When inquiring about a movie, our first questions are generally, "Who's in it?" and "What's it about?" But the "who's" and the "what's" of any story do little to describe another critical aspect of the narrative: Where does it take place? In any story, the setting serves as an additional character. Driving the action and establishing the tone, the impact of "where" a story happens is immeasurable.
Sets are an integral part of Production Design, and you can't talk about one without addressing the other. Both are about creating the world where a film takes place. A film's setting is frequently dictated by the narrative, and it is up to the Set Designer to faithfully represent it onscreen—a task that could entail anything from recreating a historical location with meticulous accuracy to depicting an other-worldly fantasyland of jaw-dropping proportion that somehow feels plausible. Along with Visual Effects as well as Costumes and Props, the Set Design gives the narrative context. These aspects of a film play silent but crucial roles long before the cameras start rolling.
Well-crafted sets are painstakingly constructed not just to be seen but to be felt. Just as a landscape helps define a region, a "moviescape" (movie escape) helps define a film—presenting an entirely different world where the viewer is transported and invited to join the narrative. That world exists independent of the story and its characters. We can imagine stepping into Oz with or without Dorothy and her companions, because the impact of the setting endures long after the credits roll.
The art of Set Design is ever-changing and very much a product of its time. It is telling that the Westerns of the 1960s are different from the Westerns of today. The Old West didn't change, but our perspective did. In this way, sets reflect our current collective consciousness, mirroring our ideas back to us. With today's technology, sets can be entirely physical, entirely digital, or any combination thereof. In the early days of Set Design, it paid to be a carpenter. Now the top commodities are imagination and creativity. Set Designers have entered a new age where the possibilities are truly limitless, giving us all the opportunity to enchant, inspire, and connect with the audience.