The Art Department

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Art Department Flow Chart

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Introduction

Production Designer

Art Director

Assistant Art Director

 

INTRODUCTION

 

The Art Department has always been a bit of an enigma in the world of film and television production. Everyone knows we are there but very few people really understand what we do. Yes, the Art Department is responsible for generating all of the cool drawings and designs that everyone loves looking at...but we (Art Directors) are also responsible for overseeing a large group of people who help turn those drawings into reality. We are Artists, Architects, Managers and Estimators. We are often the first people on a project and we are responsible for solving the problems of other departments before they even know they have a problem. Read the job descriptions (click on the tabs above) to learn more.

 

The following job descriptions were written by Supervising Art Director Greg Papalia. Job descriptions for Production Designer, Art Director, and Assistant Art Director are Copyright © 1995 by Greg Papalia and are re-printed here with his kind permission. Do not duplicate, publish or distribute with out the express written consent of Greg Papalia.

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"Production Designer" Job Description

Copyright © 1995 by Greg Papalia

 Do not duplicate, publish or distribute with out the express written consent.

 

THE PRODUCTION DESIGNER

 

JOB DESCRIPTION: The Production Designer is one of the four key creative individuals involved in the planning, execution and overall shaping of a given story. Beyond the creative efforts of the Writers and Actors, the contributions made by the Director, Production Designer, Cinematographer and Film Editor are what ultimately bring life to a script, creating a tangible finished product. Truly all other professions dedicated to the making of a film or television show function in one way or another in support of these four individuals.

 

Of these four positions, the Production Designer is the only one that must have a complete working knowledge of each individual craft in order to successfully carry out his or her own. In addition to the needs of the Director, the Production Designer must also take into account the requirements of virtually every department, craft, production or business entity involved in a project. Without a doubt the responsibilities and skills of the Production Designer touch upon and effect nearly every facet of a film or television show.

 

The skills required to “Design” a project and raise it above the level of straight forward Art Direction are remarkably varied and complex. The function of the Art Director (see The Art Director) is primarily management/design oriented, while the job of the Production Designer places a greater emphasis upon the design process and a lesser emphasis upon the detailed management of the day to day activities of the Art Department as a whole.

 

Described below are the experience and responsibilities necessary in order to effectively assume the position of Production Designer. Please be aware that in addition to the information, one must also read through the job descriptions of both the Art Director and Assistant Art Director, in order to gain a complete picture of the varied technical and creative challenges faced by the Production Designer.

 

 

1. Experience:

4 to 5 years experience in Film or Television Set Design (not necessarily as a Set Designer), 2 to 3 years experience as an Assistant Art Director and at least 2 additional years experience as a full Art Director. It is expected that a Production Designer will bring to the categories listed below at least 10 years of practical theatrical design and management experience.

 

2. Creative Responsibilities:

As the Designer of a film or television project the Production Designer is responsible for the cohesive “look” of virtually every physical element that appears on screen. The areas most commonly effected and controlled by the Production Designer are as follows:

 

A. The architectural design and finished look of all stage sets and their accompanying set dressing.

 

B. The selection, adaptation and alteration of all locations.

 

C. The design of all specially made vehicles, boats and aircraft. (Whether real or computer generated). This includes the full range of concept vehicles from primitive horse drawn carts to sophisticated space craft and everything in between.

 

D. The preliminary selection of existing specialty hand props as well as the design of all fabricated props. It should be noted that the Production Designer is ultimately responsible for the overall look of any significant props or weapons, working in concert with the Prop Master to achieve the desired results.

 

E. The Production Designer is responsible for working closely with the Costume Designer to insure that the color, style and design of the wardrobe and costumes properly relate to the sets and the overall visual concept for the production.

 

F. The color and tone of every element in the film. This includes coordinating the design of the sets with the Cinematographer and Set Lighting Dept. In order to create the appropriate mood for the story.

 

G. The look of all graphic elements within the film including signs of all types, posters, logos and on screen computer graphics and animations.

