You may have watched a film’s end credits and thought to yourself, “What is an art director in film?” After all, numerous industries, such as fashion, publishing, and advertising, have art directors. But what does that title mean in the film world? We have all the answers you need to understand this position inside and out. And after reading this, you may have a new film job you want to pursue.

What Does an Art Director Do in Film?

First, let’s define an art director in film

On smaller independent film productions, the terms “art director” and “production designer” are often used interchangeably. For larger film projects, the two are separate positions with defined roles. Knowing what is an art director in film precisely helps you know what you can expect when you first step on the set. 


What is an art director in film?

An art director is responsible for designing sets, overseeing construction workers and other artists, and playing a part in figuring out the overall aesthetic of a movie production. The art director’s role begins in pre-production. At this stage, he or she serves as a liaison between the construction crew and the production designer.

Once principal photography starts, the art director keeps the production designer in the loop about how the set has come to life. It’s during this time the art director also liaises with various other departments, including locations, property, transportation, and SFX. Art directors typically attend all production meetings since they serve directly under the production designer. 

Art Director in Film Job Description Also Includes:

  • Assigning tasks to personnel within the art department
  • Scheduling
  • Staying within the art department budget
  • Maintaining overall quality control

If you need an extra primer on understanding what art directors are in charge of, then check out this quick video. 

What is an art director in film?

Art directors wear numerous hats over the course of production. From pre-production all through filming, these professionals have a lot on their plates. 


What does an art director do in film?

Before filming starts, the director has an idea of what the film should look like. The director communicates this vision to the art department, and it’s up to the production designer and art director to see that vision come to fruition. 

These two figureheads come up with all of the design elements that eventually end up in the finished film. From props to sets, art directors oversee the development of concept art for what characters, costumes, and sets will eventually look like. 

Concept art doesn’t necessarily mean that’s how it looks in the final product. But it should give the other teams a good idea of the desired style and tone. 

Infinity War Concept Art  •  Looper

Art directors also oversee the formation of maquettes, models, and pre-visualizations. On major film productions, art directors may start working four to five months prior to filming. But the job doesn’t end just because the cameras started rolling.

Once film production begins, the art director typically takes on a more administrative role. And one of the most important roles at this point is staying within budget. 

From indie films to blockbusters, every department has a set budget. It’s up to the art director to ensure the art department doesn’t go over. As production goes on, this may entail finding cost-effective solutions to props, costumes, and set dressing. Working on a budget is tough, but it’s what separates the good art directors from the great.

Film Budget Breakdown  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Other administrative tasks involve scheduling and assigning projects to personnel. While a background in art is obviously important, art directors also need to have some business acumen to handle the array of other responsibilities. 


How to become a film art director

So you want to become an art director. You may have aspirations to become the next Cedric Gibbons (An American in Paris) or Roland Anderson (Breakfast at Tiffany’s). But in today’s age, what does it take to make it as an art director? While there are many ways to break out in this industry, here are some good guidelines for making your dream come to life. 

Art Director education requirements

When you’re in school, it’s good to get a degree in the arts, entertainment, and/or business. Many production companies tend to favor individuals who have some kind of background in art history, graphic design, still photography, painting, color theory, or sculpture. 

Color Theory in Film  •  Subscribe on YouTube

Work your way up through various roles

Art directors need to liaise with numerous people on a film set. It helps if you understand various roles and what each person within the art department needs to do. 

It’s for this reason many art directors start out as model builders, pre-visualization artists, sculptors, or scene painters. Working in these roles gives you an opportunity to hone your artistic craft. You learn the ins and outs of production design, so when you get a chance to move up, you know what each individual role requires. 

Start out on indie projects

After you get some experience under your belt, you may be ready to try your hand in the more administrative position of an art director. It’s at this point you can find indie films or web series to join and hone your craft. 

While major film productions have an art director and production designer, those roles are usually combined on indie projects due to the smaller budget and crew. Additionally, you may only have eight weeks of prep as opposed to four or five months. It’s a great way to really put your nose to the grindstone and show you have what it takes to excel as an art director. 


What is an art director salary?

Due to their seniority, art directors can make pretty good money. According to, art directors in the motion picture industry have a median wage of $121,830 annually. In advertising, the median wage was only $97,470.


Find art director jobs

56 percent of art directors are self-employed. So you’re really going to need to put your nose to the grindstone if you want to find consistent work. 

You can find art director jobs on all of the usual job-seeking forums, including Indeed and LinkedIn. However, the most useful tool you have at your disposal is networking. You need to work your way up the filmmaking ladder before you land a job as an art director. As you work on other productions, make friends with everyone. 

Continue amping up your portfolio so that you can show people what you’ve done in the past. If you do good work, then people you’ve worked with in the past will remember you and contact you in the future. 

Up Next

Discover more filmmaking roles

Even with a formal film education, it takes time to work your way up to become an art director To continue through our series of the various filmmaking roles and positions, you can explore similar jobs like grip, best boy, or gaffer. Or you can jump over to our Film Crew Index to browse the entire range of filmmaking roles. Understanding what everyone’s role on a film set is will help make you a better overall filmmaker and a more efficient crew member.

Up Next: Explore more crew positions →
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  • Mike Bedard is a graduate of UCLA. He’s a screenwriter based out of Los Angeles who’s written several short films as well as sketch comedy for various theaters around LA. He’s also written articles for sites like Cracked and Ranker.

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