Production Design & Art Direction for Entertainment Media 101.

A Games Design and Animation Creative Futures Session – Work in Progress … Part 1 – What is a Production Designer/Art Director for Entertainment Media? And how does it relate to Games Design and Animation? Production Design Well, first of all lets deal with those three terms as separate entities.

All forms of media that provide Entertainment for an audience, whether that audience is a single individual or a large group: : Well in its broadest sense: Books, Comics, Animation, Television, Film, Theatre, Opera (and other musical theatre), Ballet, Outdoor Performance, Events, Attractions, Interactive (and passive) Digital Entertainment including Games, and any hybrids of the various individual elements above.

The role of the Production Designer is one usually associated with Film & Television (and by obvious association animation), but by extension has been retro-fitted (perhaps using the sometimes analogous term Art Director) to encompass earlier forms of media such as Theatre (inc Opera), and attached to newer forms such as Games and even Print Production (particularly those print products with a high visual focus, comics, children’s book ranges etc).

The Art Director is the person directly in charge of the Art Department, they may report directly to a Production Designer (in film this is often the case) or they may take on the responsibilities of the Production Designer as part of their role, or share it with a Production Manager (as is often the case in Games Design). … The next few weeks will see you take on this creative role in the development of a set of materials to promote an idea or concept for a Game. Via a mini-project we will look at three basic elements of games design; i.e. “Environment Design”, Inspirational Research, “Prop & Object Design” and “Character & Creature Design”; the value and basics of Storyboarding; and identify the difference between “atmospheric visualisation” and “practical design” sheets/model sheets. Finally we will hopefully get to have a look at your portfolios and look at identifying and addressing any gaps or “problem areas” you feel you might have. … For the most part all these design and visualisation skills will fall loosely under the umbrella of  what we will call “Production Design” or “Art Direction”, which may for some of you even include some elements of Product Design*, Graphic Design and even Fashion (or more accurately, Costume Design). The majority of these skills we hope to develop in these sessions will be what are called “transferable skills”, ie. Skills that can be put into practice in a number of potential employment/vocational/artistic situations and not just the area you are studying. *NOTE: There is a difference between Production Design and Product Design.

1 – What do Production Designers and Art Directors do? Following the increasing vision and visual demands of film makers in Hollywood this creative role developed from simply a craft based artist role in the early days of cinema into a major element of the production. The role has had various titles associated with it from the early days of Scenography (the designer of scenes) Art Director (the director of the Art) to Production Designer, a term coined by William Cameron Menzies, the designer of the sets of early American epic, Gone With The Wind.

“[In film], Production Designers are major heads of department, and are responsible for the entire Art Department. [They] play a crucial role in helping Directors to achieve the film’s visual requirements, and in providing Producers with carefully calculated schedules which offer viable ways of making films within agreed budgets and specified periods of time. Filming locations may range from an orderly Victorian parlour, to a late-night café, to the interior of an alien space ship. The look of a set or location is vital in drawing the audience into the story, and is an essential element in making a film convincing and evocative. A great deal of work and imagination goes into constructing an appropriate backdrop to any story, and into selecting or constructing appropriate locations and/or sets. [Along with] Directors of Photography they are largely responsible for informing and realising the Director’s vision. Production Designers begin work at the very early stages of pre-production and are requested by the Director and/or Producer. They work on a freelance basis, and may have to prepare detailed drawings and specifications in order to pitch for work on a number of productions before they are offered work on one of them. Although the work can be very demanding and the hours long, this is one of the most highly skilled, creatively fulfilling roles within the film industry.”

A quoted from Skillset – Full Article Here

Some images:

Check out this link to the Blade Runner Sketchbook, 1982.

The same job is performed to some degree in Museums, Theme Parks and Visitor Attraction design, occasionally under slightly different titles, ie set designer, art director (again), and project-designer,

…and of course by YOU, as student Games Designers & Animators.

In a nutshell the role sees you managing the CREATION of AN OVERALL VISUAL CONCEPT (and the methods of production and delivery of that concept).

