How to Make a Theatrical Set Model

Before creating a stage set, the designer builds a scale model.
Before creating a stage set, the designer builds a scale model. (Image: Digital Vision/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Theatrical set models are a vital tool for set designers, directors, stage managers and lighting designers. Before beginning work on the actual set, the designer constructs a scale model of his design. This model allows the production team to make suggestions and alterations without the effort or expense of changing the full-scale set. Building a set model takes care and attention to detail, but it can be both a great help during production design and a rewarding craft project.

Things You'll Need

  • Drawing materials
  • Ruler
  • Foamboard
  • PVA glue
  • Masking tape
  • Cardboard of varying thicknesses
  • Marker pens
  • Paints and brushes
  • Scrap cloth and paper

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Draw a floorplan of the theater your production will be using. You will need precise measurements of the stage area and apron as well as the height of the proscenium arch, if present. Choose a standard scale like 1:24, meaning that for every 1 foot high or wide the stage is, the corresponding length on the model will be 1/2 inch. For a preliminary model, you may wish to work in a smaller scale.

Construct a preliminary model. Cut the stage and apron area out of foamboard using a ruler and craft knife. This rigid material will help support the model. Cut the walls and proscenium arch from foamboard or thick card and glue them into place using PVA glue. You may need to hold the walls together with masking tape while the glue dries.

Make small models of major scenic properties from card. You can also use commercially-available models such as dollhouse or model railroad items for this. Consult the script of the play and make a note of any properties, such as tables, chairs or other items of furniture referred to. Place these models in your scale stage, but do not glue them in place.

Construct scale models of other scenic properties, such as curtains or backdrops. Use paper and scrap cloth; approximate the colors and textures you intend to use as best you can. Fix these in place with masking tape.

Show the preliminary model to the director and production team. Listen to their input about the arrangement of the stage, colors and other elements.

Create a final model, using the input of the production team. This may be at a larger scale than the original mockup. Paint the stage and set pieces. Because the final model will be used for lighting design, it's important to mimic the real colors you'll be using as closely as possible.

References

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