Art Director (Animation)

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What does an art director do?

Art directors are responsible for the visual style of the animation. They decide how the characters, props and environments are going to look and provide a basis for the rest of the art department to work from.

Art directors start by examining the script and working with the director to understand the vision for the film or TV programme. They then create their designs and determine the tone, mood and colour palettes.

The work of an art director is more specific and directive than the work of a concept artist. Art directors determine the design ‘language’ of the film, which requires them to have an understanding of what the final, on-screen image will look like and how to get there. They work with the concept artists to develop sketches and artwork that communicate the artistic vision to the rest of the crew.

Generally, art directors produce 2D designs (drawings or paintings) regardless of what the final format of the animation will be, although it’s becoming more common for early design work to be done directly and digitally in 3D. This work is presented to the director and producer and possibly to investors in the project.

Art directors are involved throughout the project up to its release, acting as a supervisor to the other artists, such as modellers, character designers and background designers. This is a job that involves a lot of communicating with people and needs strong management skills. They are responsible for ensuring all artwork is of a high quality and in keeping with the director’s vision. They are also responsible for making sure everyone in the art department stays on budget and on schedule. Art directors are sometimes employed as freelancers working on a project by project basis.

What’s an art director good at?

  • Creativity: have the artistic skill and imagination to produce original and high-quality designs
  • Leadership: have strong management skills to lead a department, be able to communicate visual ideas and be able to work as part of a team
  • Understanding animation pipelines: be able to understand what is going to be achievable further down the line on an animation production by the animation and post-production teams
  • Planning: work to a schedule and budget, be able to prioritise, remain calm under pressure
  • Communication: understand what the director wants, be able to explain ideas, give constructive feedback, have good presentation skills

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