Top Things You Should Know About Production Designers

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If you have a good eye for storytelling, as well as excellent design skills, then a career in production design might be right for you. Especially if you're lucky enough to already be an expert in draughtsmanship, architecture, interior design, cameras, and lenses—you probably found your calling.

What Does a Production Designer Do?

Production design can be a crucial element to any major creative project because the visual elements often help bring a story to life.

The production designer is responsible for the overall look of the project. She or he directs the art department and the set builders, guiding them through the process of turning their imagination and creative visions into reality. The production designer works closely with the director and the producer of a film, documentary, or television show to determine what their creative vision is in terms of the look of the production. They might accomplish this by drawing up sketches. Or, they may go so far as to build conceptual models based on the various conversations they have with the director and producer.

Their next step would be to hire the crew necessary to transform their drawings, or models, into the real deal.

Skills and Education Required

You should have basic design skills if you're thinking of entering this profession. Many of the most successful production designers have degrees in architecture or in environmental design. These aren't necessarily requirements for the job, but they can help give you a basic framework or launch pad from which to start. These credentials will also look good on your resume—especially because these are advanced degrees that require at least two additional years of education beyond obtaining a bachelors degree.

Theatrical set design is another excellent background for this position. Set design can be thought of like two or three frames of a film. In the case of a TV show, if you consider the set design for the 1960's TV hit series "Mary Tyler Moore," nearly every episode took place in just two rooms. 

Production designers also need to be very skilled communicators—not an easy task. They must be able to visually conceive a specific scene then be able to explain it in detail to those who charged with physically building it. The most creatively skilled production designer may not be articulate enough to translate visuals into words. People skills are also an absolute must for a production designer because of all the different kinds of people he or she will have to work with—from creative types to wonky engineers.

Career Advice

The best way to get started in a career as a production designer is to work for someone in this position as an apprentice or an assistant. Even being a gopher is useful if you can see the opportunity for advancement. This will allow you to get an accurate view of exactly what the job entails on a day-to-day basis as well as the irreplaceable hands-on training that will end up advancing your career. You may want to consider starting out as a production assistant in an art department to get the ground floor experience you'll need.

Or, try to get a job working on commercials, student films, or even music videos—this will lay the groundwork for taking on much larger projects. And, if all else fails, don't scoff at being an intern—even an unpaid intern. We all have to start somewhere and as long as you get solid experience and you're enhancing your resume you'll be ahead of the game.