What Does a Production Designer Do?

Learn About the Salary, Required Skills, & More

A Day in the Life of a Production Designer

Emily Roberts/The Balance

Production designers are responsible for the overall look of a film or television show. They direct the art department, including set builders, guiding them through the process of turning their creative visions into reality. Production designers work closely with the director, director of photography, and producers to make sure they are in agreement on the design direction. They might accomplish this by drawing sketches or building conceptual models.

Production designers typically have a say in all aspects of the production's visual elements, including costume design, hair and makeup, lighting design, and visual effects.

Production Designer Duties & Responsibilities

This job generally requires the ability to do the following tasks:

  • Manage a large staff of artistic professionals.
  • Create and implement the overall look of a TV show or film.
  • Receive input from the directors and producers.
  • Fix problems as they arise.

Production designers must be both incredibly creative and adept at dealing with people. They rely on a large number of people to execute their design ideas, and they must be sure key people above them in the production hierarchy are on board with their plans.

Production Designer Salary

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics does not compile salary data specifically for film and television production designers. The closest job category is art director, which includes those who work on magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions. In many productions, the art director is the number two person in the art department, directly beneath the production designer; in some productions, especially small ones, the jobs are synonymous. The hourly figures are calculated based on a 40-hour workweek.

  • Median Annual Salary: $92,780 ($44.61/hour)
  • Top 10% Annual Salary: More than $172,570 ($82.97/hour)
  • Bottom 10% Annual Salary: Less than $52,160 ($25.08/hour)

The top industry for art directors is the motion picture and video industry. At $117,360, the median annual wage for those workers is significantly higher than for art directors as a whole.

Education, Training, & Certification

Production designers often have a degree in an artistic field such as television, film, theater production, or graphic design.

  • Work Experience: Production designers should be able to draw and create sculptural and architectural models on a computer and with paper and artistic materials. Experience in architectural or theatrical set design is helpful in this field.
  • Training: Production designers may work their way up from jobs such as production assistant for the art department, artist, set designer, assistant art director, and art director.

Production Designer Skills & Competencies

There are certain qualities and skills a production designer needs:

  • Imagination: Production designers are tasked with creating entire worlds for the movie or show's characters to live in.
  • Vision and follow-through: They must apply the unique look they envision throughout all aspects of the production.
  • Collaboration skills: Production designers work with many types of artistic people who, like production designers, have big ideas and maybe also big egos. They need to know when to implement other people's suggestions, when to reject them, and when to meet somewhere in the middle.

Job Outlook

The number of art directors of all types, not just film and television production designers, is expected to grow 5% from 2016 to 2026, about as fast as the average for all occupations.

Work Environment

Production designers work in TV studios and on film sets.

Work Schedule

Production designers work long hours before and while a movie or TV show is being filmed. They continue to work in post-production to make sure their vision is upheld in editing and with the addition of any visual effects.

How to Get the Job

START OUT AS AN INTERN

People who aspire to be production designers can begin their career journey as an intern while still in college.

JOIN THE GUILD

Production designers and other members of film and television art departments belong to the Art Directors Guild. The guild website, which is part of the larger labor union IATSE, provides a searchable directory that enables potential employers to find members by job title, skills, and geographical area.

WRITE A TARGETED RESUME AND COVER LETTER

Create a resume that plays up your strengths and sets you apart from other candidates. Write a short but instructive cover letter that makes potential employers eager to meet with you.

Comparing Similar Jobs

People who are interested in becoming production designers might also consider the following careers. The figures provided are median annual salaries: