Production design is a vital component in filmmaking. “Production design is the visual art and craft of cinematic storytelling.” (2002, p. 1) It is the job of the production designer, or as they’re also referred ‘the art director’, to have a clear vision in the physical representation of a narrative film world. In Jane Barwell’s book ‘Production Design: Architechts of the Screen’, she notes, “the production designer assists in bringing the script to life through a range of technical and creative choices.”
When looking at production design, as with any element of film production, we should understand the role of the production designer as part of the collaborative filmmaking process.
When concerning the modern production designer I was reminded by Laurie Ede in his book ‘British Film Design: A History’, that, “It is important to note that the modern production designer heads a large department.. The modern production designer heads a complex creative process” (2010, p. 2). I think this states that a films production design is generally not just a one man position. True, it is important to remember when talking about the role of the production designer, that production design often depends on an entire department of skilled workers all focused on finding and capturing the look of a film and maintaining verisimilitude.
In Peter Ettedgui’s book titled ‘Production design and Art Direction’, he states, “In both aesthetic and practical terms.. we can define the role of the production designer as being the architect of the illusions depicted on the screen.” (1999, p. 10). Here Ettedgui is summing up the production designer in their essence. The production designer along with the film’s Director and the film’s Director of Photography, has a job to take all the components of mise-en-scene, such as, set, props, costumes and other filmic factors such as colour and lighting and make them recognisable to an audience, whilst remaining creative in their efforts to display the narrative world in which the film is set. However, I think Ettedgui is also noting that yes a large part of a production designer’s work is based on the aesthetic; the creative and artistic side of the job, but they are also invested in the practical, which perhaps alludes to the other side of a designer’s job in which it is to allocate the budget for production design successfully and correctly, by working within the means of a production and offering the producer a practicable way of making a film whilst achieving the physical aspirations and authenticity of the narrative world they are set out to create. This claim is one that is enhanced further on in Ettedgui’s book which quotes production designer Stuart Craig OBE, “Production design is not simply a question of designing the images – one also has to design the way money and effort is expended. The designer addresses the script and the amount of money available and others the producer a viable way of making the film.”
For the purpose of this essay I will be analysing the design of two very different films, especially different in terms of scale and also poles apart when comparing them in terms of their individual art direction. The films I will be looking at are, Trainspotting and the Harry Potter Franchise. I will be hoping to display the contrast in scale of production design across those two films, which we could perhaps level as ‘The Large’, Harry Potter, and ‘The Small’, Trainspotting.
Trainspotting is a film directed by British filmmaker Danny Boyle. It was produced by Channel 4 along with small British production company Figment Films, who along with Channel 4 had previously produced Boyle’s film ‘Shallow Grave’ (1995). The film was based on the Novel of the same name, by Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh. The film was made within an estimated budge of around $3.5 million.
The Harry Potter film-series, on