Pre-production Producing

What is Production Design?

Whether you’re making your first or your tenth film, it’s important to remember that there are various elements that go into making a film, ranging from budget, to themes and plots, to the visual elements of the film.

Today, we’re going to focus on production design.

According to studiobinder, ‘the goal of a production designer is to immerse you in the world they have created. That’s the magic of production design, creating the world you see and making you believe the unbelievable.’

To state it differently and more simply, production design refers to the visual elements that make up a film.

That can include the setting of the film, the props and sets required for filming, camera angles and special effects, and the costumes worn by actors.

Production design is one of the driving forces that helps ground viewers in the world of the film.

By having a strong understanding of a film’s production design, viewers can easily find themselves lost in the world of the film, feeling like they too are a character in the story they are watching before them on screen. These filmic elements help generate the world of the film by establishing a sense of time and space as well as helping to create a mood within the world.

Without these visual elements, viewers would be left relying too heavily on what the characters say while unable to connect their words with actions within a particular setting.

Production design in film is directly linked with what filmmakers called the mise en scene. That is, what viewers see in the shot.

Man with camera finding the perfect angle from which to film his actor film fund.

The mise en scene highlights the way the camera moves, the lighting in the shot, and how the actors move within the shot and what they are wearing. Many film critics believe that it is the mise en scene that creates meaning within the film; that how the director composes the shot and what viewers see encompasses the film’s meaning.

Therefore, the mise en scene is embodied by production design as it highlights those visual elements of the filmic world.

A classic example of production design in film is the world created in Back to the Future. If you haven’t seen the movie, it depicts the story of a teenage boy who goes back in time to when his parents were in high school and he struggles to find his way back home, aka, back to the future.

Just minutes into the movie, viewers are drawn into the center of town – we see a movie theatre, a dance studio, local election posters, and viewers are left with a small town feeling of nostalgia. This feeling persists throughout the film; it is a film where everybody seems to know everybody and every connection amongst characters seems to intertwine. 

The point to be made is that production design in film can stand to give viewers an immediate sense of understanding in the film’s world – though the opening scene is quite short in Back to the Future, viewers immediately know the importance of the town and are also left feeling a nostalgia that is only known in small towns.

Beginning in the late 1920s, the Academy Awards have given recognition to production design, an award that gives particular attention to the artistic direction of the film.

Most recently, David Fincher’s Mank won the award for Donald Graham Burt’s incredible work in production design. Two other prime examples of past winners are The Great Gatsby in 2013 and The Grand Budapest Hotel in 2014.

Both of these films show tremendous strides in production design, while Gadsby quite accurately portrays the 1920s through its wardrobe and sets, The Grand Budapest Hotel’s utilization of color palettes and the symmetrical design in the hotel’s main set underscore skilled work in production design.

When creating your film, it could be beneficial to work with a production designer.

Although we’ve gone over what production design is, you may be wondering exactly what does a production designer do?

Typically, the production designer and director work quite closely with one another. While the director decides what we see within the shot, it is the production designer who has a tremendous impact on what the visuals will look like before the director even has the chance to set up his or her camera.

It is the production designer who holds the responsibility for choosing what the overall look of the movie will be, including how sets look, how well lit, or not well it, the film will be, what locations will be used, and what objects and clothing will be utilized by the actors. 

As detailed prior, because the production design is linked with costuming, the production design department also tends to work closely with those in charge of wardrobe as well as hair and makeup. 

For example, a central part of the film Les Miserables is the time and place in which it is set. If you’re unfamiliar with the film, it takes place during the French Revolution, therefore, the production design most important for this film would be an accurate portrayal of nineteenth century France.

This means that when producing this film, it was imperative for the production designer to ensure appropriate attire from the nineteenth century as well as utilizing locations or creating sets that appear to be historically accurate.

Although production design is a broad concept, it is an important one when creating your film. 

If you only remember a few things about production design remember this:

  1. Production design includes the visual elements of a film and can be linked with what filmmakers call the mise en scene.
  2. Production design helps set the scene in the movie and keeps viewers grounded in the world of the film.
  3. It can be beneficial to work with a production designer who can help bring your vision to life of what you want your film to look like. 

Now that you know what production design is and are ready to start creating your own film, remember to check out our contests and our opportunities to win up to $10,000 in funding for your film!

4 thoughts on “What is Production Design?

  1. Production design..

    Where do I start looking for work in this field? I’m making a career change and need a direction to head in!!!!!
    Is there sites or companies to begin my path?

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