- Personality type:
- Art Department
- Defining and managing every visual aspect of a film
- Working with the Director and Producer to produce a budget and schedule
- Directing the team responsible for producing the visual elements e.g., sets and costumes
Is this role right for me?
To do this role, you will need to:
- have excellent visual awareness and design skills
- have expert knowledge of many art and design-related subjects including draughtsmanship, technical drawing, colour theory, architecture, building and construction, history of design, interior design, cameras and lenses, lighting
- be skilled in computer budgeting software and computer aided design programmes (CADS)
- inspire and motivate a team
- show excellent management and leadership skills
- prioritise and meet deadlines
- have good communication and presentation skills
- use tact and diplomacy
- know the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures
What does a Production Designer do?
Production Designers are major heads of department on film crews, and are responsible for the entire art department.
They help Directors to define and achieve the look and feel of a film.
Filming locations may range from a Victorian parlour, to a late-night café, to the interior of an alien space ship. The look of a set or location is vital in drawing the audience into the story and making a film convincing. A great deal of work and imagination goes into constructing the backdrop to any story and choosing or building locations and/or sets.
Production Designers begin work at the very early stages of pre-production. They may be asked to look at scripts to provide spending estimates before a Director is even approached. On first reading a screenplay, they assess the visual qualities that will help to create atmosphere and bring the story to life.
After preparing a careful breakdown of the script they meet with the Director to discuss how best to shoot the film and work out whether to use sets and/or locations, what should be built and what should be adapted and whether there is a visual theme that recurs throughout the film.
They also consider whether there are design elements that may give more depth to the film and whether CGI (computer generated imagery) should be used.
Production Designers must calculate the budgets and decide how the money and effort will be spent. Then there’s an intense period of research during which they and their Specialist Researchers source ideas from books, photographs, paintings, the internet, etc.
Production Designers deliver their design sketches (showing mood, atmosphere, lighting, composition, colour and texture) to Art Directors who oversee the production of technical drawings and models, which are used by the Construction Department to build the sets and adapt locations. Props Buyers and Set Decorators source props and organise the manufacture of specialist items.
As the start of shooting approaches, Production Designers manage lots of people, prioritise the work schedule and carefully monitor the budget. When shooting starts, they are usually up early each morning to view each new set with the Director, Director of Photography and Standby Art Director, answering any requests or queries.
Later on in the art department office, Production Designers check on the construction and dressing of other sets, and sign off on sets/locations for the next day's shoot.
Although Production Designers usually finish work on the last day of principal photography, on larger films they may be involved for longer periods. Production Designers work on a freelance basis.
They may have to prepare detailed drawings and specifications in order to pitch for work on a number of productions before being offered work on one of them. Although the work can be very demanding and the hours long, this is one of the most highly-skilled, creatively fulfilling roles within the film industry.
Will I need a qualification?
You will need to be a graduate of art, architecture, theatre, interior or 3D design courses. After this, you can complete a specialist course in film and/or theatre design.
If you are considering taking a film production course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the film industry and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a career in film:
What's the best route in?
As the head of the largest department on a film crew, you must have extensive experience gained over a number of years. You would usually start as a Junior Draughtsman, moving on to Draughtsman, Assistant Art Director and Art Director.
You will also find a background of working in theatre helpful, as this would teach you the art of set design and construction as well as how to conceptualise ideas and create a sense of drama through visual spectacle.
If you graduate in film and theatre design, you will need to gain experience working on short films before progressing to junior roles on feature films.
Interested? Find out more...
- British Film Designers Guild - offers membership for every grade of the Art Department, and organises social events, bi-weekly screenings and a monthly newsletter
- Cine Guilds of Great Britain - brings together major craft guilds of the British Film Industry to discuss matters affecting themselves and the industry generally
- BECTU - the UK's media and entertainment trade union, covering broadcasting, film, independent production, theatre and the arts, leisure and digital media
- American Cinematographer - has regular features on film design and digital production techniques
- Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design (Faber and Faber) by Christopher Frayling
- Production Design and Art Direction (Focal Press) by Peter Ettedgui
- By Design: Interviews with Film Production Designers (Greenwood Press) by Vincent LoBrutto
- Film Architecture: From Metropolis to Blade Runner (Prestel Publishing Ltd). Edited by D. Neumann 2001
- Filming the Future (Aurum Press Ltd) by Piers Bizony
- The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matt Painting (Chronicle Books) by M. Cotta Vaz and C. Barron