5 Tips When Thinking about Production Design

Why is production design important? Whether doing a narrative or commercial film project, every detail and color in the frame helps tell your story. A lot of us are one-man bands or have small crews, so it’s important that production design doesn’t get left behind. Here are 5 tips to help you think ahead and make the project the best it can be.

1. Story: Keep the story central to every decision you make! Study the character or brand to help guide your choices, and remember small details can make a big difference. What type of production design tells the story of your characters? The type of home, dishes, couches, pillows, and wardrobe contribute to their story and personality.


2. Location:
The better your location, the more it can add to the depth of your characters’ surroundings. Think of friends’ homes, empty businesses (perhaps during off hours), churches, etc. When looking at locations, look for architecture, large furniture, paint colors, and lighting that are as close to what you need as possible. The more you can get in a location, the less you have to create or buy!

The more you can get in a location, the less you have to create or buy! Click To Tweet

3. Color: Using 2-3 main colors in your design and wardrobe can provide cohesion and direct the eye to what matters most. Create a basic color palette to give to interviewees or non-actors as a guide. When all else fails, the orange/teal tones are cinematic and pleasing to the eye! Think about the main character’s wardrobe helping the eye focus on them, and creating supporting cast wardrobe pieces that support the main character.

4. Props: Find 2-3 main props that speak to the story, and build the set around those. A large expensive bowl or vase can add pop to an image. Incorporate a few pops of color by using your key colors in flowers or textiles or the spines of books. After that, simplify! Don’t let other colors overpower or distract from the characters (unless there is a story-driven reason). When working in homes or offices, don’t be afraid to ask to use items. Always take photos before moving anything :).

5. Communication: Talk to the director ahead of time to know the shot/angles he might be getting. Always check the monitor on set and be prepared for last-minute changes. Stay closely connected to the camera department to know what pieces of design deserve the time and effort.

The production design plays a significant role in the visual design of the images.  Using these tips can help create more meaningful visuals, adding depth to the characters and the messages of the films you create.

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Sarah Burnett

Sarah Burnett

Sarah Burnett loves marketing, film producing, and project management. She graduated in 2013 from TESU with a degree in communications and worked as the marketing director for Serve India Ministries. Sarah is the integrator for the Motion University team and makes projects come to life by managing the details and timelines. She enjoys spending time with her two boys and her favorite job title is “mommy.”

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