An art director is a person, often at a managerial level, who is greatly responsible for the visual components of a finished product. That product can be a book, advertisement, movie, video game or periodical. The term is found in many industries, and each type of product poses unique challenges.
At an advertising agency, the art director is responsible for the overall look of the ad, whether it’s found in print, on a billboard or on television. He or she often works with a copywriter on the overall idea, and the copywriter provides the words that will be used. Typically, he or she can decide which models, actors and other freelance professionals, if any, are hired. At the end, he or she unifies all of the visual components to help complete the project.
An art director working in books or magazines must ensure that the look and feel of the publication is consistent. Art directors tend to specialize in types of publications. Book art directors often focus solely on book covers unless there are illustrations within the text. Magazine art directors oversee page layout and the matching of art with the stories in each issue.
In movies and television, the art director is in charge of the building and dressing of sets. Working under this person are set decorators, set dressers and often one assistant or more. The production hierarchy of films and television productions usually have the art director working below the production designer, who’s responsible for the visual texture of the piece. The elements of that visual texture include sets, costumes and hairstyles.
Video game art directors help create colorful and detailed environments, characters and animation that bring the game to life. In this medium, the director often will work with many people during the concept phase before launching into the pre-production phase. Many game production companies are small, requiring those overseeing the art to pick the most able freelancers and stay within a budget.
In addition to worrying about the game’s visual surface, a video game art director often has to take into account many technical considerations. Working with programmers, he or she must ensure that the game code that’s being written will function smoothly and adhere to the vision agreed upon at the beginning of production. Technical knowledge and a willingness to learn new software are essential to art directing of video games.
There is no set path to becoming an art director. Usually one begins as an employee working under someone in the industry before moving up. Artists who want to become art directors must have leadership and management skills and must be responsible and organized.