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What is a Production Designer?

By S. Gonzales
Updated: Jan 28, 2024

A production designer is a person who works to create and establish the aesthetics of a production. These professionals may be responsible for developing the design for films, television (TV) programs, music videos or advertisements. Production designers might also be referred to as "art designers," because key responsibilities of the positions can be similar or shared.

Usually, a production designer is charged with the task of establishing the setting and style of a motion picture, including the overall design of sets. Before beginning a project, production designers might take time to create a design concept, which will influence subsequent decisions regarding the production's design. In certain situations, production designers might collaborate with directors when creating the concept. Regardless of whether the director's input is honored, the design concept will be used by art staff members to make production choices and create visuals. Sketches or conceptual models might illustrate the design concept and help staff members better understand and follow the concepts.

Production designers are expected to work in a collaborative capacity with those individuals above and below their positions in the project's hierarchy. For example, a production designer might confer with producers, directors and directors of photography to decide on a feel of a film while also working with set designers, set decorators, property masters, graphic designers, model makers, costume designers and others to make their vision a reality. Production designers might also direct the locations manager, the hair and makeup stylists and the special effects director to ensure that all elements of a film are organized and tied together.

The ultimate responsibilities of a production designer can vary between projects and industries. In some productions, the production designer is almost wholly responsible for the project's aesthetics. In other productions, a production designer's responsibilities are reduced. Typically, production designers whose tasks are limited are often working under a director with established visual styles.

Those interested in pursuing a career in production design should have a working knowledge of the fundamentals of design. Students interested in pursuing production design might major in architecture, environmental design or theatrical set design. It's also suggested that future production designers develop communication skills, because an integral part of the job is to develop concepts and effectively communicate them to everyone from producers to production staff members. Graduates looking to begin a career in production design should consider becoming a production assistant for practical training. New graduates might seek job opportunities in student films, commercials or low-budget music videos.

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Discussion Comments
By burcinc — On Jul 14, 2011

@alisha-- Good question. I don't know about the courses they take. But from what I understand, production designing is more about conceptualizing the themes and designs. The production designer will come up with ideas, make some plans on paper but his assistants and model makers will be the ones building it.

There might be some production designers who do more than that. I guess it depends on his or her background. If a production designer has a background in architecture as well, I'm sure that would a big plus and he might be more involved with the building part.

I hope this helps.

Does anyone know about what courses production designers take in school?

By discographer — On Jul 13, 2011

Doesn't designing sets require architectural knowledge?

Do production designers take courses in architecture?

By bear78 — On Jul 13, 2011

I am definitely a film lover. I don't only enjoy watching films but also the making of films. I try and find out who the production designer is, how many sets were used, how they were built it and so forth. I enjoy this a lot.

I would imagine that the production designer's responsibilities would depend on the type of film. There are some films where the sets are very important. Huge budgets may be allocated for the sets, the architecture and design of the film and costumes. I think it's especially the case for historical type films where a different time period is enacted. For these films, you would probably want a really experienced and well know production designer who can supervise the whole thing.

If it is a film that has a low budget for sets or has a lot of on-location scenes where a set is not even needed, a production designer with limited responsibilities or an art director will probably be enough.

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