Reel Opportunities

Art Director

What is an Art Director?
What does an Art Director do?

The role of an Art Director varies slightly depending on the kind of production being produced. Art Director is a title that appears in many industries, including film, theatre, advertising/marketing, fashion, and more. The Art Director makes decisions about visual elements.

Art Directors start by examining the script and working with the Director to understand the vision for the film or TV show. They then create their designs and determine the tone, mood and colour palettes.

In a studio show, Art Directors are responsible for turning the creative vision of the Production Designer into reality by drawing plans and visuals and making models. They organize the art department and oversee the construction of the set. They are responsible for the way the set is dressed and the inclusion of any props. They remain on set throughout the production to ensure the set is maintained and dressed appropriately to accommodate the varied content.

On shows where there isn’t a set, but where the content is filmed at various locations, they work with the Producer and Director. They create ‘mini-sets,’ managing the dressing and styling of an area (indoors or outdoors) in which to film. Often, they design these props themselves and oversee their build.

While the Production Designer is the creative mind behind the overall look of a production, the Art Director is the hands that makes that vision come to life. Art Directors are the metaphorical “architects” of the art department. If there is not a Production Designer on a production, Art Directors ensure that what they are doing meets health and safety guidelines as well as the needs of the Producer and Director, and is within budget.

In animation, Art Directors are responsible for the visual style of the animation. They decide how the characters, props, and environments are going to look and provide a basis for the rest of the art department to work from.

This is a job that involves a lot of communicating with people and needs strong management skills. Art Directors are responsible for ensuring all artwork is of high quality and in keeping with the Director’s vision. They are also responsible for making sure everyone in the art department stays on budget and on schedule.

What's an Art Director good at?
  • Creativity

    Visualize what a production requires, the look of a set or location, imagine how it will accommodate the production brief and department requirements. Have the artistic skill and imagination to produce original and high-quality designs

  • Leadership

    Have strong management skills to lead a department, be able to communicate visual ideas, and be able to work as part of a team

  • Art

    Be able to draw conceptually and technically, work with specialist design software, build props and small sets, have knowledge of art history

  • Knowledge of construction

    Source appropriate materials and props, be aware of the latest developments in production design

  • Knowledge of production

    Understand production techniques, studio environments, studio capabilities and the challenges of working on location. In animation, be able to understand what is going to be achievable further down the line on an animation production by the animation and post-production teams

  • Leadership

    Be able to share their vision with a wide number of different people, manage budgets and people, draw up schedules, prioritise and meet deadlines

  • Communication

    Understand what the director wants, be able to explain ideas, give constructive feedback, have good presentation skills

Who does an Art Director work with?

Art Directors project-manage work within an art department. They oversee construction teams, Production Buyers, Art Department Assistants, Carpenters, Greensmans, Painters, Scenic, Set Dec and Production Assistants. Art Directors work closely with Production Designers, particularly on studio shows, and on-location work with Producer and Directors and their teams of Associate Producers, Researchers and Production Designers. They also collaborate with camera, sound and lighting operators to ensure their work complements theirs and doesn’t create technical issues, such as with colour, lighting or the creation of unnecessary sound problems. They also work closely with Production Managers in planning and budgeting.

In animation, Art Directors work closely with the Director and as well as the artists in their teams, including Background Designers and Modellers.

How do I become an Art Director?

Art Directors typically need a bachelor’s degree in an area relating to visual art or design, preferably as they relate to film. Courses in theatre, architecture, digital design, fine art, film history, and interior design are all relevant to study.If you’re going the film school route, courses in production design are especially useful.

On-set experience is also key, as well as organizational and administrative skills. Art Director is a senior position, so you usually need some experience before you can progress to this role. A good route would be through starting in a junior position in the art department, such as a Set Decorator. You’ll also need to develop strong management skills. To be an Art Director in the animation realm, you will also need a good understanding of how an animation project works.

Here are some other tips:

Develop a wide range of art skills: Learn how to paint, do 3D modelling and graphic art. The more you can do at this stage, the more chance you have of being useful in the art department later on.

Learn to drive: If possible, get access to a car. This makes you more versatile and means you can help more.

Build a portfolio: Create work that you can show off to employers. As an Art Director, you will be hired based on your personal style and skill, so you need to have a strong portfolio. This could be made up of your own independent artwork or work you’ve done for collaborative projects. This is essential for impressing collaborators and people in the film industry.

Look outside the industry: Art Directors are needed in many industries outside of film and animation, including advertising, theatre, print magazines and product design. Getting experience working in the art department of a company in one of these fields would be a good way to gain relevant experience which you can translate into film.

More tips

For more tips on finding job opportunities, lists of training programmes, and other great resources, check out our Career Resources page.

Professional Organizations Associated With This Role

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Job Profile Design by Dave Gray. Based on an original concept by Ian Murphy/Allan Burrell.