An art director is someone who is responsible for the visual style and images in magazines, newspapers, product packaging, and movie and television productions. They create the overall design and direct others who develop artwork or layouts. About 12% of art directors work for advertising and public relations firms. Others work for newspaper and magazine publishers, specialized design services firms, and the theatre, motion picture and video industries.
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An art director typically oversees the work of other designers and artists who produce images for television, film, live performances, advertisements, or video games. They determine the overall style or tone desired for each project and articulate their vision to artists who submit images, such as illustrations, graphics, photographs, charts and graphs, or stage and movie sets.
An art director will work with the art and design staff in advertising agencies, public relations firms, and book, magazine, or newspaper publishers to create designs and layouts. They also work with producers and directors of theatre, television, or movie productions to oversee set designs. Their work requires them to understand the design elements of projects, inspire other creative workers, and keep projects on budget and on time. Sometimes, they are responsible for developing the budgets and timelines.
An art director will typically do the following:
Art directors work in a variety of industries, and the type of work they do varies somewhat with the industry. However, almost all art directors set the overall artistic style and visual image to be created for each project, and oversee a staff of designers, artists, photographers, writers, or editors who are responsible for creating the individual works that collectively make up a completed product.
The following are some specifics of what art directors do in different industries:
In publishing, art directors typically oversee the page layout of newspapers and magazines. They also choose the cover art for books and periodicals. Often, this work includes web publications.
In advertising and public relations, art directors ensure that their clients’ desired message and image is conveyed to consumers. They are responsible for the overall visual aspects of an advertising or media campaign and may coordinate the work of other artistic or design staff, such as graphic designers.
In movie production, art directors collaborate with directors to determine what sets will be needed for the film and what style or look the sets should have. They hire and supervise a staff of assistant art directors or set designers to complete designs.
Art directors need at least a bachelor’s degree in an art or design subject and previous work experience. Depending on the industry, they may have worked as graphic designers, illustrators, copy editors, photographers, or in another art or design occupation before becoming art directors. To supplement their work experience in those occupations and show their ability to take on a more creative or a more managerial role, some complete a Master of Fine Arts (MFA) degree or a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree.
An art director often works for three to five years in another occupation before being selected for a position as an art director. Many art directors have a portfolio—a collection of their work that demonstrates their styles and abilities. Managers, clients, and others look at this portfolio when they are deciding whether to hire the person or contract for his or her work.
An art director must be able to listen to and speak with staff and clients to ensure that they understand employees’ ideas and clients’ desires for advertisements, publications, or movie sets. They must be able to come up with interesting and innovative ideas to develop advertising campaigns, set designs, or layout options. Art directors must be able to organize, direct, and motivate other artists. They need to articulate their visions to artists and oversee their production. Balancing competing priorities and multiple projects while meeting strict deadlines is critical for art directors.
Almost on a daily basis, I get asked, "what is it you do?" It's not a real surprise. I've spent years trying to explain to my parents what it means to be an Art Director, and if they haven't figured it out yet, why would I expect that anyone else could figure it out.
It is the Art Director's job to realize the Production Designer's creative vision for all the sets and locations that eventually give productions their unique visual identity. They work on feature films, commercials and some types of television productions.
Three leading art directors explain what the role entails and offer advice on how to become one yourself.