Production Designers and Art Directors


Exploring this Job

Developing your own artistic talent is one good way to explore your interest in the field of production design, and this can be accomplished through self-training (reading books and practicing); through courses in painting, drawing, computer-aided design, or other creative arts; or by working with a group of friends to create a movie. At the very least, you should develop your "creative eye," that is, your ability to develop ideas visually. One way to do this is by familiarizing yourself with great works, such as highly creative motion pictures, television shows, videos, or commercials. Finally, ask a teacher or school counselor to arrange an information interview with a production designer or art director.

The Job

Production designers and art directors are responsible for all visual aspects of on-screen productions. In film, television, and video, the production designer has a wide variety of responsibilities and often interacts with an enormous number of creative professionals. Working with directors, producers, and other professionals, production designers interpret scripts and create or select settings in order to visually convey the story or the message. The production designer oversees and channels the talents of set decorators and designers, model makers, location managers, propmasters, construction coordinators, and special and visual effects people. In addition, production designers work with writers, unit production managers, cinematographers, costume designers, and post-production staff, including editors and employees responsible for scoring and titles. The production designer is ultimately responsible for all visual aspects of the finished product.

The production designer has to consider many things when designing the look of a project, such as a movie. They need to incorporate the director’s vision for the film, the actual story outlined in the screenplay, and the budget that is available to spend on props, costumes, sets, and other elements that help set the visual mood of a film. If a movie is to be shot on location, the production designer travels to potential sites to determine if they will be appropriate for use. They may also work with location scouts, who do the leg work to find just the right setting for particular scenes.

Once a production designer gathers all of this information, he or she creates sketches or models (or uses a computer software program to do so) that illustrate their vision for the visual elements of the film for the producer, director, cinematographer, and other departments. A concept artist or illustrator is sometimes hired to prepare these presentations. After the sketches and/or models are approved, the production designer works with the production manager and line producer to finalize a budget for the art department so that construction on the sets can begin. They also work with set designers to prepare drawings that can be used by the construction coordinator.

Pre-production on a film is designed to be the most efficient use of time and money. The time budgeted for set design and construction is tight and, with a set deadline, there is constant revision and planning to complete the sets on time for the scenic painters and decorators to complete their contributions and have them ready for shooting.

Because each film is different, and often it has a group of filmmakers that have not worked together before, things do not always work out as planned. It is to the credit of film professionals that they are able to adapt and compensate to make the impossible possible.

Production designers supervise the project from pre-production through production with the assistance of art directors. Art directors are the top assistants of production designers. They must have both creative and management skills to ensure that the production designer’s vision is properly implemented. They are responsible for the entire operation of the production division or just particular departments such as construction, props, locations, special effects, and set dressing.