Production Designer

  • Production Designer

The production designer collaborates with the director and the cinematographer to establish the look of a film or television production. Every story is intended to leave the audience with a particular emotion, and the design of the set and scenery is just as vital in that mission as an actor’s portrayal of a character and the music that plays under the images on screen. 


Duties

In the preproduction stage the production designer produces a portfolio of sketches and models that serve to illustrate his or her vision for each set and location. These are a guide for the location scout, set decorator, props master, construction crew, scenics, and greensmen. This person will outline a color palette, period, textures, and tone for all of these artists to reference when pulling together the aesthetic of a movie or TV show. Working closely with the producer, the production designer narrows down a list of shooting locations for the approval of the director and also participates in setting the production’s budget. He or she may also be given the authority to select his or her own art director, set designer, and other art department heads.

During principal photography, the production designer is a coordinator who is charged with maintaining the overall aesthetic vision. This person influences decisions on lighting, wardrobe, hair and make-up, and special effects. He or she is also involved in post-production, advising the artists to ensure that computer-generated material matches and maintains the physical photography’s look and feel. 

Skills & Education

A successful production designer will be artistically talented, resourceful, and an untamed dreamer—imagination is a prerequisite, and the ability to make dreams tangible is a requirement. A college degree is not required, but an education in film and television production, theater, or fine art is preferred. The production designer should have considerable skills in drawing and painting; sculpting and computer modeling are also helpful to presenting your vision. You should understand color theory and lighting, and how these elements affect photography. Courses in art history, architecture, and world cultures are also useful, as the production designer is tasked sometimes with creating realistic representations of ancient societies, sometimes with imagining vast foreign lands. 

What to Expect

There is a great deal of artistic freedom in this job, but that freedom is constrained to the extent that the director and producer will let you roam. A production designer who can cooperate effectively, compromise when necessary, and show respect for the ideas and input of others will be go far. Film and television production is a business of collaboration—if you can’t play nice, you won’t work. Production designers can expand their careers to work in theater, concert production, theme parks, and other live entertainment. Extensive experience as an art director and assistant art director can lead to advancement to the role of production designer. To pave your path to this gig, take any job you can get in the art department of a student film, independent project, or theatrical play, then take focused steps to move up the ladder. IATSE Local 800 represents production designers and other related artists. 

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