Art-director-credit-micheal-j_bannerArt Director © Micheal J

Art Director

Industries:
Film | High End TV | TV
Personality type:
Creative
Departments:
Art Department

The lowdown

  • Realising the Production Designer's creative vision for all the sets and locations that give productions their look and feel
  • Project managing the work of the art department
  • Also undertaking the role of Production Designer on smaller TV productions

Is this role right for me?

To do this role, you will need to:

  • have a good all-round knowledge of interior design and architecture and the history of both
  • have a practical understanding of building and construction
  • understand the work of other TV/film departments, such as camera, lighting, sound, props, and to know how your set designs affect their work
  • have a good knowledge of computer budgeting software
  • possess a full clean driving licence 
  • have excellent free-hand drawing, perspective and technical drawing skills
  • possess a good eye for decoration and detail
  • be able to conceptualise ideas
  • be able to think visually
  • have a methodical approach to work
  • have strong leadership skills, to motivate and direct a team
  • be able to see the broader picture and to co-ordinate effectively
  • show diplomacy and sensitivity when working with artists and crew
  • be willing to work long and irregular hours
  • understand the requirements of the relevant health and safety legislation and procedures, particularly relating to potentially hazardous working conditions or materials
  • be aware of and sensitive towards different working practices and cultures when working in other countries

What does an Art Director do?

It is the Art Director's job to realise the Production Designer's creative vision for all the sets and locations that eventually give productions their unique visual identity. They work on feature films, commercials and some types of television productions.

On feature films, they act as project managers for art departments and are usually appointed by the Production Designer. They are responsible for the Assistant Art Director, the Draughtsmen (the term is used for both men and women), the Art Department Assistant(s), Graphic Designers, Storyboard Artists, Model Makers and all Construction personnel.

In large art departments on television productions, Art Directors are also responsible for the work schedule and making the best use of the art department budget. On some TV dramas the art department may consist of only the Production Designer, Art Director, and Production Buyer, while on smaller television productions the roles of Production Designer and Art Director are often combined.

The Art Director starts work when they receive the script and final schedule, detailing the precise shooting order of the scenes. They analyse the script to identify all props or special items that may require longer lead times. At the same time, they oversee the drawing up of plans of sets and locations by Draughtsmen for the use of the Construction Managers and their teams. On a big budget film or TV production, this can start four to five months before shooting. On low budget productions, it can be as little as four weeks.

It's important for the Art Director to work across departments. They work with the relevant teams about any visual or computer-generated effects that may be required. They are involved in the use of any vehicles (from cars to horse-drawn carriages) and animals, and their on-set requirements, including kennelling in studios. They liaise closely with the Location Manager to negotiate about when locations can be prepared. On big productions, they have weekly meetings with the Accountant. They must find cost-effective creative solutions which also provide practical answers to construction and decorating problems.

During production, Art Directors oversee the construction, dressing and striking (dismantling) of all sets. On location, they also source suitable materials to adapt locations to meet the Designers' creative brief, working strictly to the relevant Health and Safety legislation and procedures. On smaller productions, particularly in television, Art Directors also monitor every scene as it is shot. After the production wraps (shooting is completed), in collaboration with Location Managers, Art Directors must ensure that any remaining sets are struck and locations cleared and that the art department budget is balanced.

Where more permanent sets are required for television productions the designs and construction must be more robust and durable, e.g. as studio backgrounds for news or back-lot builds for soap operas. In these circumstances, Art Directors may have to negotiate with planning authorities and structural engineers. Art Directors are also responsible for the maintenance of such sets, and must monitor scripts for any changes or rebuilds in fixed sets.

Will I need a qualification?

You will generally require a qualification to be an Art Director. Many are graduates of art, architecture, theatre, interior or 3D design courses. You could also undertake higher-level courses in film and/or theatre production design. After training, it will be vital for you to acquire on-the-job experience of how art departments work, studio practice, working on locations, etc.

If you are considering taking a TV or film production course in higher education, the following courses have been rigorously assessed by the film and TV industries and awarded the Creative Skillset Tick for the high standard of education they provide and the degree to which they prepare you for a film or TV career:

TV production courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

Film production courses awarded the Creative Skillset Tick

What’s the best route in?

To become an Art Director, you need to learn your skills on the job. This involves starting out as an Art Department Assistant and progressing through the grades, e.g. to Junior Draughtsman, then to Draughtsman or Assistant Art Director. Although this progression will take a number of years, it is a crucial process during which you will gain the knowledge and experience you require to become a good Art Director.

If you study film, television and theatre design you could also gain experience working on low budget productions before progressing to junior roles on television programmes or feature films.

You could transfer across from a similar role in the theatre, having learnt to conceptualise ideas and communicate them dramatically and visually; however, you will have to learn techniques specific to film and TV.

You could also apply to be a Film or TV Trainee through Trainee Finder, which gives you hands-on experience in the industry and helps you build those all-important contacts that are essential when competing for a job:

More information about Trainee Finder

Interested? Find out more...

Websites

  • 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

Publications

  • Broadcast - the weekly newspaper for the UK TV and radio industry
  • Televisual - the business magazine for the broadcast and production industry

Books

  • Ken Adam: The Art of Production Design - C. Frayling - ISBN - 0571220576
  • Production Design and Art Direction - P. Ettedgui - ISBN - 2880463645
  • By Design: Interviews with Film Production Designers - V. LoBrutto - ISBN - 0275940314
  • Film Architecture: From Metropolis to Blade Runner - D. Neumann - ISBN - 3791316052
  • 2001: Filming the Future - Piers Bizony - ISBN -1854103652

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