Production design is one of the key aspects in a motion picture production. The production designer (PD) is involved in the conceptualization, organization, and implementation of the physical world that needs to be produced for the making of the film. The PD primarily bases his/her design from the film’s script and his/her collaborative discussions with the director, cinematographer, and producer. S/He is responsible for the overall look of the sets, props, wardrobe, make-up of actors, and prosthetics in a film.
Responsibilities of a Production Designer
The production designer’s job starts with finding the right look for the physical requirements of the film, as how the camera will record them. The PD must have thorough knowledge and research on the film’s time period, setting, and cultural references. S/He should be able to incorporate the right visual and spatial elements to best convey the film’s theme, emotion, and atmosphere. As a designer, s/he must be able to transform physical structures and elements n the production into a whole new cinematic world, as required by the film’s story and the director’s vision.
Skills, Education, and Background Requirements
A PD must possess a keen understanding of the cinematic language, then create believable and realistic, fantastic, or surreal world on screen, according to the requirements of the film’s story.
A production designer can come from a variety of backgrounds. There are those who come from film schools, mainly majoring in production design and other related film production fields. There are also those who got interested in filmmaking after getting exposed to the field in one way or another. These people are mostly artists from other artistic disciplines such as architecture, interior design, theater arts, scenic design, or even those from disciplines that are not even indirectly related to production design elements. Like many other film professionals, there are those who are so-called “late bloomers,” those who come from entirely different fields, and yet they found themselves loving the craft that they decide to shift into the production design profession.
Collaboration with Director and Cinematographer
Known as part of the so-called “Holy Trinity of Film Production,” the production designer works closely with the director and cinematographer to finalize the visual look and treatment for a film production. During the early days of the pre-production stage, the PD presents her own vision for the sets and props, the theme and colors of to be used, and how the physical elements to be seen on screen shall be made and utilized during the shoot. All these are based on the needs of the screenplay and the vision the director wants for the film. The PD also collaborates with the cinematographer to discuss and confirm how the art requirements can be of best use to the lighting and camera work intended by the camera and lighting team.
Collaboration with Other Key Production Staff
The production designer guides key staff such as the costume designer, key hair and make-up stylists, special effects director, prosthetics artist, and location manager in order to establish a unified visual appearance for the film. Being the head creative directly working with the director and cinematographer, the production designer makes sure that the works and artistic choices of the other key staff provide the right settings and styles to effectively tell the story. The continuity supervisor also works with the production designer’s team to make sure the continuity of props, sets, wardrobe, make-up and other art requirements are properly executed from one shot to the next.
The Art Department
The production designer is the head of the art department, the one in-charge of everything related to the sets, props, wardrobe, make-up, and prosthetics in a movie. S/He hires an art director under him/her, then the art director supervises the execution is in-charge in charge of the supervision and physical execution of design requirements coming from the PD. Other members of the art department team include a myriad of specialists such as the: costume designer, set designer, prop master and set decorator, hiring assistant, concept illustrators, graphic designers and model makers, carpenters, painters, plasterers, riggers and other trades, propmakers, greensmen (landscapers), sign painters, scenic artists, set dressers, wardrobe person and many others.