Becoming a production designer isn’t easy. It takes years of practice and hard work. But with the right tools and knowledge, anyone can do it. To help get you started Vancouver, British Columbia’s Jordan Ninkovich is sharing five steps to becoming a production designer.
Understand the Role
A production designer is responsible for the overall look of a film, television show, stage production, or other performance. This includes the set design, lighting, and costume design. A production designer works with the director to create a visual style for the piece.
Convey Mood and Tone
The production designer is responsible for creating a look that conveys the mood and tone of the piece. Decisions about colour, furniture, and set design all play a role in creating a world for the audience. For example, if you were designing a set for Romeo and Juliet, perhaps you would want to create a dark and foreboding atmosphere to reflect the story’s tragedy.
Protect Historical Accuracy
In some cases, the production designer is responsible for ensuring that the sets and costumes are accurate when the piece is set. This is especially important for period pieces or biopics. For example, if you were working on a film about the American Revolution, you would need to ensure that the costumes and set design were accurate to the late 1700s.
Create a World Within a Budget
The production designer must be able to create a look that is within the budget for the project. Jordan Ninkovich says this means deciding what can be built and what needs to be rented or borrowed. For example, if you are working on a low-budget film, you may need to get creative with your set design to stay within the budget, like using free furniture, borrowed props, or thrift shopping wardrobe pieces in Vancouver, BC.
Work With Other Departments
The production designer must work with other departments, such as the art, set, and costume departments. This often means ensuring everyone is on the same page regarding the look. For example, if you are working on a film where the set needs to be period-accurate, you will need to ensure that the art department uses appropriate colours and materials.
There isn’t a single path to becoming a production designer. However, most designers start by working in other roles in the film or television industry. Many have experience as set designers, art directors, or costume designers. Others may have experience working in architecture or interior design.
No matter what your background is, it is essential to get experience in the field. Consider working on independent films, student films, or music videos. You can also volunteer to work on local theatre productions. Wherever you start, your goal should be to gain as much industry knowledge and experience as possible.
Before designing for Hallmark, Lifetime, Fox, and other networks, Jordan Ninkovich started his career as a stage actor. This experience allowed him to understand the needs of performers and how to design a set that would enhance their work.
Find a Mentor
There is no greater way to learn about production design than with someone already doing it. Find a production designer you admire and ask if you can shadow them on a project. You will get to see firsthand how they work and their process.
Many resources are available online if you can’t find a mentor. Look for forums, podcasts, and speaking events where production designers share their knowledge. You can also read books and articles on the subject.
Build a Portfolio
Jordan Ninkovich believes your portfolio is your calling card. It is how you will show potential employers what you are capable of and is a visual expansion of your resume. When building your portfolio, include as much variety as possible. Show off your range by displaying projects of different genres, budgets, and styles.
Highlight Your Process
Portfolios can include more than just the finished look. Be sure to include sketches, mood boards, and other process materials. This will give potential employers a better idea of your creative process. Consider writing blurbs about the project to introduce potential clients to your budget and why you made the choices you did.
Keep It Up-To-Date
Your production designer journey will constantly evolve, so make sure your portfolio reflects that. As you gain more experience, update your portfolio with your latest work. This will show potential employers that you are always learning and expanding your skills.
The film industry is all about who you know. Get connected with as many people as possible, and attend as many industry events as possible. The more people you know, the more likely you will hear about job openings, Jordan Ninkovich says. You never know when one of your connections may need a production designer for their next project.
Networking can also help you meet potential mentors and find other resources to help your career. Get connected with as many people as possible, and attend as many industry events as possible. Try participating in a mix of significant events, like film festivals and conventions, and smaller events, like meetups and screenings, to get the most out of your networking.
Becoming a production designer takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work. But it can be a gratifying career if you are passionate about the film industry and willing to put in the effort. Before you know it, you could be working on Hollywood blockbusters, indie films, hit network shows, and everything in between.