Production design

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The Design is the conscious rendered world of film , as it were the backdrop of history, their room for maneuver. The creators of the scene image are as Production Designer ( English production designer called). The term "scenography" has been used in the German language since 1918. In terms of theater productions the professional image of the corresponding stage designer ( English Stage Designer ).

Examples of scenographic work
Production design for a set for the film Ainoa , room simulation
Floor plan of the set
Color and surface scheme for the set
The completed set


In German-speaking countries, the terms film architect , outfitter , scenographer and art director are sometimes used synonymously for the job title of production designer . However, a distinction must be made between the terms.

The film architects, for example, are mostly understood as part of the set design and are therefore primarily concerned with the buildings, similar to the job description of the art director in English-speaking countries. This contrasts with the opinion of the SFK ( Association of Production Designers, Film Architects and Costume Designers ), which sees film architecture and production design as one and the same job title. In German-speaking countries, the duties of an art director are sometimes performed by the assistant set designer (seldom also called equipment assistant ).

The title of outfitter , which is still frequently used, especially in Austria, is rejected by many production designers because it strongly reminds them of outfitting (as with men's outfitters ); however, the job of the production designer goes far beyond the mere furnishing of rooms. In addition to directing and camera work, the work of the production designer contributes significantly to the appearance of a film. The title of scenographer was used in the GDR for the same job description as that of set designer and is still used occasionally today. However, it can easily lead to misunderstandings because today it actually describes and summarizes various professions that all have in common with the spatial-dramaturgical design of a place, for example for exhibitions (in museums or similar institutions), installations in public spaces, stage sets or trade fair stands.

The English wording Production Designed By ( German Design of production ) was first in 1939 with Gone with the Wind used to the excellent work of William Cameron Menzies to appreciate in the design and production of the film. The title of Production Designer is protected in the United States and must be applied for from the American Art Directors Guild , IATSE 800 prior to use by producers as an award.


The creation of the scene is very much related to the creation of the medium of film, but has a precursor in the scenic design of a magic lantern . These pre-industrial projectors initially worked with hand-painted pictures on glass plates, so-called lantern pictures, which told short stories by lining up picture series (similar to a slide show). With the invention of photography in the first half of the 19th century, this medium developed further. The hand-painted pictures gradually disappeared and were replaced by photographic glass slides.

In Victorian Great Britain between 1874 and 1914, James Bamforth distinguished himself as a producer of such picture series. In the beginning the pictures were simple black and white photographs, but they were soon replaced by hand-colored pictures. The recordings themselves were also manipulated. If you used simple landscape shots or photographed theater brochures (backdrops) at the beginning, these were soon made especially for the production of the photos and the backdrops were supplemented by scenery and props.

From here one can de facto begin to speak of a designed scene. For the viewer, the landscapes, buildings and props lacked any materiality and yet they were important for the story. They were not the mere background for a fictional plot, but an integral part of it.

The job description of the production designer only really developed as an independent profession when the medium of film emerged. In the beginning, the tried and tested theater techniques were used. Painted backdrops and backgrounds made of paper mache and plywood and the static camera work remind us today more of a filmed theater performance than a well-composed film. Here, Georges Méliès' work The Journey to the Moon from 1902 should be mentioned as an example. The set designer and film historian Léon Barsacq names 1908 as the key year for the development of production design. Movement made the camera an invisible actor in the film, and theatrical, painted backdrops became obsolete. Three-dimensional sets were needed to create a realistic illusion. Early examples of spectacular scenery can be found in films such as Cabiria (1914), Intolerance (1916), The Ten Commandments (1923) and Metropolis (1927).

During the heyday of the studio system , films were mostly made in the studio and the set designers had to create a wide variety of city scenarios through their set structures. With the advent of color film, production designers were given new ways of expression. In 1939, William Cameron Menzies was the first artist in his line of work to receive a credit in the film credits for his work on Gone With the Wind , in which he meticulously planned all scenes using storyboards . The Italian Neorealism and later the Nouvelle Vague and New Hollywood caused a temporary decline in the elaborate art of production due to their frequent restriction to real locations.

The first set designers were set designers and architects and accordingly the first representatives of this guild oriented themselves to their previous possibilities in terms of design, division of labor and technology. Over time, however, this synthesis of architecture and stage design developed into an independent professional profile by consistently adopting the new medium and its possibilities and inventing more and more technology to make the cinematic illusion appear more and more perfect and thus more believable.

Today, films like Final Fantasy: The Powers in You (2001, directed by Hironobu Sakaguchi, Moto Sakakibara, set design: Mauro Borelli) can be produced in which not a single motif was actually found or produced, the entire scene was created on the computer. Production designers today not only work in the run-up to a film production, but are also significantly involved in the post-production of a film through the use of CGI . Computer animation , i.e. virtual architecture , is increasingly taking the place of actually built film architecture. For the film consumer, the difference is often hardly noticeable, the image on the screen or on the screen is a kind of virtual reality anyway .

Areas of responsibility

Production designers are responsible for the overall design of a film world, in terms of content, artistic, technical and financial aspects. Your work begins by reading the script and familiarizing yourself with a story. The locations of a film described in the scripts have to be checked for their suitability, some do not create a special atmosphere in the film, some seem too old-fashioned or too clichéd, other locations would be confusing and not necessarily contribute to the story.

"After all, a film would be naked without the decor ."

- Helmut Weihsmann : Built Illusions - Architecture in Film

Production designers develop the appearance of a film, they define the milieu: ultra-modern, chic world, 1970s terraced housing estate, historical with little castles in the park, a ruined industrial district. You develop spatial concepts and thus the effect of certain scenes: huge, cramped, confusing, frightening, splendid, etc. You develop color concepts to "clean up" the spaces for action and create certain moods (heavy, overwhelming, light, lively, playful, etc.) to increase or to withdraw at certain times.

Production designers start their work months or years before the rest of the staff, they do research, they create a film world on the drawing board, they look for locations with location scouts or assistants, they redesign locations, they calculate the costs of implementing the production design and discuss them Financeability of projects with production. In technically more complex projects, they are often used together with stunt and SFX specialists for advice on preliminary calculations and project developments.

The principal point of contact for all content and artistic questions is the director . In the immediate preparation for shooting, the look, color concept and image details are coordinated with the cameraman and costume designer , and the production design is implemented together with the art department .

In the German-speaking area, the same consists of the set designer, the assistants, one or more external props , one or more interior props (see prop master ), as well as the construction team under the direction of the set designer. The hierarchy in the US trade union system leads to the division of labor down to the smallest detail: The production designer is responsible for film architects (art directors) , assistants (assistant production designers & assistant art directors) , stage builders (leadman) , set decorators (set decorators) and props (Property Master) each with its own budget authority. The set decorators, in turn, report set dressers and on-set dressers .


Since 1991 there have been academic courses of study at universities for the training of production designers, the German Association leads some training centers. In addition, there is also the possibility of further training. The advanced training course in production design / costume design also qualifies people for related areas such as shows, event equipment and musical equipment.

In Austria and Switzerland there are still no relevant training opportunities. Production designers still come from various disciplines, including architecture ( Hans Poelzig , Ken Adam ), stage design or painting ( Alexandre Trauner ), learning by doing is the motto.

In addition to a completed initial training, the additional requirements for the field of production design are: proven experience as a set designer / assistant in the theater sector or proven architecture or interior design studies. And for the field of costume design: proven experience as a costume designer / assistant in the theater sector or a degree in fashion design.

Well-known production designers (selection)

See also


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