Designing the Set: The Job of a Production Designer
The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Shakespeare in Love,
and Avatar. What do these films have in common? They all won the Academy Award for Production Design or Art Direction.
If it isn't obvious by these films, Production designers are responsible for the visual concept
of a film. Production Designers are brought on board very early in the Preproduction process to work with
the Director to identity a design style for the many sets for the film, the actual locations, the lighting style,
camera angles, and even costumes.
Scale Model: The Lord of the Rings
This is why the production designer's job starts during pre-production alongside the director
and producer of the project. The production designer takes the writer's work, the director's vision,
and the producer's plan, and synthesizes it into a visual story.
Responsibilities of a Production Designer
As with most Above-The-Line positions, reading and studying the script is the first place to start.
The time period, characters, and style of the writing will dictate what the design of the film should look like visually.
Some responsibilities a Production Designer has are:
• Reading the screenplay to identify aspects indicating a particular visual style Tagging Your Screenplay • Considering the production overview, which may be written or given orally
• Meeting the producer and director to discuss concepts and production requirements
• Researching art history, background politics, historical information and producing design ideas
• Planning and monitoring the design budget
• Providing scale drawings or models for studio sets
• Producing design ideas for costumes, wigs, props, special effects, make-up and graphics
• Identifying and assessing potential studios and locations
• Sourcing appropriate materials and researching effects
• Presenting ideas to others involved in the production, such as actors and camera operators
• Researching, estimating and preparing a property list
• Hiring and managing an art department team or teams (depending on the size of the production)
• Instructing the set construction company, scenic artists and special effects specialists and monitoring their work
• Liaising with the costume designer and the director of photography, as well as the props, lighting and sound directors
• Attending progress meetings, rehearsals and filming to advise on visual presentation
• Checking sets and locations during filming to make sure requirements are met and to deal with any queries
How to be a Production Designer
As with most jobs in the film industry, competition is fierce. Getting involved with student
productions or independent projects will enable you to make contacts, gain experience of working on
a production and build up your portfolio with examples of visual design..
You could start by working as an assistant to an established freelancer, who might take on an extra pair of hands for a particular project if timescales are short.
In film, an accepted route to gaining practical experience of the production process is to start as a runner in the art department, progressing through design assistant to art director.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Production Design Scale Model
Is Production Designer the Role For You?
As you can see, product designers hold a position of unique and important responsibility
within a film. As a production designer, you'll be expected to be fully present and fully engaged
from start to finish, working long hours every step of the way in order to make sure the movie looks as intended.
Without the production designer's organization, creativity, and knowledge, every area of the art department would
have trouble staying focused and on the same page. And without a cohesive design, the look of a film may
not be strong enough to tell its story.
If you're confident in your artistic abilities and boast a great amount of imagination, then the career path of production design may be just right for you. Even though it's a demanding and exhausting job, few gigs in the industry offer more creative expression, fulfillment, and control than that of product designer.
Gorilla Scheduling (software to breakdown scripts and create film schedules)