Reel Opportunities

Production Designer

What is a Production Designer?
What does a Production Designer do?

Production Designers create the way a film or TV drama looks. Films can be set in any number of places; a Victorian orphanage, a Caribbean cruise ship, or another planet, for example. They are an artistic jack-of-all-trades and a confident leader who manages the entire art department. They work with all the other visual departments, costume, lighting, visual and special effects, and graphic design. They help create the visual world in which the story is set.

Production Designers start with the script. Researching and collaborating with the Director, Director of Photography and other heads of department, they imagine the screenplay visually. They draw sketches showing mood, atmosphere, lighting, composition, colour and texture, which are given to the Art Director to develop.

The Production Designer is also in charge of hiring and managing the art department, which can be one of the biggest departments on a film crew. They then work with other art department members to draw up a budget. They prioritize the work schedule and allocate the management of finances to team members performing different tasks.

What's a Production Designer good at?
  • Creativity

    Visualize the whole look of a film or TV drama, starting with words on a page

  • Art

    Draw by hand to scale, do technical drawings and computer-aided design

  • Design

    Understand colour theory, know the history of architecture and interior design

  • Knowledge of Photography

    Understand cameras, lenses and lighting and their effect on a film’s look and mood

  • Organization

    Manage budgets, draw up schedules, prioritize and meet deadlines

  • Communication

    Share the vision with a wide number of different people and keep a team working together well

Who does a Production Designer work with?

Set Decorator
The Set Decorator is responsible for the decoration of a set, including furnishings and all objects that are on view.

Production Buyer
Before the start of shooting, Production Buyers prepare orders for props.

Art Director
On big productions, Art Directors may start work months before shooting starts. They analyze a script to identify all the props or special items that will be needed and find cost-effective creative solutions to construction and decorating problems.

Assistant Art Director (first assistant, second, third)
Assistant Art Directors’ responsibilities vary depending on the size of the production. They may help the Art Director with research, surveying locations, model making or producing sets. On large productions with multiple sets, an Assistant Art Director will take responsibility for some of the smaller sets and manage the cleanliness and props for that set. Assistant Art Directors also sketch ideas, refine them, and work on 3D models.

Concept Artist
Big studio productions usually hire a number of concept artists to design specific elements, such as fantasy creatures. Concept Artists may analyze source material and work on illustrations that are both striking and accurate to be presented to the Producer, Director, and FX Supervisors. Many Concept Artists start their careers as graphic artists or illustrators before moving into the screen industries.

Set Designer
Set Designers provide hundreds of technical drawings that serve as a template for the construction department. Drawings are often still produced by hand, but computer-aided design software (also known as CAD software) is also used.

Production Assistant
Production Assistants usually start work in the early stages of pre-production and can be specifically assigned to the art department. This is an entry-level position and tasks vary.

How do I become a Production Designer?

As with many creative fields, there is no set way of becoming a Production Designer. Degrees in graphic design, theatre, architecture, or art, however, will give you a solid background in some of the key skills you’ll need to get into the industry—and can provide you with valuable industry connections. Courses in woodwork and set construction at your local college can be valuable to gain experience in building and design.

Most Production Designers have worked in the art department for many years. Aim to start as a Production Assistant and work your way up through the ranks outlined above.

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.