If you are a movie buff who loves analyzing films or just someone passionate about filmmaking, you must have wondered how everything in a movie feels so real. The answer is art direction.
From making viewers go back to the 70s era to the audience feeling that the scene of Titanic is actually from the actual ship, all these beautiful elements that bring life and authenticity to a film are placed by an art director in the process of art direction in films.
Remember the stunning visuals of HBO‘s top-rated series Game of Thrones? The costumes, sets, makeup, and location made it look authentic. Did you know what made it possible to create the epic world of Westeros and Essos and bring life to it?
The answer is Art Direction. Just like the name, it involves designing a film set and ensuring that it replicates the exact visualization of the whole film with consistency, authenticity, and accuracy.
Art direction in films defines the visual appearance and uniqueness of the film.
From the classic Titanic to The Aviator, it has been proven that art direction plays a vital role in filmmaking and is as essential as screenwriting, screenplay, and production.
What is art direction in films?
Managing creative processes that produce visual outputs, such as film sets during filmmaking, is called art direction for film. The process involves implementing and executing the creative intent of the film’s Production Designer and director.
If a film’s art direction is good, it will automatically give the film its unique visual identity. Whether a large-scale location or a miniature movie set at the studio, art direction involves analyzing, visualizing, and implementing little details that make a film visually authentic and appealing to the audience.
This also includes selecting the perfect locations to make the film and theme more convincing and accurate. For example, if a movie is set in the backdrop of the 90s, it is the art director’s responsibility to ensure that the sets and location remind people of the 90s.
What the actors are wearing, their hairstyles and every visual element should be designed according to the 90s. In simple words, art direction manages a film’s overall aesthetics and look.
An art designer’s job is to manage the film’s art direction process. The art directors collaborate with the production designer to create and design movies and the overall visual aspects of film production, such as managing the artists, locations, graphic elements, etc.
Art directors are responsible for the artistic and graphic design used for production on a film set. This process is called art direction.
Art directors oversee production under the production designer. Their essential job is to execute the art director’s vision of the film and bring that authenticity to the movie set through his design techniques. They are also responsible for the budget and management of artists/workers on a film set.
Who are art directors? What does an art director do?
Art directors are responsible for convincing audiences that the world created by the production designer at a film set or location is genuine. Where the film is getting shot, what’s the theme, and what’s the backdrop, everything is closely monitored and executed by the art director to make the film as authentic and natural as possible.
The critical responsibility of art directors, who closely work with the director, is to keep the art elements consistent throughout the film production and execution to ensure that the visual and pictorial representation of the settings is perfect.
Other film production crew members, like the Costume Designer, Stylist, Set Designer, graphic designers, Scenic Artist, Matte Painter, Sketch Artist, Draftsperson, Illustrator, etc., are supervised by the art director to make the film set look precisely how the director has visualized it.
By collaborating with the film directors and understanding how the sets of the film should look, an art director ensures that all the locations, along with the look and style of the artists, bring out authenticity. Art directors typically oversee set designers and assistant art directors to ensure that the film’s visual style matches the production designer’s and director’s vision.
Traits and qualities of a good art director:
Creating a film’s overall aesthetic, accurate, and authentic sensibility is difficult. From managing costumes, locations, construction of sets, and budget to executing the production designer’s vision, an art director must wear many hats during the film’s shooting.
However, these are some of the essential qualities that an art director must have:
-Artistic ability: He should be able to create delicate works of art and make the film a visual treat for viewers by distinguishing between each optical element beautifully and artistically using interesting and innovative ideas.
-In-depth knowledge of films: A good art director must have strong knowledge of films.
-A clear sense of film history: To make a great film that is visually appealing and convincing, one must have a sense of film history and understand how previous films have made an impact through different art direction techniques.
-Understand the importance of making a film aesthetically appealing: One must-have in an art director is the creative vision that makes a film a masterpiece.
-Can influence viewers through his art: A good art director knows how to use his artistic ability to influence viewers by bringing authenticity to the film sets and location.
Art direction in films: The process
The art direction process of all films, especially big-budget, large-scale films with ace actors and filmmakers, commences 6-7 months before the first shoot schedule of the film. Art directors start exploring the locations, fixing dates, setting shots, and analyzing weather conditions, labor work, and other factors that may affect the sets or area.
