Art direction might sound like a fairly vague title for filmmaking when compared to the easier-to-understand departments. Makeup, costumes, composers, and lighting technicians all seem like self-explanatory roles. When it comes to art direction, however, there’s a much wider net over this particular line of work.
The overall job of an art director is to get a hold of the look and feel of a production. In the same way that the film’s director has a handle on the acting and shooting, art directors take control of the big choices in everything else that is artistic. This includes choosing the right shooting location, deciding on the right props, choices in lighting, and so much more.
For having such heavy roles, art directors can sometimes fade too far into the background. They make sure all art departments are nailing the right look for the picture. For being such leaders in the technical aspects of filmmaking, here are some notable art directors worth remembering.
One of the most prolific names of early film art direction was the Irish-American Austin Cedric Gibbons. How prolific? Well, you know the design for the Oscars handed out at the Academy Awards? Yeah, he designed that way back in 1928. He would serve as the art director on a number of award-winning films like “Pride and Prejudice” (1940), “Gaslight” (1944), and “An American in Paris” (1951). Over his long career, Cedric would amass 39 Oscar nominations and win 11 for his art direction. His many sets have been so marvelous that they’ve not only inspired other film productions but even the very architecture of movie theaters themselves from the 1930s to the 1950s.
British-born Tom Brown has had a long and notable career in the realm of art direction and production design. During the 1980s, he took on the role of draftsman and art direction assistant on such high-profile pictures as “Octopussy”, “Legend”, and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. He continued working as an art director assistant on more films in the 1990s but would take on the role of a full art director on the epic war picture “Saving Private Ryan”. As his career continued, he would take on the role of supervising art director in movies like “Spy” (2015), “Venom: Let There Be Carnage” (2021), and “Dune” (2021). He’s currently doing art direction for the second part of Dune as well as the Willy Wonka reboot movie, “Wonka”.
Joe Bleakley might not have the largest IMDB credits for his art direction, but he has worked on some astounding films where his art direction played a heavy portion in creating fantastical worlds. His most astounding achievement was working as art director on all three Lord of the Rings movies in the early 2000s. He would help bring director Peter Jackson’s visions of books to life. Jackson must’ve been impressed enough with his work to hire him as art director for his follow-up film “King Kong” (2005). The last film he worked on was the Christmas horror fantasy “Krampus” (2015).
Hungarian-born László Rajk has done a little bit of everything. He’s been an architect, a designer, and even a political activist. For over 25 years, he specialized in being a production designer and art director on a number of films. His art direction credits include “Red Heat” (1988), “Music Box” (1989), and “The Martian” (2015). His latest work in production design has been 2021’s “Alma”. And to think he did all this after having been a part of the avant-garde movement of the 1970s, fighting for human rights and designing buildings. While his resume might not be light with art direction, his contributions are notable for his onslaught of other projects, both artistic and political.
Cover credit: The Hollywood Reporter