Art Directors act as project managers for the biggest department on any film – the Art Department. They facilitate the Production Designer's creative vision for all the locations and sets that eventually give the film its unique visual identity. Art Directors are responsible for the Art Department budget and schedule of work, and help the Production Designer to maximise the money allocated to the department. Art Directors are usually requested by the Production Designer, and are responsible for the Assistant Art Director, the Draughtsman* (as many as 20 Draughtsmen may be employed on big budget films), the Art Department Assistant(s) and all Construction personnel. As Art Directors must find practical solutions to creative problems while simultaneously monitoring the budget, this is highly skilled work. Many Art Directors work on television drama and commercials, as well as on films. The hours are long and the job can involve long periods working away from home. Art Directors work on a freelance basis.
What is the job?
On big budget films, Art Directors start work up to 4 to 5 months before shooting begins (on low budget films 8 weeks may be sufficient). When the Final Schedule is delivered (detailing the precise order of scenes in which the film will be shot), Art Directors begin the work of overseeing the preparation of the first sets required. Art Directors analyse the script to identify all props or special items that may require longer lead times. Simultaneously, a team of Draughtsmen draw up numerous plans for sets and locations for use by Art Directors when working with the Construction Managers and their team. This is an extremely busy, pressured time for every member of the Art Department; as well as coping with this pressure, Art Directors must also tightly control the budget (which is prepared and monitored on a spreadsheet).
On big productions, weekly meetings with the Accountant are key to this process. A major part of Art Directors' work is troubleshooting – they must find cost-effective solutions which also provide practical answers to construction and decorating problems. During pre-production, they are also responsible for commissioning all Special Effects (such as explosions or car crash sequences), hiring all vehicles (from cars to horse-drawn carriages) and organising the casting of all animals (chosen by the Director). As the shooting date approaches, Art Directors liaise closely with the Location Manager to negotiate when locations can be prepared and dressed.
During filming, Art Directors continue to oversee the construction, dressing and striking (dismantling) of the remaining sets. After the film wraps (shooting is completed), Art Directors must ensure that all sets are struck and locations cleared, and that all outstanding Art Department bills are paid.
Typical career routes
Art Directors must learn their skills on the job, which 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 can take a number of years, it is a crucial process during which they acquire the knowledge and experience that enables them to become competent trouble-shooters. Art Directors may also have worked in theatre, where they learn the art of set design and construction as well as how to conceptualise ideas and create a sense of drama through visual spectacle. Students who have studied film and theatre design may also gain experience working on short films before progressing to junior roles on feature films.
Essential knowledge and skills Art Directors should have a good all round knowledge of interior design and architecture as well as a practical understanding of building and construction. They also need a good knowledge of computer budgeting software, e.g., Excel. A full clean driving license is also required.
Key Skills include:
Training and qualifications
Art Directors are likely to be graduates of Art, Architecture, Theatre, Interior or 3D Design courses. Some individuals may also undertake higher level courses in Film and/or Theatre Production Design. After training, it is equally important to acquire on the job experience of how Art Departments work.
Individual course accreditation in certain subject areas is currently being piloted. As part of Creative Skillset's and the BFI's Film Skills Strategy, A Bigger Future 2, a network of Film and Media Academies and a Film Business Academy have been approved as centres of excellence in education and training for film.
Where to go for more information
Creative Skillset is the Creative Industries' Sector Skills Council. The first sources of information for all jobs in the industry are the National Occupational Standards. Browse Creative Skillset's website for links to our network of training partners, information about training and access to the comprehensive Creative Skillset/BFI course database. Finally, for detailed media careers information and advice, visit www.skillset.org/careers.
- British Film Designers Guild
- 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
* The terms Draughtsman or Draughtsmen are used generically and refer to both men and women practitioners
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