Art Direction: Activity 4
Learning from the Best
How production designers operate depends in large part on the director, the budget and other practical constraints. Budgets, for example, can determine how many scenes will be shot on location.
Art departments have two main divisions. The first focuses on the drawing board, where sets are designed and blueprints produced. The second division deals with furnishings, costumes and props. The production designer oversees both divisions, although most films employ a separate costume designer. In the past, special effects, such as miniatures and matte paintings, were also in the production designer’s domain. As effects became more complicated, with computerized images and other technical innovations, independent special effects departments evolved.
For most production designers, the collaborative process begins with storyboards, sketches and models. Storyboards are drawn on panels and depict in continuity the main action of a film scene or sequence. Have your students study set sketches from Pleasantville and compare them to the final film. Then have them create their own storyboard or set sketches for a story that they have read in class. Finally, ask them to view one of the films nominated this year for art direction and analyze it in terms of how its architectural elements, set decoration and color contributed to the story.
Each year, the film industry produces an array of outstanding new releases. Some are appropriate for families, some are appealing to teens, and some are geared toward adult audiences. If you or the parents of your students feel that some, or even all, of this year’s nominees might be inappropriate for viewing by young people, you can modify this activity in several ways. They can view Academy Award nominees and Academy Award-winning films from past years to complete the exercises. A list of some past nominees and winners appears at the beginning of this teacher’s guide.