 

H. The design of all Matte shots including the graphic elements within the matte as well as the angle and composition of the shot itself. The Production Designer is also responsible for guiding the look of any visual effect that may have a bearing on any part of the design of the overall film. The same applies to practical effects as carried out by the Special Effects Department.

 

I. As a creative department head, it is expected that the Production Designer will be responsible for contributing to and conceiving significant and lasting visual images. This process begins with concept sketches and color renderings of the sets, and important dramatic moments or “key frames” in the film. In the conceptual and planning phase this process also includes designing and story boarding the action as it unfolds throughout the film. Once an action sequence or visual effect is agreed upon, it is then the Production Designer and Art Director’s responsibility to guide all other departments through the steps necessary to achieve the desired result. It should be noted that the Production Designer often winds up in the position of “go between” when bridging the gap between the Real World and that of the Computer Generated.

 

J. Probably the most important duty of the Production Designer is his or her commitment to the Director.  In truth when a director hires a Production Designer he or she is hiring a creative, visual partner. As a partner to the director, it is the Production Designer’s responsibility to involve him/herself in every aspect of the project at hand. A firm understanding of the Director’s point of view and vision for the finished film is imperative to the successful design of the project. To create a designed environment mutually acceptable to both individuals, the Production Designer must be involved to a greater or lesser degree with the following aspects of the project:

 

1. Story development and concept.

2. Casting

3. Wardrobe and Props.

4. The development and follow through of Visual and Practical Effects.

5. Scouting and Selection of Locations.

6. Picture vehicles of every type.

7. Set lighting and Cinematography.

8. Requirements of Sound Technicians.

9. Techniques and requirements in respect to stage rigging.

10. The development and follow through of on camera action and stunts.

11. The needs of the film editor as the film progresses through Principal and Post production photography.

12. The specific requirements of the studio and production company as they relate to the shooting schedule and budget of the project.

 

3. Management Responsibilities:

As a department head the Production Designer functions not only as a creative individual but also as a manager. The individuals directly under the command of the Production Designer are the Art Directors; Assistant Art Directors; Set Designers; Illustrators and Storyboard Artists as well as the full Art Department staff. He or She, along with the Art Director, is responsible for the hiring, work output and cost maintenance of these individuals. In addition to the direct Art Department personnel, the Production Designer is also responsible for the hiring and work output of both the Set Decorator and Construction Coordinator, as well as their respective departments. It should be noted that the Production Designer rests as the ultimate authority and responsible party in respect to the Art Department, Set Construction and Set Decoration budgets.

 

Beyond the individuals mentioned above, the Production Designer is traditionally consulted in the hiring of the Cinematographer, Costume Designer, Special Effects Coordinator, Prop Master, and Location Manager.

 

In general, the Production Designer is seen by the Producers and the Studio as part of an overall management team. A team whose job it is to deliver in a timely and cost efficient manner, the finished film or television show. Given this point of view, the Production Designer inhabits a unique creative/management position that only a few individuals on any given production have  the opportunity to share.

 

4. Skills and Technical Experience:

As stated above, the Production Designer must have a broad range of skills and technical experience in order to successfully create a look and environment for a given story. In terms of the core skills and experience one must bring to the design of a project, the description of the Art Director’s job is but a beginning. la addition to those skills, the Production Designer must be a consummate manager capable of fluidly shifting from the demands of art and design to the very different requirements generated by business and commerce. He or she must possess the ability and technical expertise necessary to design virtually anything. Given the time constraints typical to most productions, the Production Designer’s proficiency in design must often be far greater than that of a designer, in a similar or related field. Coupled with the designer’s artistic ability, he or she must also have a specific and detailed working knowledge of the skills required to perform every other visual job within a film or television show. This kind of unique experience is integral to the success of any design conceived for theatrical purposes.

 

 

"Art Director" Job Description

Copyright © 1995 by Greg Papalia

 Do not duplicate, publish or distribute with out the express written consent.