During the pre-production stage, the art directors are also responsible for managing and casting the animals that are a part of the film, the vehicles that are needed, and the delegation of special effects like car crashes and explosions.
They must prepare and construct the locations before the first day of the shoot and ensure that the sets look genuine and authentic.
Art Directors continue to oversee and monitor the construction, dressing and striking (dismantling) of the remaining sets and locations. After the film, it is the art director’s responsibility to clear all the bills related to the sets and locations and ensure that all locations are removed.
Hollywood movies that bagged the Academy Award for Best Art Direction:
From Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland to Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator, these films won the prestigious Academy Award for Best Art Direction:
Avatar: Renowned filmmaker James Cameron‘s Avatar, a visual treat for all the cinemagoers, won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, and the movie was praised for its impressive visuals and authentic and convincing art direction that left viewers spellbound.
The Aviator: Martin Scorsese’s epic biographical drama starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Howard Hughes, Cate Blanchett as Katharine Hepburn, and Kate Beckinsale as Ava Gardner won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction.
Black Panther: Marvel’s Black Panther also won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction for the stunning and convincing visuals of the film.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button: One of the evergreen classics and a cult film, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by David Fincher won the Academy Award for Best Art Direction, Best Makeup, and Best Visual Effects.
Here is a look at Hollywood’s most memorable movie sets:
The era of black and white films was iconic, and so were their film sets. They defined art direction and are a master class for the budding art directors in Hollywood who want to make it big in their field.
Here are 5 movies and their movie sets that changed art direction in Hollywood forever and inspired generations with their artistic methods and techniques.
Titanic: Recreating the famous RMS Titanic that sank in the north Atlantic ocean was difficult. Did you know that the art directors created a ship that was only 10 percent smaller than the real one?
Also, it was created on a vast hinge that helped it become completely perpendicular during filmmaker James Cameron’s filmmaking as it sucked in thousands and millions of gallons of ocean water into an 800-foot-wide water tank where it was placed. The film was shot in Rosarito, Mexico.
The Grand Budapest Hotel: Directed by ace Hollywood filmmaker Wes Anderson known for his visually appealing sets and unique filming locations, The Grand Budapest Hotel is a film with one of the best sets in the history of films.
To make the scenes look convincing and authentic, the art direction team transformed the sets two times- first, to film the shots set in the 1920s and then to shoot the scenes set in the backdrop of the 1960s.
Harry Potter: Did you know that more than one intricate set was used in each Harry Potter film to ensure that the iconic scenes we now love could come to life? According to statistics, more than 588 sets were built at Leavesden Studios in a decade for the Great Hall to be created.
Yes, the same place where your favorite Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson explore their magical powers. It was shot at Warner Bros. Studio Tour London and Leavesden, U.K.
Batman: Released in 1989, Tim Burton’s Batman became a cult classic not only because of top-notch actors like Michael Keaton and Jack Nicholson but also because of the other main character of the movie that stole all the limelight—Gotham City.
Famous Art Director Anton Furst, who won an Academy Award for his work in the film, took almost all of the studio’s 95-acre backlot to create the Batmobile and the Manhattan backdrop.
The Lord of the Rings: Another film that gave us a dreamy franchise and one of the biggest and best Hollywood movie sets of all time.
Production Designer Grant Major planted natural vegetables and flowers on the sets a year before the filming commenced to give it an authentic village feel. Now that’s some genuine passion and conviction. It was shot in the Waikato region of New Zealand.
It is often said that filmmaking is the art of convincing viewers that they are watching a real story. The trick is to create an illusion that will make the viewers feel that they are a part of the film and that all the elements—the characters, sets, location, and costumes- are accurate.
This art of conviction is called art direction and is as important as the movie’s screenplay, screenwriting, and filming.
If we use 3D Filmmaking, VFX, and CGI to create an illusion of another world, then art direction is the technique of creating an illusion of the actual world. Remember how hard it was to believe that Titanic was not shot on the real ship? That is what defines perfect art direction in films. To convince the audience that it is all real.