Art Director

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Art Director


When you go to the theater, are you aware of the fact that every aspect of the set is carefully designed by an art director? Art directors organize and direct the technical and artistic aspects of motion pictures, stage productions and television shows by designing sets, costumes, furnishings and props to create accurate portrayals of time period and setting. They develop concepts and review material that is to appear in film and theater, and they ultimately decide how best to present the performance, so it is eye-catching, appealing and captivating to audiences.

Art directors are responsible for the overall look and presentation of films, television shows and stage productions. They have a strong sense of vision and style. However, their jobs can vary greatly depending on the medium they work in.

An art director's first job is to read the script or screenplay. Once they digest the material, they begin doing extensive research about the time period in which a play or film is set. If the time period is the present day, then their work is not too difficult. However if a film is set in Elizabethan times, an art director must read history books about the time period, possibly visit museums and art galleries to learn about the fashions and architecture of the time. This is very important because a film about the Elizabethan period must be accurate, believable and have the proper costumes, props and other set design elements. If an art director is not careful and an extra is wearing an outfit from a different period, then audiences and critics could criticize the film for not being properly researched. Finally, the art director also oversees the costume design, props and set designs to make sure they portray the time period realistically.

Art directors do everything behind the scenes. They consult with the directors, producers and managers about all aspects of a work. They must also make sure that they are staying within the company's budget when purchasing props, set designs and other special effects items. Art directors bring stories to existence through the visual components. They work with technical directors and other crew members to plan camera angles and lighting.

In film, due to the explosion of animation and technological special effects in many fantasy and adventure genres, art directors are hired to supervise animators, clay designers and makeup artists. Art directors work closely with crew members, giving advice and instructions. In each scene, art directors must work with the director to plan the shot's framing, composition, camera movement. This process takes a very long time and makes movie-making seem less glamorous than Hollywood and the red carpet.

In theater, art directors prepare plays for production. They arrange the details of the stage settings and all stage effects. Art directors consult with set designers, props artists, costume designers, choreographers and stage managers in the weeks before the production comes to the stage in order to make sure that everyone is working towards the director's vision and interpretation of the play. During rehearsals, art directors work very closely with behind-the-scenes workers. Every small detail is a large detail in the art director's eyes.
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  Interests and Skills  
Art directors should be creative and artistic designers who have the ability to think visually. They should have a strong eye for detail and work under tight deadlines. They must be able to command respect from their staff and work effectively with others.

Knowledge of design computer programs is essential, particularly in print and media related jobs. Publishing software and advertising programs will keep art directors up to date with the latest designs and industry trends.

  Typical Tasks  
  • Consult with producers about artistic crew members such as costume designers and props buyers
  • Discuss work with set designers to determine a stylistic approach for the production on stage
  • Identify necessary props, costumes and locations
  • Work with stage managers to arrange schedules for rehearsals, costume fittings and sound and light development
  • Work with producers to establish and administer budgets
  • Make all final decisions regarding the production, from props and furnishings to makeup
  • Work with the cinematographer on potentially difficult shots or scenes
  • Create storyboards and discuss scenes with the director
  • Keep up to date with what is happening in the arts
  • Art directors work long and very irregular hours. Since rehearsals take place during the day and performances are usually at night or on weekends, directors sometimes work right around the clock. In film, hours are also based on shooting schedules and they jump from early morning to overnight filming. Therefore, 10- to 12-hour days and seven-day weeks are very common. Working conditions take place both indoors and outdoors. When not on a film set or a stage, art directors generally work in art and design studios, in office buildings or in their own home studios. In theater, directors may often rehearse a production in a separate studio or warehouse before moving into the theater where the production is taking place. Their work is not physically demanding, but they may be under pressure to meet budget and schedule demands.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Art directors are generally employed by film production companies, radio and television stations, broadcast departments in advertising companies, sound recording studios, record production companies and dance companies. Some are also self-employed and work on a freelance basis.

  Long Term Career Potential  
Art directors can move around from industry to industry. They can do any type of work that involves creativity and design work, such as graphic or interior design or possibly theater directing. Many have opened up their own advertising and design consulting agencies with other creative workers and copywriters. They can also become layout designers, set painters, animation designers, illustrators or any other art and media related position.

  Educational Paths  
There is no etched out path for an art director but most have a postsecondary degree in art and design, graphic arts, commercial arts, photography or visual arts. Those with master's degrees will have even better chances of getting jobs. In this industry, making contacts and networking is a great way to land internships and other apprenticeships.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition,
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002,

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