What is an Art Director

What is an Art Director and what is their role on set?

Art Directors are responsible for a wide range of production projects specifically related to the artistic design of the film. They act as project managers for the Art Department ensuring that the Production Designer’s creative vision for each location and film set is carried out in a timely manner. The Art Director will help to add visual identity to the film as they are responsible for the Art Department budget and schedule of work to ensure the set and location is prepared ahead of schedule. The work with the Production Designer to maximize the use of funds allocated to the department so that all creatives can be appropriately carried out.

Art Directors are generally requested freelance by the Production Designer and become responsible for the Assistant Art Director as well as the Draughtsman for the film. Large productions may have as many as 20 or more Draughtsman whereas smaller productions may have just a few. The Art Director is also responsible for the appropriate construction personnel that come together to ensure location and set are built to specification of the director and the art department. As such, Art Directors are responsible for finding practical solutions to various creative problems while maintaining consistency with budget and skill.

Art Director


Art Directors are found working on television drama sets, commercials and major film productions. The job is highly demanding, the hours are long, but the creative aspect tends to prove quite rewarding for those involved. Art Directors are often required to work on location, away from home, so travel is a must.

Art Director Job

Art Directors may begin their work up to 6 months prior to the shooting of the film on big budget films. Smaller budget films may call in the Art Director in as little as 8 weeks before the initial shoot. They are required to develop an appropriate art and creative schedule that includes delivering work for sets in precise order of the scenes to be shot. Art Directors oversee the preparation of the sets and analysis of the script for identification of any necessary props or special needs items that require longer lead times several weeks before the initial production.


During pre-production, Art Directors secure a team of draughtsman to draw up plans for various sets and locations to be used by the Art Director and the Construction team. The time leading up to the production filming is very busy for the Art Director who must maintain patience while working under immense pressure and on a tight budget.

Large scale productions include weekly meetings between the accountant and the Art Director in which troubleshooting and staying within cost with effective solutions becomes a major part of the role. Here they also work to provide practical answers to construction while solving creative problems that arise in set decoration, location preparation and various other creatives. Art directors must commission all Special Effects personnel, vehicles, and animal casting for the film. If there’s a crash or explosion, the Art Director is responsible for securing the necessary resources to make it happen. If there are animals on set or a horse and buggy carrying people, the Art Director is responsible for securing and scheduling this too.


When the film date approaches, the Art Director will liaise with the Location Manager to determine when locations can be appropriately prepared and dressed. Art Directors continue to work during the filming to ensure that construction, dressing, and striking of the sets takes place on schedule. When the film wraps up, the Art Director is responsible for ensuring the sets are struck and locations cleared. The also finalize any outstanding art department bills at this time.

Essential Duties and Skills

Art directors must possess the following essential skills:

  • An eye for detail.
  • Keep sense of decoration.
  • Ability to visualize ideas.
  • Ability to think visually and to share ideas.
  • Team leadership.
  • Communication skills.
  • Ability to coordinate with others.
  • Strong working knowledge of health and safety practices.

Alex Killian does an awesome job showing off the impact of an Art Director in this video:



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