 

THE ART DIRECTOR

JOB DESCRIPTI0N: The Art Director’s primary function and responsibility is to support and follow through on the visual concepts for the project as specified by the Production Designer and Director. That support relies on both creative and managerial skills. In the hierarchy of production, the Art Director is second in command after the Production Designer. He/She is responsible, either completely or in part, for the efforts of many departments within a film. Commonly those departments include: Art, Construction, Set Dressing, Props, Locations and Special Effects and Visual Effects. The Art Director’s efforts and responsibilities may also include/affect other departments in varying degrees depending on the type and complexities of the production.

 

The following is a list of necessary experience a person must possess in order to effectively assume the position of Art Director on both Television and Feature Film productions. 

 

 

1. Experience:

An Art Director should possess 4 to 5 years experience in film or television set design (not necessarily as a Set Designer) and 2 to 3 years experience as an Assistant Art Director. It is expected that an Art Director will bring to the categories listed below, at least 6 years of familiarity.

 

2. Script Breakdown:

The Art Director should be able to break down the script noting individual sets, locations, interiors, exteriors and expected backings. Information relating to set dressing, props, practical effects and visual effects should also be noted. He/She should then be capable of disseminating that information both to Production and to all related departments.

 

3. Scheduling:

An Art Director must possess the ability to lay out a schedule estimating time involved in drawing, construction, paint and set dressing for each set/location. The Art Director should then have the experience and ability to implement that schedule, disseminating the information to all related departments.

 

4. Budget:

An Art Director must have experience with setting up a construction budget. While the actual estimating of a set is the Construction Coordinator’s responsibility, the Art Director should have enough experience to oversee the initial structure of the budget. In doing so He/She is responsible for making sure that all sets and contingencies are accounted for. An understanding of time, labor and material costs is an important factor in maintaining and utilizing the budget after it is established. In addition, an understanding of the budget process as it relates to the overall film and the parent company or studio, is equally important.

 

5. Staff:

The Art Director must be experienced in arranging for and hiring Set Designers, Illustrators, Graphic Artists and Model Makers. Knowledge of current rates, deal structures and union requirements is essential. It is expected that the Art Director will possess a complete understanding of all the Art Department crafts. This knowledge is integral to the selection of the appropriate individuals for the project and to the successful direction of their efforts.

 

6. Computers:

The Art Director may be called upon to decide how and when computer technology may benefit the design of the film. An understanding of current technology, advantages, disadvantages and applications is an important factor in this process.

 

7. Executing the Design Concepts:

More often than not the Art Director is responsible for the initial lay-out of the sets based upon the Production Designer’s description or rough drawings. He/She is then responsible for turning the sets into reality. Following is a list of the skills and experience and knowledge required:

 

• Architecture: The Art Director must posses a complete knowledge of both contemporary and period Architecture. Also a complete knowledge of film set design as well as some experience with various forms of industrial design.

 

• Blocking: The Art Director must have a basic familiarity with how a Director typically blocks the action in a scene and the related camera positions.  This knowledge is vital during the initial lay-out of the sets.

 

• Research: The Art Director must be experienced in doing research. He/she must be familiar with both studio and independent research facilities, local book stores, archives and public libraries.

 

• Construction Techniques: An Art Director must have experience working with a film/television construction crew. An understanding of the skills and position of the Construction Coordinator, Foreman, Carpenters, Painters, Plasterers, Sculptors, Metal Shop, Sign Shop, Prop Shop, Staff Shop, Mechanical Effects, Grips and Greens is essential to guiding the sets to completion. A solid understanding of both the materials and techniques of each craft is important in respect to the decisions the Art Director makes during the course of construction.

 

• Lighting and Camera: An understanding of set lighting and camera and the requirements of both crafts. Complete proficiency in the lay-out and use of camera angles for 1:33, 1:85 and 2:35 film aspect ratios.

 

• Hardware: Thorough knowledge of period hardware. Familiarity not only with styles appropriate to a given period, but with how the selected hardware operates and is installed. Experience in dealing with the construction crew’s specific problems related to installation. Knowledge of all sources, both inside and outside the studio facilities.

