Assistant Art Director

  • Assistant Art Director

The assistant art director is responsible for executing tasks delegated by the art director; these may include management of personnel, disbursement of budget allowances, and overseeing art department activities on set.


Duties

At the start of pre-production, the assistant art director works closely with the art director and production designer to sketch preliminary design composites for review by the director. When additional storyboard artists or concept artists are hired for this task, the assistant art director is responsible for monitoring their work and ensuring delivery of assets on time. Once the director has approved concepts, this person will assist in hiring additional artists to complete working drawings, detail sketches, and layouts that will be used in constructing, painting, and decorating sets. The assistant art director may participate in location scouting by gathering photographs of possible locations and delivering detailed reports to the art director and production designer. When carpenters, scenic painters, and other art department crew have been hired and assigned work, the assistant art director will be responsible for disbursing the necessary budget allowances, keeping an eye on expenditures, and tracking build progress according to the deadline.

On set, the assistant art director will supervise the art department crew, including props, set dressers, and set riggers. He or she must ensure that the production crew executes the design plans specified by the art director and production designer and approved by the director. When necessary, he or she may be required to help dress location or place props. If the art director is not on set, this person acts as head of the art department, and is the director’s primary liaison to the department crew. He or she must maintain design integrity during principal photography and, if necessary, make decisions about changes to the original design to accommodate modifications during shooting.

Skills & Education

A college degree in film and television production or theatrical design is recommended, and this position requires formal training in areas of fine art. Courses in photography, drawing, painting, sculpture, and art history are beneficial. The assistant art director should understand the concept of color theory and composition, as well as techniques of camera framing. It is necessary to understand the production process and technology of filmmaking, as the art department must concern themselves with how sets and props will interact with the cast, as well as with lighting, special effects, and roving cameras. Creativity and a vivid imagination are necessities, as this person helps to shape the visual style of the movie or television show.

What to Expect

The assistant art director is typically a freelancer, hired during pre-production by the art director. To reach this role, you must gain experience with some area of the art department. Previous work as a props technician, concept artist, scenic painter, or a related role is applicable to this position. Full-time and part-time employment is also available at props and scenic companies that cater to the film, television, and theatrical industries. Landing a gig depends chiefly on two things: networking and your portfolio. You must dedicate time to forming strong professional relationships within your industry. Someone working a gig with you today may be your avenue to a job tomorrow. As for your portfolio, document every art-related project you work on. When applying for a job, present a bound collection of high-quality photographs that demonstrate your artistic style, talent, and mastery of technique. Those working in art direction are eligible for membership in the Art Directors Guild, Local 800 IATSE. The ADG is a division of the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees, the union that represents artists and technicians in entertainment. 

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