Understanding the art department roles and hierarchy on any film or television project is very important before starting in the industry. Film and television may seem like a fun and chaotic mess but in order to create a product within months of banding together it requires that chaotic mess to be organised in such a fashion that the machine is always moving in a predictable way no matter what the script individually requires.
What is the art department?
The art department is the section of a film or television production’s crew concerned with visual artistry. Working under the supervision of the production designer and/or art director, the art department is responsible for arranging the overall look of the film as desired by the film director.
Working in the art department is not for the faint of heart. You will work very long hours with every type of personality under the sun while juggling multiple tasks on extremely tight deadlines. If this still sounds like the career for you- read on.
The roles and hierarchy listed below is the standard that you will find in most union art department offices in North America and these roles are representative of the various art department’s I have personally worked in over the years. These roles may differ slightly by project, budget, region and union.
Art Department Roles in Film and Television
The production designer is responsible for the visualization and generation of set design, sketches and renderings; location selection and treatments; and design concept relating to set decoration, props, special effects, lighting, costuming, makeup and hair. The production designer collaborates with the producer, director and cinematographer to realize all of these elements in the visual style created for the production.
SUPERVISING ART DIRECTOR
The supervising art director is a luxury of the big budget production. In this position one art director supervises other art directors who are separately supervising the preparation and execution of multiple large scale sets simply because it would be far too much work for one art director. Once you have multiple art directors at work on multiple sets, a supervising art director is needed. The supervising art director then oversees the art department and logistics at large, handles the budget, the various overall schedules, collaborates with the production designer and liaises between departments while the other art directors focus on the logistics and details of their assigned sets.
The art director coordinates the preparation and execution of all visual elements required for a production. An art director is the administrative and organizational heart of the art department, responsible for developing and monitoring the art department budget, along with schedules for all related departments including but not limited to set decoration and construction.
The concept artist or concept illustrator creates visuals to convey the vision of the director and the production designer. Concept artists work very early on within pre-production to aid in the pre-visualisation process. Concept artists also bridge the gap between the visual effects team and the art department as they work closely with them creating computer generated images that represent the virtual world within the project as directed by the creative team.
The set designer or draughtperson is responsible for designing the practical set and creating the blueprints (plans, elevations, and details) of the set, as specified by the production designer and/or the art director. Set designers must also liaise with construction, set dec, and locations, amongst other departments dependent on the needs of the production.
The graphic designer is responsible for the conceptualization and creation of original on-screen graphics during production and should be able to: design and create graphic elements, and work unsupervised in consultation with the art director and/or production designer.
These graphics often include but are far from limited to labels for props or set dec to cover existing copyrighted products like beer or wine labels, specialised packaging, posters, artwork, street signage, and picture vehicle graphics like a police crest or logo.
MOTION GRAPHIC DESIGNER
The motion graphic designer is responsible for the conceptualization and creation of original on-screen moving graphics during production and should be able to: design and animate motion graphic elements, and work unsupervised in consultation with the Art Director and/or Production Designer.
These graphics often include but are not limited to web page screens, television screens, interfaces, and cell phone screens that are moving, scrolling or are to be interacted with on screen.
ART DEPARTMENT COORDINATOR
The art department coordinator works closely with the art director to assist with administration, procurement and budget tracking within the art department. An art department coordinator may also be responsible for departmental clearances and product placement if there is not a clearance coordinator on staff.
Among duties which are assigned to the art department coordinator are the coordination and participation in setting up and closing down the art department office, assisting the art director, production designer and/or the set designer and graphic designer in administrative aspects of tracking and inputting budget information, performing research, obtaining clearances and product placement, and the coordination of supplies for the department.
ART DEPARTMENT ASSISTANT
The art department assistant is a learning position. Trainees, as they’re often called, are to be directly supervised by senior members of the art department in all of their tasks.
For greater clarity, the art department assistant is often required to drive a production vehicle for pick-ups and deliveries for the art department, assist in the distribution of drawings, assist with general research and assist more senior members of the art department in performing minor graphics or minor drafting duties while receiving supervised training.
This post is a continuous work in progress and will be updated frequently. How would you describe the roles of the art department. As always, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.
Rose Lagacé | @artdepartmental
For more posts about production design and the art department, click here.