 

• Procurement: The Art Director is frequently responsible for locating materials, both common and unusual.  Experience with making recommendations, verifying availability, placing orders, and following through is important.

 

• Rental Facilities: Experience with locating and using stock units. Familiarity with various studio and independent scene docks and how they operate.

 

• Set Decoration: The Art Director should have a detailed knowledge of the Decorator’s craft and position. He/she should have experience in working with the Decorator, Lead person and Set Dec Crew. The Art Director frequently makes decisions and has information that has a direct effect upon Set Dressing. Understanding the process and needs of Set Dressing is integral to the planning and completion of the sets.

 

• Backings: Experience with, and a thorough understanding of the process of creating both photographic and painted backings. The Art Director is the individual responsible for scheduling the production of a backing and is responsible for determining the proper placement on stage. He/She should be familiar with the techniques and needs of the Cinematographer, Set Lighting and Grips. (Both rigging and on set Grips.) The Art Director should understand the advantages and disadvantages of both photographic and painted backings. He/She should also be capable of determining the appropriate application of either type of backing as needed. In addition, the Art Director is responsible for locating and arranging for the rental of existing backings. He/She should be capable of analyzing the conditions for which the rented backing was originally created, and then be able to make recommendations as to feasibility and placement as it relates to the current needs of production.

 

• Visual Effects: Knowledge, understanding and experience with Visual Effects in all phases of a project from pre-production through principle photography and into post-production. Exposure to a variety of Visual Effects problems and their solutions. Experience with the application of Blue Screen, Foreground Miniatures, Forced Perspective, Rear Screen Projection, Vista Vision, Matte Painting, Gimbaled sets and Computer Generated Effects.

 

8. Production:

The Art Director should understand the function of virtually every individual participating in the production of a film. During the course of production absolutely anyone can unexpectedly present themselves as either the solution to an Art Direction problem or a hindrance. Knowledge of that person’s position can make the difference between success and failure. In addition, the Art Director should have experience in dealing with the people on the shooting company. He/She should know how to get something done utilizing just the people on the (shooting) company.

 

9. Locations:

Experience with the process of scouting and securing a location. An understanding of prep requirements and general legal or contractual conditions is important. A general over-all understanding of the Location Manager’s job is necessary for the Art Director to effectively deal with any location situation.

 

10. Stunts:

The Art Director should be familiar with the needs of the Stunt Coordinator. He/She should also be familiar with the techniques used to create some of the more common stunts. As well as how they relate to the planning and execution of a set. Very often the Art Director is called upon to make structural decisions relating to the set that also effect the safety and success of a given stunt.

 

11. Wardrobe:

Experience working with the Costume Designer and staff is important. The Art Director frequently has information that relates specifically to Wardrobe concerns. He/She should be familiar with the craft so that information can be properly conveyed.

 

12. Props:

An Art director should understand the Prop Master’s position both in terms of how it relates to the Art Department and also the role the Prop Master plays when on stage. There exists a certain amount of crossover between the Set Decorator and the Prop Master’s responsibilities. In order for the Art Director to insure that related work is effectively carried out, He/She needs to understand both crafts and how they relate to each other.

 

13. Special Effects

On many occasions the Art Director is the individual responsible for scheduling and initiating Special Effects work. In order to effectively do this, the Art Director should be experienced in dealing with the Effects Coordinator and crew. A basic understanding of effects work and how and when it ties in with construction is very important A good over view of how Special Effects ties in with Props, Set Dressing, Wardrobe, Stunts and Transportation is essential to effective scheduling and coordination.

 

14. Transportation:

The Art Director should have experience with and understand the role of the Transportation Department on a film. An equal understanding of both the practical and aesthetic contributions this department makes is important. In many instances the Art Director finds Him/Her self responsible for delivering the “finished product” in respect to picture vehicles. Knowledge of the Transportation Department and how it functions is integral to success.

