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A Guide to Building a Successful Career as a Production Designer

Career as a Production Designer

Are you someone who can communicate your ideas through drawings? Are you creative and possess the ability to look at things differently? Are you also skilled in spatial design and know what, how and where things and objects placed would form an ambiance? Have you ever wondered who were the creative minds behind the stunning sets of films like Jodha Akbar, Baji Rao Mastani or Baahubali? If the thought of working all day long designing and planning the final looks of a certain frame excites you, then this is definitely an exciting read for you. Find out more about who the Production designers are and how to become one!

Production Designers are the head of the Art Department and in charge of making sure each shooting location is perfect, prepared, and in sync with the vision of a film. They are responsible for deciding on colors, themes, compositions, and other visual elements that work best to induce the emotions, themes, and actions of each scene using their understanding and knowledge of art and design, including color theory, lighting, and more. They work and coordinate with several artists, set designers, set decorators, costume designers, hair and make-up specialists, construction coordinators, and props masters.

Why Become a Production Designer?

Production Designers are responsible for developing and creating the final look of the shots/frames of a movie or video production which includes creating the initial idea of the storyline, building sets according to the story, fabricating costumes as per the characters, developing and planning visual effects to be used in a scene and most importantly making the story more meaningful.

Remember the stunning and picturesque shots captured in The Great Gatsby? Or the futuristic and third-world scenes from Blade Runner? Or to go back more in time when a somnambulist and a psychotic doctor filled the claustrophobic world with blood on streets and frightening geometrical shapes in The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari? Remember how grand and rich the actors and the shooting locations were in the films like Jodha Akbar and Padmavat or the representation of their majestic and luxurious life. All these and much more detailing’s are usually dealt and planned by the Production Designers. Production designers are the ones who think and decide what goes into a frame ranging from which book goes on the table to what the actor would wear. They are responsible for making and arranging the set which not only looks visually appealing but also has a touch of storytelling in them.

As a Production Designer, you would be responsible for interpreting and transforming the story, characters, and narrative themes into images that embrace architecture, decor, and the entire physical space. You would create the look and style of a movie or other visual mediums by coordinating with the director, director of photography and other creative artists in the Art Department.

Production Designers usually coordinate with screenwriters, costume designers, cinematographers, directors, and VFX experts to meet the requirements of a particular look and feel of a shot. It is a production design that creates an intriguing world and enhances the story through style, represents a period, and depicts the character in a certain light. They take care of everything from living spaces to facades, entire towns invented or sometimes built.

So what exactly does a Production Designer do and who all works with her?

A Production Designer’s ultimate goal is to translate the final impression from the script to the screen. They work and coordinate with several artists, set designers, set decorators, costume designers, hair and make-up specialists, construction coordinators, and props masters. At first, the Production Designer uses the sketches and models made by the graphic designers, storyboard artists, and concept artists to decide and plan the details about the color combinations, color themes, objects to be used, mood and time she is attempting to create. She then makes sure that the designs work with sound, lighting, special effects, and digital visual effects elements. A production designer also assists digital visual effects artists in post-production to help create computer-generated elements that blend with production and cinematography elements.

So the next time you watch a film, pause and observe the minute details that go into the background and how they affect the mood of the scene, reflect the state of the characters and articulate the important themes of the story.

All the perfect and narrative shots and frames in the movies are made possible by the artistic bend of the Production Designers who have made it possible to portray a galaxy far away, imagined and built on a stage; Gotham city brought to the screen, designed and imagined to make it a reality; or the fictional country Wakanda created by Marvel Comics, or even the altered psychological state of the characters reflected in most of Alfred Hitchcock’s films. Therefore a Production Designer is responsible for interpreting the script and bringing the director’s vision into a more artistic and stunning reality.

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What does a Production Designer do?

As a Production Designer, you would be involved in the following key roles and responsibilities:

  • You would read scripts to identify what visual style is most appropriate.
  • You would meet with the Producer and Director to discuss their views and requirements. Then, they develop a conceptual style for every aspect of the production.
  • You would be involved in day-to-day important activities such as: studying scripts and discussing ideas with the director, communicating your ideas to costume, make-up, props, and lighting designers; working out problems like lighting and scene changes; researching historical, contemporary or futuristic details to get the right look for the production; and creating effective designs within the available budget, etc.
  • You would provide sketches to communicate your concept to the Director and Art team. You would also produce scale drawings of sets, and draw up ideas for costumes, props, and make-up and may also provide ideas for special effects or graphics.
  • When working on a film or television project, you would research and scout out filming locations. You would also assess studios and public or private spaces for visual suitability and practicality.
  • Early on in the production process, you would hire an art department. Depending on the size of the production, this could be just a few people or many large teams. It may include set designers and constructors, special effects teams, props, lighting, and sound directors and costume designers.
  • You would manage the art department throughout the process, instructing them on direction and vision. You would also attend progress meetings, rehearsals, and filming, adjusting and advising on visual aspects all along the way.

