This week’s activity takes you through the process of designing a set and creating a model box
From drama to musicals and from ballet to opera – every theatrical production needs a set, but there are more stages that go into creating one than you might expect!
This week’s activity asks you to imagine that you have been tasked with designing a set for a show. You’ll find out what a model box is and how it is used, and go away with some ideas about how you might create your own.
Designing a show
The design process usually begins with in-depth conversations between the designer and the director, and possibly the writer as well, if the play they are working on is new.
Once the designer has got a feel for the story and mood of the show, they will go away and sketch out some designs that they can discuss with the director and other creatives. Sometimes, the same person will be responsible for designing both the set and the costumes for a show, but sometimes, these roles fall to different people.
There are many different things for the designer to consider: it’s not just about creating something that looks spectacular. As well as artists, designers must also be great storytellers and have a good technical knowledge of how a theatrical production is put together. The design should always serve the story, and the set must work for the performers and crew who will have to use it.
Many designers have a recognisable style, and are chosen for projects based on the kind of work that they are known for producing. A director and designer who find they share a vision may choose to work together on lots of different projects.
Nevertheless, every show is different, and the designer will need to think about the requirements of each specific show they are asked to work on. Some of the questions to bear in mind include:
- Where and when is the story set?
- Who are the characters?
- What is the story that is being told?
- Should the set be realistic, based on actual places or buildings?
- Is the world of the show imaginary, set in a fantasy place?
- Should the design be abstract, based more on a mood or atmosphere than a specific place?
- Does the show involve dance or physical theatre, and if so, how will the performers move around the set?
- Does the show need to tour to different theatres, and if so, how can the set be adapted to fit in different theatres?
Once the right look and feel has been agreed based on drawings and conversations, it’s time to start working on a model box.
What is a model box?
A model box is a scaled-down, 3D model of what the designer thinks the set should look like, which can be shown not only to the director and creative team (such as the lighting and sound designers), but to everyone else involved in making the production, from actors to technicians to all the people who will eventually be in charge of creating the full-size set.
A model box can help performers to get an idea of the space they will be moving in, where they will be coming on to and leaving the stage, so they can bear those things in mind for their rehearsals, before the set is built.
It can help workshop staff to think about how they will construct and paint the set and what materials they will need. It can help technicians to think about how and what equipment they will need to use. It also helps to give an idea of the “sightlines”, or how the show will look to people sitting in different parts of the auditorium, to make sure that everyone can get a good view.
How is a model box made?
Often, the designer will first create a “white card” model – a preliminary version of the model box without colour created, as the name suggests, using white card.
The final model box will be in full colour, and may use all sorts of different materials. The basic construction is usually card and foamboard, but cloth and fabric, wire and plastic or wooden models may all be used, depending on the requirements of the production.
It’s important to use as much detail as possible, including all of the furniture that will be used, and model actors that you can “walk through” the set.
A model boxes might be created on a scale of 1:24, 1:25 or 1:12, meaning that they are 24, 25 or 12 times smaller than the finished set. It’s obviously much quicker and cheaper to create and adjust a small model than it is to build and change a full-scale set, so sharing the model box with the rest of the company allows any problems to be dealt with before the costly business of constructing the final set begins.
Try it yourself
Take a look at some of the videos on this page taking you through the designs for previous shows at the Belgrade Theatre.
Now imagine that you are designing a set for your own show. Try drawing your ideas first, then think about the materials you will need to create a 3D model.
What do you have at home that you could use? Here are a few ideas:
- Cardboard boxes
- Coloured card or paper
- Coloured pens
- Tin foil
- Plastic packaging
- Bottle tops
- Doll’s house furniture
- Scrap cloth or fabric