Notes on Production Design & Art Direction

Whereas this is more important for smaller, independent films than for big budget studio projects, as a foundational aspect of film it is important for any level of production.

In the simplest of terms Production Design encompasses all the design that goes into a movie as developed in pre-production. A top-tier “cabinet position” on any film set, the Production Designer oversees all aspects of wardrobe, set design, props, character concepts, etc.

The Art Director reports to the Production Designer, runs the art department and is largely responsible for on-set tucks and tweaks, variations and content for frame.

The most important aspects of production design is depth, layer, nuance and negative space.


Unless you are purposefully going for a flat, two-dimensional sitcom look, your production design must have depth. Distance is always the first victim of production design, and that is true for virtually every film of any level.  Why? It’s expensive.

If you have money you really have no excuse. If you don’t, you must find an innovative designer to address the background. The deeper the set is in reality, the deeper it will appear (and more importantly, feel) on camera, and the more options your director has.


Things on top of things. Like sedimentary rock, things accumulate, both above and before.  Even if your set is deep, it can still feel thin or sparse. Unless that is the look you are going for, it is better to go for density.   Pile as much stuff (artfully, as always) up as your crew will permit. Layers of objects create history, get weight to a scene, and if done properly, will enrich the scene with colors, varying sizes and shapes, and most importantly—texture.

Texture is always relegated to color, but it is an immediate second with regard to its ability to convey the feel of the scene.


A step-child of layering, nuance puts small things in small places. Subtlety—the odd thing that is just hanging on the wall, or set on the table behind the candle.

Negative Space

The exception to everything above is negative space. Sometimes silence says volumes. Learn what it is, how and when to use it, and enjoy the power of absence for mood, tone and design.


~ by David Jetre on November 22, 2008.

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