What do you do when you want to create a grungy apartment setting for your short film but your girlfriend won’t let destroy her furniture? Or you need to turn a modern office suite into a detective’s squad room yet you have no idea where to begin? Get thee to an art director.

The folks in the art department — including the production designer, art director, set designer, and prop master — are the ones who create a film’s look. They build sets and dress them. They choose furniture, wall coverings, and rugs. They have the sensibilities and skills of an architect, an interior designer, a carpenter, and a world-class shopper all rolled into one.  On a large feature film, the art department will include a number of people with unique job titles. A production designer is in charge of everything artistic. An art director works for the production designer. A set decorator works independent of the art director, but is in charge of gathering all the set dressing and furniture. A prop master takes care of props and usually works under the art director.

On a smaller independent film or sometimes on a commercial shoot, the lines begin to blur. The art director often does everything with the help of one or two assistants. And sometimes, the art department is a one-person show.  Art directors in film wear many hats, combining artistic ability with good organizational and interpersonal skills. The job itself can be exciting. You can see whole worlds that you have helped to create come to life on the big screen. You’ll see your name on the silver screen with credit for work on a fantastic flick. The road to becoming an artistic director in film can be challenging, but it will be immeasurably rewarding.  To become an Art Director, own a few of the following maxims:  Watch a lot of movies, paying particular attention to the minutiae. Get a sense of how the setting is depicted in the films, remembering that art direction is subtle and not in-your-face.  Encourage your artistic side by working with your hands, practicing sketching and drawing. You must have a good visual and spatial sense, and you must be able to apply them to the look and feel of the film.  Keep an eye out for the world around you. Observe things that are mundane and the seemingly insignificant parts of the world around you. Art directors need to be accurate down to the smallest detail. Try to be aware of everything you see.  Strengthen your communication skills. You’ll be working closely with many people in order to realize the vision of the director. The ability to take orders and delegate responsibility is essential.

Take classes. Art directors wear many hats and combine the fields of art, design and even carpentry. School is an excellent way to learn these skills. It help you to nurture them, and you can also gain invaluable experience.  Nothing beats experience, which unfortunately means you may have to work for free or for practically nothing. Again, school is a good avenue to work on student films or plays, and small regional theaters are always looking for volunteers. The work will give you a feel for how sets are made, and the experience will be an excellent way for you to hone your skills, not to mention meet the right people.

Learn the skills you need to take your idea from paper to the big screen.

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