How To Become a Production Designer

How To Become a Production Designer

What is a Production Designer?
A Production Designer is an individual who is responsible for overseeing the visuals of a production. They choose a design style for sets, locations, graphics, props, lighting, camera angles and costumes. They also work closely with the director and producer.

What is the Job?
Production Designers are responsible for the visual concept of a film, television or theatre production. They will begin work at the very early stages of pre-production and are requested by the Director or Producer, who’ll collaborate with them to decide the design style for the film. Once this concept is decided, they’ll be responsible for appointing and managing the art department. All of a Production Designer’s work will take place in pre-production and principle photography stages.

Production Designers play a crucial role in helping Directors to achieve the film’s visual requirements, and in providing Producers with carefully calculated schedules which offer a variety of ways to make the film within the agreed budgets and time schedule.

They may have to prepare detailed drawings and specifications in order to pitch work on productions before they are actually offered the job. Once they are offered the position, they may be asked to look at scripts to provide estimates of the projected art department spend. This will involve them reading the script and assessing the visual qualities that will help to create atmosphere and bring the story to life.

Following this, they will meet with the Director, and will discuss the best way to shoot the film, and decisions such as whether to use sets and/or locations will be made. On top of this, Production Designers will deliver their design sketches, which will detail mood, atmosphere, lighting, composition, colour and texture to Art Directors (who oversee the production of technical drawings and models). As shooting begins, Production Designers will manager a large number of individuals, and will focus on the work schedule and carefully monitoring the budget. They will also be on set early each morning to view each new set up with the Director, and will be available to respond to any queries. Production Designers will usually finish work on the last day of principle photography, but on larger films they be required to be involved for longer periods.

Take a look at this video which will give you an insight into what Production Designers do day-to-day:

Key Skills

  • Good knowledge of the visual arts and production processes
  • Ability to work with others as part of a team
  • Ability to work independently
  • Confidence and ability to appoint and supervise a design team or art department
  • Ability to communicate ideas through technical drawing and model making
  • Willingness to work irregular hours
  • The capacity to manage a design project from start to finish with tight deadlines
  • Ability to manage financial budgets and keep to time schedules

Salary & Working Hours
The role of Production Designer isn’t an entry level position, and individuals entering the field will usually start out as Art Department Runners, Assistants or Set Designers. For a Production Designer, rates increase as the role becomes more senior, and at higher levels can reach over £3,000 per week. However, it is important to highlight that for a Production Designer, rates will be negotiated on an individual basis depending on your experience.

For a Production Designer, working hours can be very long and will typically include regular unsociable hours and weekend work. On top of this, you’ll be relying on contract work, and so you may have intensely busy periods followed by inactivity if there are no available projects. Working as a freelancer Production Designer will mean you have more control over your workload and can decide which contracts to accept. Despite the work being very demanding and the hours potentially being very long, the role of Production Designer is one of the most highly skilled, creatively fulfilling roles within the film industry.

How To Become a Production Designer
To become a Production Designer, a relevant degree such as those related to art and design can be useful. These include degrees such as those in fine art, graphic design, 3D design, performance design and architecture. A qualification in one of this particular areas will provide you with the opportunity to build up a portfolio, which will be extremely helpful in showcasing your talents and abilities. Furthermore, some qualifications/courses have been approved by ScreenSkills, the skills body for the creative industries – gaining an approved qualification can be useful as it will be universally recognised.

Entry without a degree is sometimes possible, but you would need a vast amount of experience and an excellent portfolio. Becoming a Production Designer without a degree would involve working up from an entry level position.

Latest Production Designer Jobs

Where Can It Take You?
Once you become a Production Designer, you will be able to continue to build up your portfolio, make contacts and will continue to gain more experience. Whilst it may take time to build that, as you become a more experienced Production Designer, you will be able to command higher rates and work on higher-profile productions.

There is also the opportunity to shift your career direction. This may be through deciding to teach foundation, degree or postgraduate courses in what you specialise in. On top of this you could move into other related careers, such as directing, or costume designing.

Become a Production Designer
If you are ready for the next step in your career, why not take a look at the latest Production Designer vacancies on our jobs board? You can view our latest vacancies here.