Along with the director and cinematographer, the production designer has the most input on the visual quality of the project. And in case you hadn’t heard, film is still mostly a visual medium. Basically, the production designer supervises anything that makes it into the frame, from the candles on a character’s shelf to what that same character is wearing in the scene. This means the production designer will make a lot of creative decisions that affect the atmosphere and mood of the project. Or, if you’re a perfectionist and micro-manager at the creative level, the production designer will offer suggestions that constantly fail to meet your expectations. At the same time, factors like time and money still come into play, so your production designer will also be realistic about what can actually be accomplished. Generally, the production designer will have some kind of a background in art or graphic design, which is sort of necessary because the production designer is also technically in charge of the art department…not to mention that cash-strapped projects probably can’t afford much of an art department besides the production designer.
So remember that whole thing about making the production look good? That’s where the art department and production design team come into play. They are the ones who will help you tell your story visually by building sets, providing props and providing the right clothes.
If the production designer outlines the creative vision, the art director actually makes it happen. Art directors carry out the technical and logistical work of the production, ensuring that the sets actually get built, props fit the specifications and costumes stay on (or come off) as needed. Again, you want someone with a strong background in the visual arts and art history, because, you know, art is literally in the job title. Of course, you may be lucky to even have an art director in the first place, so you’ll settle for a production designer with some engineering know-how and an art director who can draw a straight line with a ruler. The art director might also oversee the set designer, carpenters and props people, but if you can afford any of those, you can probably find a more than qualified art director as well.
If you have room for any other art department personnel in the department, you should also have someone for wardrobe and costumes. Again, you probably are familiar with costume designers from the credits, but if you can afford a professional costume designer, then you probably don’t need to keep reading this section. The wardrobe department – and yes, it can be a department of one – is in charge of dressing the cast for each scene. Basically, if you have any wardrobe people, you want them to understand the characters enough to know how they should dress. For example, if the main character is a musician who idolizes Kurt Cobain, you want your wardrobe department to realize ripped jeans and flannel shirts would be more appropriate than gold spandex and sequined vests.