2 – So, What should I know? Attention to detail is what gives any design the edge it needs to be fully engaging, but without an overarching concept to hang it on, detail can end up meaning nothing… and a broad interest range and general knowledge across a range of subjects – see notes on the development of a Personal Micro Culture as discussed in a previous session. You have to know/learn a great deal about areas and subjects that will influence the overall design and aesthetics of the media you are producing, some of these may not be familiar to you at first: areas such as Science, Social History, Costume, Historical Cultures, Geography, Literature & Poetry, the History of Art and Design, Graphics etc. Danti Ferretti, a world renowned Production Designer and Art Director for film discusses what he believes to be the most important assets for working in this field >HERE< Once the concept behind the product is decided, Production Designers/Art Directors usually appoint and manage an art department, which includes a design and construction team (this will also be you in this case). Check out the art department at Pixar >HERE< Typical work activities of a Production Designer with the aid of their art department include:

  • clarifying the brief (which may be written or oral) and timescale, in film this would be done with the Producer and the Director.

After this, work activities might then include:

  • reading scripts to identify factors indicating a particular visual style;
  • meeting the producer and director to discuss concepts and production requirements;
  • researching art history, background politics and historical information and producing design ideas;
  • planning and monitoring the design budget;
  • providing scale drawings or models for studio or theatre sets;
  • producing design ideas for costumes, wigs, props, special effects, make-up, and graphics;
  • identifying and assessing potential studios and locations;
  • sourcing appropriate materials and researching effects;
  • presenting ideas to others involved in the production, such as actors and camera operators;
  • researching, estimating and preparing a property (props) list;
  • hiring and managing an art department team or teams (depending on the size of the production);
  • instructing the set construction company/individuals, scenic artists and special effects specialists, and monitoring their work;
  • liaising with the costume designer, director of photography (cinematography), and props, lighting and sound directors;
  • attending progress meetings and being present during rehearsals and at filming to advise on visual presentation.

All of the tasks highlighted could easily apply to you as Games Designers and Animators, especially in your present role as lead designers on your own projects. This isn’t an easy task/role (or more accurately, set of roles). As intimated, you will have to change hats on a regular basis during this process. Some hats you may have to consider wearing:

Concept Art Venn - Version 001

  • Automotive Designer (especially in SF/Fantasy settings)
  • Costume Designer (particularly exacting in period, historical or genre peices, SF/Fantasy, Horror etc.)
  • Actor (you will no doubt be having to make your characters perform, no software will replace your inate ability to mimic life an imbue your creations with observed behavior)
  • Landscape Gardener (both large and small, suburban landscaping through to the more god/mother nature like landscaping that produces volcanoes and other natural phenomena)
  • Product Designer (technology items, furniture, all and every ergonomically designed feature of your production)
  • Blacksmith (medieval and earlier weapons and construction)
  • Military/Weapons Systems Designer (guns, tanks, helicopter-gunships, laser fitted CCTV cameras etc.)
  • Interior Decorator (how different types of people chose to live, the difference between a mansion owned by Hollywood actors, and a house on a council estate rented by a large family with a hotel chambermaid as the breadwinner)
  • Historian (social and cultural history impacts on the present, but can also be used to predict the future)
  • World Traveller/Geographer (a little knowledge about the world and the people within its various climates and environmental and social phenomena etc)
  • Triage Doctor (Games Students in particular – in “triple A” shoot ’em ups etc, what type of damage will you be inflicting on your characters and NPCs? Whether they are zombies or space-marines)
  • Hair Stylist (not everyone has a crew-cut or straight long hair, take a look around you)
  • Graphic Designer – (We’ll look at this area in a separate Monday session – there is a lot in this section to go over)


  • Choreographer (not just dance, fighting, and how people actually move)

to name but a few. …and perhaps even at a this level (i.e. students who are auteurs for the most part)

  • Sound Designer and Foley Artist (the more “ownership” you want over your creations the more you will have to develop your own content, eventually, downloading “sound effects for SF animation volume IV, that you found on the third Google page you looked at will simple just not cut it, experiment now).

