written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 7/4/2011
The art department is responsible for sets, props, costumes, and all the aesthetic elements in your film. Learn about the essential positions within this department.
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When constructing a fictional story space for a narrative film you are essentially building a new world. Depending on how you want it to look, the characteristics of this new space, and the period of the film you may have to construct quite a bit of sets or props to go along. All of these elements can be considered to fall under the art department, which encompasses a vast variety of positions.
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The production designer is the head creative position for the art department. They interpret and coordinate all of the sets, props, and costumes for the production. This is important for bringing to life the realities of the script as well as maintaining visual and emotional themes executed by the director.
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The art director is to the production designer as the assistant director is to the director. He reads the decisions made by the production designer and then goes ahead and gets it done. The production designer will sketch, design, and write up all of the artistic needs. The art director then goes into the pre-production environment and works with the other wings of the art department to get that done.
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The construction coordinator is one of these wings within the art department and serves as the general contractor for all set and background construction. He runs a construction similar to that of a house, where his or her decisions are then acted on by all the carpenters, electricians, and other people working on the floor. This position is reacting in response to the decisions made by the production designer, but it is up to them to actually realize the sets themselves.
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Another position, similar to that of the construction coordinator, is the costume designer. They are in charge of coordinating all creation of costume and clothing props, and find the best way to properly realize the wishes of the production designer. This is a uniquely creative position because they have to figure out how exactly the clothing is supposed to be created, all details about the attire, and any other considerations that must be made.
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The prop master has a similar function to the previous two, but with props themselves. These are different then sets or clothing as they are items in the story space that are independent of the location and may be used by the characters. Again, they interpret the production designer’s blueprint, but bring their own creative energy to transforming them into real objects. The realism of the story space, the type of characters that are using them, the way they will appear on screen, and allow choices for other people.
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All of these last three positions are meant to realize and then elevate the vision of the production designer. They are intended to analyze the film, the characters, the aesthetics, and the production holistically to make educated choices in their designs. They should also allow for a variety of choices for the production designer, director, and producer to consider.
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An Expanding Department
The art department has even more positions, each with its own more specified sub-departments. These include things like computer graphics, animation, and special effects, but since they do not work in the filming space they are not usually considered part of the primary art department. Depending on the size of your own film production you may have to tone down, combine, or eliminate some of these art positions.