 

15. Legal/Product Placement:  

The Art Director should be aware of the Studio legal issues in regard to the use of either company or personal names. He/She should have experience with clearances and know how the process works on each project. In addition, the Art Director should have experience with Product Placement. He/She should be able to foresee product placement opportunities for the sets and know how to act upon them. An awareness of the inherent pitfalls in dealing with product placement is equally important.

 

 

"Assistant Art Director" Job Description

Copyright © 1995 by Greg Papalia

 Do not duplicate, publish or distribute with out the express written consent.

 

THE ASSISTANT ART DIRECTOR

 

JOB DESCRIPTION: It is understood that the Asst. Art Director is frequently an Art Director in training and that the Art Director is responsible for all of the below and more. This is taken into account not so much by description but by the depth of experience implied by the 4 to 5 year time frame mentioned in category #1.

 

The Asst. Art Director is the third in command after the Production Designer and Art Director. The Asst. Art Director is frequently left on his/her own to handle problems or situations that are of great importance to the Art Department and the overall film. Given the above statement, an Asst. Art Director that possesses all of the following attributes is the best possible individual for that position. The skills brought to the job will have a direct effect upon the productivity and effectiveness of the Art Department and ultimately will effect the budget of the department as well.  In addition, the position and responsibilities of the Asst. Art Director should not be underestimated or taken lightly.  While the Asst. Art Director does work in concert with both the Art Director and Production Designer, there are moments on every project where the Asst. Art Director’s judgment and experience will have a direct effect upon the forward movement of the project and a very direct effect upon the ability to shoot on any given day.

 

 

1. Experience

4 to 5 years experience in Film or Television set design. (Not necessarily as a set designer.) It is expected that the Asst. Art Director will bring to the experience described below at least 4 years of familiarity and hands on practical experience.

 

2. Construction Knowledge

Experience working with Film or Television construction crew: coordinator, foreman, painters, plasterers, greens, metal shop, sign shop, staff shop, mechanical efx., and grips. A proven ability to take a project from conception to finished product on one’s own by interfacing with the above departments.

 

3. Design Sense

A good eye and sense of design. Creativity and imagination when doing research.

 

4. Resourcing

Know1edge and proven ability to quickly hunt down materials both common and unusual. Ability to make recommendations, verify availability, place orders and follow through.

 

5. Knowlege of Builder's Hardware

Complete knowledge of period hardware. Familiarity not only with style appropriate to a given period but with how the selected hardware operates and is installed. Experience in dealing with the construction crew’s specific problems related to installation. Knowledge of all sources both inside and outside the studio facilities.

 

6. Scheduling (Basic)

An understanding of design, construction and set dressing schedules as applied to Film or Television prep.

 

7. Crew Familiarity

Experience with the shooting company, knowledge of what everybody does and how to get something done using the people on the company.

 

8. Backings Knowledge (Basic)

Experience with and knowledge of photographic and painted backings. The conditions under which they are used and how they are produced. Also the requirements of the Cinematographer, Set lighting and Grips. (Both rigging and on set grips.)

 

9. Camera Lenses & Set Lighting (Basic)

Some understanding of camera and set lighting. Complete proficiency in the lay-out and use of camera angles for 1:33, 1:85 and 2:35 film formats.

 

10. Scene Docks

Experience with finding and using stock units. Familiarity with various studio and independent scene docks and prop houses.

 

11. Visual Effects (Basic)

Knowledge, understanding and experience with visual effects. Exposure to a variety of visual effects problems and their solutions. An understanding of the appropriate application of Blue Screen, Foreground Miniatures, Forced Perspective, Rear Screen Projection, Gimbaled  Sets and Computer Generated Effects.

 

12. Attitude

Proactive personality, sense of humor, detail oriented, flexibility, appreciation for chain of command and a good sense of how the overall Production operates from the Producers on down.

 

 

Copyright © 1997-2013 Chad S. Frey. All Rights Reserved. Do not duplicate or redistribute in any form.