Of course as discussed in previous sessions, there are some skill sets that will help in your immersion in this field, both in the development of ideas, and (particularly important) the communication of those ideas to third parties, clients, art directors, design team, production managers etc. Skill sets – Solid Drawing (including but not limited to: perspective drawing, rendering 3D imagery). Quick Rendering of Colour Concepts. 3D skills – Traditional and Digital (model and maquette making). …and above all of these of course, Observing the Real World and translating it into your work in a way that Suspends the Audiences Disbelief! REMEMBER – As a Production Designer/Art Director, the biggest compliment you can be paid is to be ignored as the audience is engrossed and immersed in the narrative or interaction.So, For Next Week… Take a look at the brief below and start to make rough notes (with thumbnail images if necessary) in your Day Books… ready to start next session.  The Mini-brief: ADAPTATION – CREATIVE FUTURES You are to consider a new idea for a computer Game or Animation. This game/animation should be based on an existing concept from another media. This “origin product” could be a story, novel, or an original performance event, opera, stage play, song (or album concept), historic event or myth, radio-play, film (live action) or other media product, any of which will be considered in consultation with your tutors/staff). But NOT an existing computer game if you are a games designer, and not an existing animation, if you are an animator – and for the purposes of clarity and diversification of personal interest areas, it is NOT to be based on an Anime or a Manga source material (sorry). You are then to develop a single sentence or short paragraph pitch that explains your concept. For example… i.e “It is an animated TV series based on Moby Dick, but set in the future with the whale as a rogue AI research vessel.” Or : “It is a game based upon the story/myth of Gilgamesh, in which you play Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s hero sidekick, and have to keep him in check on your monster/god/goddess fighting adventures in the ancient Mesopotamian world through which they travel.” You should clearly consider the “genre” of your product (Horror, Fantasy, Humourous, Urban Contemporary etc) as this will effect your subsequent design choices. Think about an Environment, interior or exterior, and Objects or Props that sit within in it, but could be carried out of it or moved in some way (this includes vehicles). Then consider a Character – hero or villain, avatar or non-player character, human(iod) or creature that might move within the space and perhaps move or pick up some of the objects. We will be tackling each of these elements in turn over the next 6 weeks. You will begin to research and make notes in your “sketchbook/day-book (traditional or digital, or upload them to your blog)”; these development ideas will be part of your submission. You will need to research the idea, story or theme taken from your existing media product in order to understand fully the various elements that will need to be adapted or designed. Thinking a great deal about environments, props and objects, scene development, and characters. You also may wish to explore and research existing or prior examples of such adaptations from one media to another that you feel have been successful and alternatively any you feel have failed, making notes and visuals to support your opinions in your “day books” and blogs.

To reiterate, as you develop your single sentence pitch, it is worth you thinking ahead to the fact we will be looking at: Environment Design. Including:

  • Interiors (inc Offices, Corridors, Science Labs, Hangars/warehouses, Flight Decks etc)
  • Exteriors (inc Architecture, Urban Planning, Landscapes and Natural Forms and Phenomena etc.)

Objects & Prop Design. Including: Furniture

  •             Boxes/Containers
  •             Weapons
  •             Tools
  •             Instruments
  •             Vehicles/transportation

and Character and Creature Design. Including:

  • Humanoid Characters & Costume Design
  •             Creatures
  •             Robots & Mecha

These choices will (over the next few sessions) come together into one or more finished visuals depicting a particular scene(s) or atmosphere from your game idea, thereby beginning the materials you might use as part of a pitch. …but for next week consider only your overall concept of your game idea and not this finished concept image. … Remember, this work is the beginning of your preparation to eventually create your personal industry facing showreels and promo materials. Games Designers may want to take a look at >THIS<

~ by hesir on November 6, 2013.

7 Responses to “Production Design & Art Direction for Entertainment Media 101.”

  1. […] Below is a exert from the mini brief, this outlines the basic requirement for the brief. Anyone wishing to see the full brief can click on this link > […]

  2. […] session follows on from the Environments 101 and Production Design 101 sessions ran as part of Creative […]

  3. […] session with Yr 1 Games and Animation Degree students revolved around discussions relating to a specific “hat” you may have to wear as a production designer/a… when designing games, animation or other entertainment media […]

  4. […] Below is a exert from the mini brief, this outlines the basic requirement for the brief. Anyone wishing to see the full brief can click on this link > […]

  5. […] […]

  6. […] Seminar link: […]

  7. […] Session currently follows on from a session looking at the wider role of production design and the Production Designer (and related or comparable roles, Art Director etc) in the development of Entertainment Media […]

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