In television and film, the production design is the person responsible for the general aesthetic of the show. The production design often gives the audience a general feel of the time frame, the setting, and various character emotions and actions. Often, a production design is done simply to establish a certain look or feel. However, many times the production design is done with the director in mind. In films, this often takes the form of a back story, or what is known as an extended script. In other cases, it is a combination of both a back story and script.
With film and television, realism is often considered a mandatory trait. In movies, if the set looks real enough, then the characters inside of it appear to be real as well. When this is not the case, utilization or over-the-top designs are used. When this happens, it can be very difficult to tell the difference between reality and fiction. When this happens, many stylization techniques are used. Film and television designers work to achieve a level of realism where the environment is as near to the one depicted on screen as possible while still maintaining a level of stylization.
Film and television productions have become increasingly complex and technologically advanced. Film technology has evolved from VHS to DVD, from CGI to digital matte paintings, and continues to expand. Film designers have to keep up with this progression, working to produce believable environments that are aesthetically appealing and accurate in their depiction of time and space. Production designers have also added sound effects, lighting, and visual effects to increase the depth of the film and create a more dynamic experience for viewers.
There are two schools of thought in Japan where production designers and art directors work together. The traditional art direction school leans more towards computer graphics and game development. The traditional art direction school emphasizes story and characters and movie posters and art. Both methods work towards a similar end, but each is still quite different. Many believe the differences stem from a lack of communication between the two schools.
Art direction focuses more on form. This type of production design focuses on the aesthetic quality of a painting, or sculpture rather than its technical details. It can include stylization, proximity, or even the illusion of depth. Production designers typically deal with lighting and computers more. They are concerned with the accuracy and realism of a film but use computer graphics and animation to add special effects and make the film more entertaining and exciting.
Both types of production design have developed their own unique styles, influenced by the medium. Art direction uses more of a painterly approach, often hand-painting scenery and other items to create a realistic look. Production designers often prefer a more clean and technological approach. This is because they rely on computer generated images and simulations. They use stylized backgrounds, repetition, and minimalism to create an illusion of depth and realism.
Some directors prefer to go with only art direction for their movie, while others choose to hire both production designers and directors to ensure the movie is completed in the way that the director envisions it. The result is a hybrid film of artistic vision and technical implementation. Often times, the director and producers of a production design will meet one-on-one to discuss the movie and help develop the vision.
When producing a film, a director and producer must decide on a visual style before putting the film into production. Once production has started, a production designer makes the decisions about the visual style, colors, and locations. This person is a key player in deciding the success or failure of a film. As a visual artist, he or she creates the foundation and the atmosphere of a movie.