Understanding the job roles, responsibilities, and hierarchy of the art department on any film or television project is very important. When entering the industry, you should not go in blindly.
Knowing how you and your job role fit into the efficient functioning of the art department helps you make decisions that benefit your superiors making you an indispensable member of the art team. Working towards the joint goals of your art department increases your potential hirability for the next project in an often fickle industry.
Film and television may seem like a fun and sometimes chaotic vocation, and it is, but to create a product within months of banding together requires that chaos is organized in such a fashion that the machine is always moving predictably no matter what the script demands.
So let’s dive into how this production design machine functions, but first we must understand what the art department is there to accomplish.
What does the art department do?
The art department is the division of a film or television production’s office crew concerned with visual artistry.
By ‘visual artistry’ we mean the research, concept art renderings and illustrations, set designs of various 2D and 3D models, technical drawings and blueprints, graphic design and motion graphic design elements, art clearances, and the administration to manage all of this while simultaneously liaising with all relevant departments to create the physical manifestation of each set, set piece, and custom-made element. In turn, this creates the overall look and feel of the film or television show we affectionately call production design.
The art department creates the overall look by working under the management of the supervising art director, or the art director, and together they are responsible for arranging and creating each set and set element as designed by the production designer (the head of the art department) who is in direct collaboration with the director, producers, and showrunner/s in the case of television.
The art department team does not facilitate the production of each set by themselves. The art department liaises with several very important departments in a (sometimes) fluid step by step process in order to create each set or set element. Depending on the needs of the production this may include the set decoration, construction, scenic, props, greens, locations, visual effects, special effects, stunts, costume, hair, makeup, transport, camera, grip, and electric departments.
Working in the art department is not for the faint of heart. You work very long hours with every type of personality under the sun while mastering new skills and juggling multiple tasks on extremely tight deadlines.
If this still sounds like the career for you, read on.
What roles can you find in an art department crew?
The art department job roles and hierarchy listed below are the North American standards found in most union (and sometimes non-union) production offices and film sets on small, medium, and large scale budgets.
However, you should be aware that on many music videos, commercials, and micro-budget independent films there is one significant difference. On these projects, the various set dec, art, props, greens, construction, and scenic teams often fold into one department also entitled the art department.
This distinction continues to bring about confusion to those entering the industry. We will discuss this at length in a future post as well as the various structures of the art crew and set decoration roles within the UK and Europe which also differ from the standard North American art department.
The art department roles, responsibilities, and hierarchy listed below may differ slightly by project, budget, region and union but they should give you a rough idea of how the art department functions most of the time.
For the specific makeup of the positions and hierarchy within your area, you should check in with your local art department union.
Art Department Crew Roles and Responsibilities 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, and special lighting.
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 managing the preparation and execution of multiple large scale sets because it would be far too much work for one art director.
Once you have numerous 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 different 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 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 draughtsperson is responsible for designing the practical set and creating the 3D renderings and 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 and signage during production. They should be able to: design and create digital graphics, seeing their inception through to completion into physical form. The graphic designer works 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 decoration to cover existing copyrighted products like beer or wine labels, specialized packaging, posters, paperwork, artwork, street signage, and picture vehicle graphics like a police crest, stripes, or logos.
MOTION GRAPHIC DESIGNER
The motion graphic designer is responsible for the conceptualization and creation of original on-screen moving graphics for various screens during production.
They should be able to: design and animate motion graphics 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 camera.
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 no 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. They are also responsible for assisting the art director and production designer whenever and however needed, liaising with other departments as needed, assisting the set designer, and/or graphic designer in administrative aspects, tracking budget information, performing research, the organization of drawing distribution, 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 or their own vehicle (mileage and gas are paid) for pick-ups and deliveries for the art department. They also assist the art department coordinator with the distribution of drawings, help with general research, and aid more senior members of the art department in performing minor graphics and/or minor drafting duties while receiving supervised training.
- Set Decoration Roles, Responsibilities, and Hierarchy in Film & Television
- Scenic Paint Roles, Responsibilities, and Hierarchy in Film & Television
How would you describe these roles and responsibilities? If you’re new to the art department and have any questions or need any clarifications whatsoever, please let us know in the comments below, and we’ll be sure to respond. As always, we love hearing your thoughts.
This post is a continuous work in progress and will be updated as needed.
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Thanks for sharing this. What about the Set Decorator?
We have a separate post about the set decoration department here: https://artdepartmental.com/2018/07/16/set-decoration-film-television/. 🙂
I’d like to know a lot more about set decorators, set dressers, and set dec buyers too!
That’s great! We have a separate post about the positions in the set decoration department which can be found here: https://artdepartmental.com/2018/07/16/set-decoration-film-television/
Great post. Great blog. Looking forward to reading the UK post.
How about an art department researcher? Do you have any information on that role?
Thanks so much for your feedback. It’s a fairly new position that’s now become more common so I’ll make sure to add that in the next edit.
Is there any specific course we have to do for Assisting Art director..