Production Designers Talk
What Do Production Designers Do?
In theater, scenic designers design all the sets - the "rooms" or environment of the stage show.
In film and television, production designers create the visual ideas behind all the locations - whether these are built sets or modified real locations - and set the tone for every visual aspect of the film. And set designers work for production designers...
But, frankly, I'll admit to a little confusion on film production titles between the production designer, the art director, and the set designer. These titles have mutated a bit over the history of film, I think, and I read somewhere that the title production designer was invented to reflect the greater than usual importance of the lead designer for Gone With the Wind. Is that true?
Big films today may have all three titles - with the production designer as the lead, but all three sharing responsibility for design of the film's environments.
Obviously production designers (and art and set designers) work for the director and work with a team of other designers and craftsmen, who all collaborate closely, while each having their own particular specialty. (Costume design is pretty autonomous) Set design and set decoration are linked, as are props etc. It's common on film for every sign, book, soda can, and anything with lettering on it to be specially designed, since this is often easier than getting legal clearances to use existing products.
Production design for a movie or TV show is a huge and complicated operation!
This Lens will pull together some sources for more information on production design - concentrating on interviews of the designers themselves. This is a work-in-progress Lens. Please keep visiting for more info as I find it.
"...the job of the designers of costumes, sets, and lights, is to increase the audience's enjoyment of the play past that which might be expected in a performance done in street clothes, on a bare stage, under work lights."— David Mamet
Production Design for Black Swan
This fascinating video interview with production designer Therese DePrez and director Darren Aronofsky shows how intelligent, subtle, and powerful film production design can be.
Watch this first! It explains everything...
Seminars on Production Design
Seminars by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on the subject of production design. Even if you can't travel to Hollywood, check out the websites for great concept drawings and design photos!
Evolution or Revolution? Production Design in the 21st Century The rendering on the right is from Nightmare Before Christmas, production designer Kendal Cronkhite, from this website.
The Art, Science, and Psychology of Production Design Beautiful B&W stills of earlier film sets.
Pulling Back the Drapes: Set Decoration Revealed The importance of set decorating.
Interviews with Production Designers and Art Directors - (And other sources of information.)
Some of these interviews are text, some on video. See what some working production designers and art directors have to say...
- The Art Directors' Guild
LOTS of great information here! And copious photos.
- Robert Stromberg, Production Designer
An interview with the co-designer of the film Avatar (with Rick Carter) and production designer for Tim Burton's Alice and Wonderland.
- Mars Investigations - Alfred Sole, Production Designer
An interview with the production designer of the TV show Veronica Mars, the critically acclaimed noire-ish teen detective series. Its look? lots of noire shadows and music video inspired colored light.
- BBC - Carey Meyer, Production designer
A series of short video interviews with the production designer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Vanity Fair - Guy Dyas
An interview with the production designer of Inception.
- NewEnglandFilm.com How to be a Production Designer
An interview with Indie Production Designer Erin Muldoon Stetson.
- 1more2time3's - Blog of Hans Bacher, animation production designer
Animation! Stressing the production design aspects. Beautiful, beautiful art work. He wrote the animation/production design book below.
- Aint-It-Cool_News interview with Dan Hennah
An interview with the production designer for The Hobbit film... as well as The Lord of the Rings series.
- A Pushing Pixels interview with Laurence Bennett, production designer for The Artist
An interesting interview made absolutely fascinating by the fact that The Artist was a black and white, silent film about making black and white silent-turning-into-talkies films.
- Production Designer Rick Carter
Discussing real landscape-locations in the film War Horse
- How to Become an Art Director
Advice from Art Director Tom Walden.
- Mark Friedberg
An interview with this long-time collaborator with Wes Anderson - full of insight. My favorite quote? "Just try not to make everything beige."
- Filmslate Magazine article on Production Design
Includes discussion with production designer Mark Tanner.
- Pushing Pixels interview with Beth Mickle
GREAT! illustrated article about production designing the film Drive. A Must Read!
Books on Production Design
Because films and television shows often look so "realistic" and because real locations are often used, the audience seldom realizes just how much those visual backgrounds have been manipulated to support the story.
If you see it on film - it was chosen deliberately.
One of the best and simplest examples for the subtlety and power of production design comes in a crucial scene in the low budget indie film Juno: the young, pregnant girl calls the boy who made her pregnant. Without verbal explanation we, the audience, SEE exactly why she can't count on him to man-up and help her... in character he's really just a little boy. How do we see this? First because he's sitting on the floor, playing a video game, but most powerfully because he is leaning against A TOY RACE CAR BED. Without a word, the setting shows us how much of a child this boy still is.
Start really looking at the backgrounds of favorite movie scenes and see how - like a musical underscore - visuals can also powerfully affect the feeling of that scene in an often subliminal way.
Here are some of the (few) books on production design. We few, we important-but-overlooked few!
Interesting - but not quite as in-depth as I'd like.
This should be fascinating...
Gotta know the traditions.
This book looks so good that I just bought it - really - right now. Now I'll go stand by the mailbox until it arrives...
UPDATE: It arrived. It's beautiful. I'm still reading it... a lot on design, a lot of behind the scenes info on designing Mulan, so far very interesting!
Articles about Production Design and Designers
- Oliver Messel - architect of Caribbean cool
A Reallife article about production designer Oliver Messel's design work in the real-life Caribbean. Glamorous photos! Including his set for Cleopatra.
- New England Film. com "How to be a Production Designer"
A nice brief description of the job and the required skills.
- The Production Design of Argo
A great discussion of designing sets and costumes for this film set in the 1970s... on how to make it realistic, not over-done or even funny (given what the styles of the '70s were!).
What Makes a Production Designer?
What abilities, knowledge, and skills does a production designer need?
- Creative Skill Set "Production Design"
A discussion of some of the things a production designer needs to do or know.
The world of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit HAVE to be some of the most beautifully realized production designs ever filmed.
A very important part of production design for film and TV is location work.
- Hobbit Blog - On Location
A video about location shooting for the up-coming Hobbit film, with interviews that include one with production designer Dan Hennah.
Movie sets under construction!
- Avengers Sets
A WILD! time-lapse video of the building of the Titanic set.
A Look at Hollywood's Golden Age
This is a lavishly illustrated book on - not the films - but the film-making town that was MGM's backlot and studio. Great black and white photos of the behind the scenes buildings and departments. For a set or production designer the photos of the Art Department, carpentry, backlot sets, and legendary Properties Dept. are fascinating.
And there are maps!
The book's website - with more good photos.
Interview with a TV Costume Designer
Slightly off topic... but not by much.
- Buffyfest - Interview with Shawna Trpcic
A video interview with the costume designer for Buffy the Vampire Slayer.