not always, required for the role of set builder. However, mastering this knowledge allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

  • Photography: Art and practice of creating aesthetically appealing images by recording light or electromagnetic radiation.
  • Lighting techniques: The characteristics of techniques used to create atmospheres and effects on camera or on stage; the equipment required and appropriate setup to use.

Optional skills and competences

These skills and competences are sometimes, but not always, required for the role of set builder. However, mastering these skills and competences allows you to have more opportunities for career development.

ISCO group and title

3432 – Interior designers and decorators

  1. Set builder – ESCO
  2. Set Builder Job Description: Salary, Duties, & More – Climb the Ladder
  3. Featured image: Image by David Mark from Pixabay
Last updated on March 31, 2023

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