Interview: Set Designer Kenneth Larson Talks Independence Day, Shrek, and Batman and Robin

Kenneth Larson is an industry veteran with over three decades in the entertainment industry. His film credits include such memorable projects as Star Trek III: Search for Spock, Space Balls, and Batman, and his television credits include Battlestar Galactica,  X-Files, ER, and The New Girl. Here he sits down with us to share some insider info and advice for young professionals interested in becoming a set designer for film and he looks back on some of his favorite projects, including Buck Rogers in the 25th Century, Independence Day, and Shrek. Learn more about Kenneth and his work on his website.

education Pierce Jr. College: AA in Architecture Cal Poly Pomona: Urban Planning California State University, Northridge: BA Art/Interior DesignWhat exactly is a set designer? And how does that role differ from a production designer or art director?
Set designer is a fancy name for draftsperson. In some parts of the world, the title is draftsperson. The set designer does the construction drawings and study models based of instructions from the PD (production designer) and AD (art director). The production designer is the captain of the ship, makes the big decisions, develops the main concepts, and attends millions of meetings. The art director is between the other two positions: supervises, sees that the set designer produces the drawings necessary to build what the production designer envisions, and also attends millions of meetings.

Your initial training was in interior design. What inspired you to apply those skills to set design?
I had been building scenery for 18 years and it was simply time to let someone else get dirty.

When working on a production, who do you work with and who do you answer to? For example, are you taking your cues from the director? Do you work with other people in the art department?
I take instructions from the production designer and art director. I work with the graphics designer, set decorators, construction crew, other set designers, art department coordinator, the PAs (production assistants), and anyone who needs info from me or needs to pass info along to me.

On your site, you give a detailed account of what a day in the life of a set designer looks like (along with other valuable advice on getting into the set-design field). Looks like a long and challenging day. With all of that hard work, what is the best part of your job?
Seeing the finished product. I’ve created countless good drawings of sets never built. It’s nice to see them finished. I like coming to work Monday morning and starting it all again.

Since getting your start as a model maker in the late ‘70s, the list of credits you’ve amassed is incredible. What has been the most interesting project you’ve worked on and why?
My first job is one of my favorites. I learned a lot working on Buck Rogers and met a lot of good people, some I still keep in touch with. I liked Independence Day. It might have been silly, but I did some good work and three weeks later left VFX model making forever to become a set designer. I liked working on Batman and Robin because it gave me my foot in the door to set design and I did a lot of interesting work. I also enjoyed Shrek, the

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