What Does A Production Designer Do? (Skills And Salary)

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 26 January 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

A production designer is responsible for the overall aesthetic feel of a scene or story. In cinema, they play an essential role in storytelling and combine their artistic skill with technical skills and business knowledge to create visuals that give viewers a sense of time, location, action and story. Understanding the production designer's exact roles and responsibilities can help you determine if you wish to become one. In this article, we answer "What does a production designer do?," discuss the steps to become a production designer, review their primary responsibilities and key skills and explore their average salary.

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What Does A Production Designer Do?

Knowing the answer to, "What does a production designer do?" can help you decide if it is a suitable career path for you. A production designer typically plays an important part in a film project and work closely with the producer and director. They often oversee the creative, technical and administrative aspects of the project. They usually ensure that the locations, set, costumes, props, lighting, and camera angles align with the script and remain under the budget. Following are some of their primary duties:

Add creativity to a production

A production designer studies the script to determine visual styles and establish a guiding structure. They consider the budget when deciding the designs and styles that are feasible. After developing the initial concept, production designers often engage with the director and producer to discuss ideas and production specifications.

Conduct necessary research

After settling on a visual idea, a production designer creates a viable and realistic visual layout. The production designer researches the visual components they initially discussed with the director. They usually research art history, libraries and the Internet to accomplish their visual plan according to the script, especially when the film is about a non-modern era.

Work on art and design ideas

Production designers often create scale drawings or mockups of studio and theatre sets after conducting research. At this point, they may determine which components of the scene require computer-generated imaging (CGI). They also give ideas for make-up, costumes and props.

Plan the design budget

Art department costs are usually high and can quickly escalate if not managed efficiently. Production designers are accountable for keeping the innovative design within the budget and resolving problems that arise during the process. They also collaborate with the producer to ensure that the director's vision is financially feasible.

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Hire a team of professionals

Production designers hire and guide the entire art department, generally the largest department on a film set. Set designers, art directors, sound directors, illustrators, graphic designers, wardrobe supervisors, make-up artists, prop masters, special effects supervisors and others constitute the art department. Production designers typically plan the department's daily work schedule and coordinate team communication to establish the film's visual concept.

Decide locations

Production designers research filming locations and visit sites before starting a film or television project. Usually, public areas, private spaces and studios are possible filming sites. They may choose a place that is both functional and visually appropriate. Sometimes they create virtual sets if filming at actual locations is not possible.

Monitor work progress

The production designer ensures that the set, camera set-up, lighting and other components complement the visual style. They are generally on set to monitor and resolve queries that arise during the shoot and make quick decisions regarding aesthetics to continue the shoot. They often ensure that the work progress is as per the plan.

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Prepare for the next day's shoot

While the production designer supervises the day's filming on set, they also contact the art director, specifying the next day's requirements. They work closely to plan and manage the creation of visuals, which include locations, sets, lights, cameras and costumes. They usually ensure everything is in place to start the next day's shoot.

Assist during post-production

Production designers supervise the art department and assist them in organising sets and props for future sequels or reshoots. Formally, the production designer's job ends with a shoot wrap-up. After wrap-up, they also assist during post-production by providing input on things that may affect the film's aesthetic, such as CGI, visual effects and editing.

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How To Become A Production Designer?

Here are the steps you can follow to become a production designer:

1. Complete your education

After completing your schooling, you can pursue a degree or diploma course in art direction, film-making or production design at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels to become a production designer. Students can also opt for short-term production design certificate courses offline or online. The duration of production design courses is generally three months to four years, depending on the type of programme.

Some of the bachelor's degree courses you may pursue to become a production designer includes, Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA), Bachelor of Arts in fine art (BA in FA), Bachelor of Design in exhibition design, interior design, interior and space design, interior architecture or design accessory.

2. Learn relevant skills

The next step to consider is learning relevant skills and developing your design knowledge and skills. Experience with software such as Photoshop, AutoCAD, InDesign and the latest design and editing software can be helpful to become a successful production designer. Along with the latest software knowledge, you may enhance your design skills and other soft skills, including management skills, teamwork, communication skills, creativity and adaptability.

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3. Gain some experience

Working under professionals or as an assistant in the art department of any film or television company allows you to get practical experience in the domain. You may also consider working in related fields such as communication design, interior design, graphic design and gaining experience in creative design and thinking. Having some experience in the industry can also help you enhance your skills.

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4. Grow your network

Production designers usually work on a project or contract basis. They work in collaboration with various professionals, including art directors, set designers, concept artists, graphic designers, costume designers, make-up artists and other art department professionals. Having good connections in the industry may get you entry-level work or bring you some projects that can help you become a production designer.

5. Look for job opportunities

After developing your skill set and gaining enough experience in the related field, you can look for a production designer role in film and video production companies, television companies, advertising or other commercial film-making companies. You can also find opportunities to work for award or fashion shows, news channels, live or reality shows and concerts. After gaining enough experience in the art department and related creative fields, you can also opt for working independently.

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Average Salary Of A Production Designer

The national average salary of a production designer is ₹21,404 per month. They earn an average salary of ₹59,642 per month in Mumbai, Maharashtra, the highest in the entire country. There are many factors, including location and industry, that can significantly influence the average salary of a production designer.

Important Skills Of A Production Designer

Production designers can manage a design project from creation to completion. The following skills are helpful to a position in production design:

  • Visual and design skills: Production designers are responsible for overall design aspects and require design skills such as building, drawing and creating graphics and understanding of design concepts, including colour, lighting and the film history of visuals.

  • Artistic ability: Production designers require some creative skills. They often sketch, draw, paint and construct their initial concept from word to visuals.

  • CAD software: Proficiency in CAD software often enables them to provide scale drawings and models used in studio sets.

  • Financial management and budgeting: The production designer plans the visual style based on the budget that requires financial management and budgeting skills.

  • Creative thinking: The production designer's job is to visualise an entire film from words in the script. It may also involve innovative processes in problem-solving, open-mindedness and experimentation in methods.

  • Leadership: A production designer is responsible for the direction of the entire art team, determining their schedule and budgets. Strong leadership skills usually help them manage progress meetings and advise team members on their role in the visual presentation.

  • Cooperation: A production designer works with both the director's vision and the producer's budget. They often find a creative concept that tells the story and is workable.

  • Communication: The functions of a production designer require knowing how to communicate their creative concepts to others effectively and thoughtfully. They convey the methods, means, scheduling, budget and roles behind the overall guiding construct.

  • Adaptability: Production designers typically accommodate and find solutions for challenges that arise on a set while keeping the team motivated and productive.

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Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Salary figures reflect data listed on the quoted websites at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.

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