Because film is a visual medium, it’s important to have a clear and unified look across every aspect of the frame. The Director usually (and hopefully) has a vision for how the movie looks and feels overall, but the people who turn that vision into a reality are a part of the Art Department, which encompasses everything from Production Design, Wardrobe, Set Decoration Special Effects and more.
The Production Designer
The Production Designer is the manager of the entire Art Department. He or she is the keeper of the overall look and works closely with the Director, Producers, and Cinematographer to develop it and find the people to make it happen. They’ll work out what the sets look like, what all the props that might be in a scene would be, and what types of clothes may be needed for the actors, among other worldbuilding design decisions.
This might mean helping to scout out locations, or designing something completely new to be built. The Production Designer usually has a background in interior design and/or architecture, enabling them to be able to create and design detailed set plans if necessary.
For example, if the film takes place in a particular time period, he or she will need to a lot of research to ensure that the film is accurately portraying the world at that time. If the film is a sci-fi story taking place in a distant and unknown future, then they’ll need to guide the artists to create the world based on the vision of the Director.
It’s a job with huge responsibility and an eye for everything from the big picture to the smallest detail. They’ll also play a major role in helping the producer budget out what will actually be required to get the look right by figuring out what will be built, what will be bought, and what will be created in effects.
The Art Director
The Art Director is the Production Designer’s right-hand-human. In smaller productions, it may actually be the same person! But generally speaking, the Art Director is focused on the visual design and helps lead a team of concept artists and designers to develop looks, characters, and moods. They’re also responsible for managing the artists who create visual media within the film itself, such as prop magazines, billboards, posters, and books.
Once the concepts that his or her team designs are approved, they are passed onto prop-makers, set construction teams, and the special effects and visual effects teams, who make the practical pieces to be used on set or in post-production.
The Costume Designer and Wardrobe
No matter what era a movie takes place in, clothing can tell us a lot about a character. It can tell us about where they’re from, how they try to portray themselves to others, and what their personality is like relative to everyone around them. It can also tell us a story itself – for example, if their clothes are tattered and worn and we’re used to seeing them tidy, it’s clear that they’ve just been through something.
The Costume Designer works to design and create all the clothing that’s worn by people in the film. They’ll work closely with the Art Director and of course Production Designer to figure out the style and feasibility within the budget. This person will also work with the makeup and hair teams to make sure that everything is in sync.