What is Production Design and What Does a Production Designer Do? – American Film Institute
AFI Conservatory Fellows (film students) building a set on a soundstage for an AFI Conservatory short film project


What is Production Design and What Does a Production Designer Do?

What is Production Design?

Production design is the intersection of art, architecture and narrative, using space, lines, shapes, colors and patterns to form a distinct visual language to elevate on-screen stories. Often overlooked, production design has an incredible impact on how audiences feel when they watch a film or television show.

What does a Production Designer do?

Production designers, who oversee the production design, are world builders. As the head of the Art Department on a film or television show, a production designer develops the visual design concept based on the script, generates breakdowns and budgeting for the art department, presents designs to directors, finds locations and interfaces with various other department heads during pre-production and production. Throughout the process, they make meaningful and purposeful design choices so audiences are immersed in the story being told.

Who becomes a Production Designer?

Production designers come from a variety of backgrounds: architecture, theater design, fine arts, graphic arts and industrial arts. Good production design is about communication, as well as a passion for visual storytelling.

What are the career paths for Production Designers?

Graduates of the AFI Conservatory Production Design program typically choose to either work on independent films as a production designer or join a union in order to work on studio and network projects.

What is the Production Design program at the AFI Conservatory film school?

The AFI Conservatory offers a two-year MFA program in Production Design. AFI film students, known as “Fellows” at the Conservatory, collaborate on at least three narrative projects in the first year and design an entire thesis production and complete an original portfolio in their second year. Classes include learning and discussing the history and contribution of production design in film, television and new media, as well as the application of art, design and architecture to moving image storytelling. Fellows explore systematic approaches to script analysis, genre, tone, character development and historical reference as it pertains to film studies, and view research that reaches across disciplines into art and architecture for both narrative realism and symbolism.

Learn more about the Production Design master’s degree program at the AFI Conservatory film school, ranked the #1 film school.

10 Production Design Terms to Know

  1. Key frame illustration – sketches or illustrations of a key scene from a film or televison project
  2. Logline – a one- or two-sentence summary of a script
  3. Montage – a series of short shots or sequences edited together often to convey information in a short amount of time or show a passage of time
  4. Matte shot – a film or television shot in which elements of the background and/or foreground are masked so that a different image can be used in its place
  5. Dailies – raw footage from the previous day of production
  6. Sketchup – a software program used to render 3D models
  7. Set dec – short for set decoration
  8. Mise-en-scène – French for “putting on stage”; in film it refers to the setting and everything placed in front of the camera, including composition, sets, props, actors, costumes and lighting
  9. VectorWorks – software that allows users to sketch, model and design ideas in both 2D and 3D
  10. Raked

Recent Projects by AFI Conservatory Production Design Alumni

A collage of images of projects by AFI Production Design Alumni AFI Conservatory Film School

DEAD RINGERS – Erin Magill (AFI Class of 2012), Production Designer
HALLELUJAH – Esmé Jackson (Class of 2020), Production Designer
HARLEM – Javiera Varas (AFI Class of 2006), Production Designer
THE INSPECTION – Erik Louis Robert (AFI Class of 2014), Production Designer and Juli Kunke (AFI Class of 2014), Art Director
THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE RINGS OF POWER – David Moreau (AFI Class of 2006), Set Designer and Shamim Seifzadeh (AFI Class of 2013), Set Designer
OUR FLAG MEANS DEATH – Brittany Bradford (AFI Class of 2010), Art Director; Harshita Reddy (AFI Class of 2017), Assistant Art Director; Katia Nájera Viale (AFI Class of 2018), Assistant Art Director; and Randall Wilkins (AFI Class of 1984), Set Designer
PAINT – Todd Jeffery (AFI Class of 2003), production designer
PLATONIC – Theresa Guleserian (AFI Class of 2006), Production Designer
SIGNIFICANT OTHER – Priscilla Elliott (AFI Class of 2001), Production Designer
WE WERE MEANT TO – Rhea Solanki (AFI Class of 2020), Production Designer

View more projects by AFI Alumni.

Applications to attend the AFI Conservatory film school open in the Fall. Sign up here to receive all the latest news about AFI’s MFA program and other opportunities.

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