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Beginner Tips for Art Direction - What Does an Art Director Do?

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 1/25/2010

This article will provide you with beginner tips for learning art direction such as what to consider for your own art direction, how to plan ahead, and how to execute this on set.

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    You Need an Art Director

    Art direction often sounds like a position only seen in expensive production backed by film studios. They do not realize that art director is a standard position that is found on even the smallest productions. Even if there is not a budget or crew large enough to justify an exclusive art director, those tasks still need to be observed by a member of the crew. Here are a few tips for someone who is new to art direction and is trying to integrate this important series of tasks into their film.

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    What Does an Art Director Do?

    Art director is traditionally under the direction of the production designer, and surrounds the altering of the set and mis en scene. This means that they design and alter the set so that it will appear as the director intends in their vision. They will begin by meeting with the director and getting a clear idea of what they want everything to look like. After that the art director will add creative designs and sketches as to how the set will be dressed and altered so that the appearance fits within this directorial vision. All things in this stage place will be the responsibility of the art director.

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    Visit Location

    The first thing that a successful art director must do is to go to the location and see what they are dealing with. If the director wants the inside of a bedroom to look like a brick alleyway there may be no option for the art director. They will have to see how they can take the given location and alter it in a way that will continue directorial vision. Take a look at space, available electricity, and all objects in the general area.

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    Creativity Over Money

    Be creative with what you could possibly use to alter the set and turn it into the location in the film. You do not have to spend a ton of money on specially made set dressings and props to get things that look correctly. Just a little ingenuity will end up taking the place of large sums of money in many cases. For example, small numbers of home items specifically arranged can usually alter the appearance of a location to look like the kind of home that you would want. A few boxes and strewn kitchen utensils can easily make a house look as though people are just moving in. A few posters and childhood objects can turn any bedroom into a teenagers room.

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    Get Set Dressings to Location

    An art director is going to be responsible for making sure that everything they have put together for altering the set will actually make it to that set in time for alterations to be made. This means that you should likely arrange for them to arrive a day early since the crew call on the day of the shoot indicates when the set should be being prepared. Either bring these yourself or arrange movers to do it, but either way be there when they arrive so you know that they are at the shooting location and in a specified storage location as well.

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    Production Stills

    Production stills are going to be the other important function of the art director. What this means is that the art director is going to take pictures throughout the production, but of the set and actors and the crew doing their work. These production still end up filling a few functions. First, they document the production as it is happening for company books and other documents. These can be used to get extra funding, especially if you create an internet presence. Second, the pictures of the cast can be used for promotional purposes later on. Third, these photos are crucial since they will indicate exactly where all the props and set dressings were in every take so they can be moved back to their proper location within the story space.

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    Don't Over Burden

    Even if you do not have a position for art director exclusively you have to make sure that the person you do assign to it does not have a major creative position already. Never allow the director to serve as the art director as this will be too much of a burden when they should be working on other things.