In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Art, Set, and Production Design

  • Introduction
  • Reference
  • Guides
  • Manuscript Collections
  • Journals
  • Data Sources
  • History
  • Architecture and Film Design
  • Individual Artists
  • Interviews/Conversations
  • Silent Cinema
  • American Cinema
  • Individual Filmmakers
  • Individual American Films
  • International
  • Opera Film
  • Criticism/Theory
  • Television

Cinema and Media Studies Art, Set, and Production Design
Lucy Fischer
  • LAST REVIEWED: 15 August 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 May 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791286-0151


Within cinema discourse, the terms art direction, production design, and set direction are interrelated, although the first two would seem to have a broader purview. According to Cathy Whitlock, within the American context, the term production designer was first applied to William Cameron Menzies for his work on Gone with the Wind in 1939, but it did not become a popular one until after the studio era (Whitlock 2010, p. xii, cited under American Cinema). Historically, it was not until 1924 that sixty-three of the top individuals pursuing these crafts in the United States formed the Cinemagundi Club, a social and networking organization. The first Academy Awards for art direction (in 1927–1928) were given to Rochus Gliese for Sunrise, William Cameron Menzies for The Dove and Tempest, and Harry Oliver for 7th Heaven. The rank of “supervising art director” was first given to Cedric Gibbons at MGM and Hans Dreier at Paramount (Whitlock 2010, p. xii). In 1937, the group was transformed into the Society of Motion Picture Art Directors. In 2000, television was added to the organization’s scope and it became the Art Directors Guild. Then, in 2003, the purview of the group was made even broader as it also included scenic, title, and graphic art. In Europe, similar groups have been formed (e.g., British Film Designers Guild, Russian Guild of Artists in Cinema and Television, Association of Stage Designers, Film Architects, and Costume Designers in Europe, and l’Association des Chefs Décorateurs de Cinéma in France). European art direction (especially in France, Germany, and Russia) has been in the forefront of film design and, historically, a great crossover has existed between European and American film scenes, with production designers such as Hans Dreier, Rochus Gliese, Edgar Ulmer, and Erté working in Hollywood. In general, notions of production design or art direction can involve the following things: set design, painting, decoration, construction, and budgeting; the incorporation of locations into the overall “look” of a film; decisions about the tone and color of a work’s cinematograph; and special effects. The craft’s purpose is to produce an overall pictorial “vision” for the film.


Encyclopedic reference volumes are available concerning international art directors in film. Stephens 1998 provides filmographies, biographies, and a bibliography.

  • Stephens, Michael L. Art Directors in Cinema: A Worldwide Biographical Dictionary. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1998.

    Entries on international art directors consist of selected filmographies and biographical summaries. The volume ends with a bibliography of useful books and articles on the subject.

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