How to become a Production Designer – eligibility criteria

To become a Production Designer, you can study for a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree or a Post Graduate Diploma in any of the following academic fields (remember that all these fields may not offer you courses in both undergraduate and postgraduate levels of education; some of these fields you can study after Class 11-12 with any subject as per the scheme of studies and some of these are available to you only after a bachelor’s degree:

  • Applied Art
  • Creative Production
  • Exhibition Design
  • Film and Television Production
  • Film Design & Technology
  • Film Production Design
  • Fine Arts
  • Furniture and Interior Design
  • Graphic Art
  • Installation Art
  • Interior Architecture
  • Lifestyle Accessories Design
  • Studio Art
  • Visual Arts

Job Opportunities

After completing the required education in this particular field, initially, you can start working as an Interior Designer/ Exhibition Designer and gain some experience before entering the Art department of any Film and Television company. When you begin working as an interior/ Exhibition Designer you must gain 4-5 years of experience in the art and creative field and then you can work in several projects in Film, Television or Commercial ad filmmaking agencies.

You may also start working on digital and visual designing on smaller projects initially and after having built a strong portfolio within the art department you can look for opportunities in bigger projects. After working as an Associate in the art department you can expect to work on several film and television projects where you will get to work under Production designer and Art Directors. After working in the Art Department under several roles over a long time (8-10 years), you can either start working as a freelance Production Designer or take up projects under various Film and Television companies.

You can also look for job opportunities in:

  • Film and video production companies: Reliance Big Entertainment, Yash Raj Films Pvt Ltd, Balaji Telefilms Ltd, Red Chillies Entertainment Pvt Ltd, Wizcraft International Entertainment, Dharma Productions, etc.
  • Television companies: Balaji Telefilms, Bennett, Coleman & Co. (The Times of India Group), UTV Television, Zee Telefilms, Television Eighteen India, Sony Entertainment Television, Dice Media, Buzzfeed, etc.
  • Advertising or commercial filmmaking companies: Flying Saucer, Little Red Car Films, Nirvana Films, Corcoise Films, Equinox Films, MAD Films etc.
  • You can also find production designing and art direction services providing companies like D’fine art, Set Makers, W Display, Acme Scenery Company, Art Film Group etc. where you can be a part of the art design production team under different roles.
  • You can also find work opportunities as Set designer for Awards Shows, Fashion Shows, Chat Shows, News Channels, Concerts, Reality shows, etc. and gain ample experience before becoming a Production Designer.  If you want to work independently you will need a lot of experience, say 8-10 years, working within the art department or related creative field.

Salary of a Production Designer

As an Interior/ Exhibition/ Communication Designer with an experience of around 0-1 years, initially, you will receive a low salary of around Rs.10, 000 – 22, 000 per month

As a Set designer with an experience of around 2-4 years, you can expect Rs.20,000 – 45,000 a month. Although in some cases with experience of many years as a Set designer, you may earn around Rs.50,000 or even more for even a single project.

As a concept Artist (Illustrator) with an experience of around 2-4 years, you may earn around Rs.45,000 – 50,000 per month or even more in a big-budget Bollywood or regional movie.

As an Assistant Art Director with an experience of 5-7 years, you may earn around Rs.60,000 – 85,000 per month or even more.

As an Art Director with an experience of 8-12 years, you may earn around Rs.75,000 – 1,25,000 per month or even more per month.

As a Production Designer with an experience of 13+ years, you may earn around Rs.85,000 – 2,00,000 per month or even more.

Career progression in the Production Designing profession

There are several ways through which you can progress in the Art Department of any Film and Television production house. One of the most common career progressions in any Art Department of Film & TV Production Design is as follows:

Set Design Associate/Assistant – Assistant Art Director (First Assistant, Second, Third) -Art Director – Production Designer

Production Designer is the senior-most position within the Art Department in Film and Television industry, therefore, you would initially start as an associate/ Assistant. Although it is not necessary to start your career as an Art Department assistant after completing the required education, you may also start working as a Graphic Designer or a Storyboard Artist directly and then further move up the ladder to become a Production Designer. In order to reach the topmost position within the art department you would need years of practice and experience to finally become a Production Designer.

The Indian Media and Entertainment (M&E) sector reached Rs. 1.67 trillion ($23.9 billion) in 2018, a growth of 13.4 percent, according to the EY-FICCI report A Billion Screens of Opportunity. As per the report, the M&E sector in India is expected to cross Rs2.35 trillion ($33.6 billion) by 2021, at a CAGR (Compounded Annual Growth Rate) of 11.6%. The sector will continue to grow at a rate faster than the GDP, reflecting the increasing economic growth. The road ahead in the M&E sector will attract many art enthusiasts as more Graphic designers and concept artists would be needed to cater to the rising demand in the Film and Entertainment industry.

The VFX and Post Production industry in India is expected to chart a CAGR of about 17% with revenues amounting to Rs.147.2 Billion in FY 2024. Steady growth is seen in international demand and a growing share of special effects in domestic productions, Post-Production and VFX will continue to grow over the next coming five years. Although developmental challenges like conceptual design, storytelling, and prototyping are faced by domestic creators due to the skill gaps predominant in the industry. A large percentage of Indian studios still have a high dependency on external sources. Addressing such roadblocks along the way is likely to help the industry in increasing demand.

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