15 Jun Art Direction for Video on a Budget
When you watch a movie, television show or even a make-up tutorial on YouTube, how do you automatically know what time period it is? Or where in the world the story takes place?
You can tell these things by what setting the character is in: it could be the old west, on a beach, or in a child’s bedroom. But how do you instantaneously know that it is the old west, a beach or a child’s bedroom? That’s the work of the production designer.
A production designer or art director is the person on set (along with their amazing department) who make you believe that whatever studio, back-lot or vacant room the shoot actually took place at is instead a whole different world or era. They help the viewer believe the story visually.
Attention to the artistic details of what is on the walls, what is the color of the room or even wardrobe can help enhance not only the authenticity of your production but also the viewer’s response. Think about a recent commercial you watched, you may not realize this but every prop, every color, every item was placed there on purpose.
But we are here to tell you that production design and art direction are not just reserved for Hollywood. They are used (and needed) in much smaller productions too. And they CAN be budget friendly.
You don’t have to spend an arm and a leg
Production design can get pricey fast, but there are ways to keep it in line.
- Set a budget. We know this sounds obvious, but if you don’t set a budget, it’s impossible to keep the money in line with where you want it to be. The budget also allows you to determine which props or set dressings are absolutely necessary versus a ‘nice to have.’
- Shop Around. Don’t be afraid to call a few places or visit a few different stores when possible. Second-hand stores often have older furniture that may be perfect for your living room scene set in the 1990’s.
- Buy props that you can reuse. When working with a low or no budget, versatility is key! Maybe you find a cool funky chair that is perfect for that living room scene but then with a cover, it can suddenly work in the bedroom as well.
- Check your own stash of goodies. I cannot tell you how often we bring items from our desks and homes to decorate a set (especially plants!)
- Check with prop rental houses like Prop N’ Spoon and ACME Props . Yes, those exist and are super fun to visit! Honestly, you could spend hours in there finding things you never knew you needed. If you are trying to stick to a budget though, it’s probably best to just stick to a list 😉
A Real Life, Low Budget Example
In pre-production for the spots we created for Rahway Kitty Hall, we started by thinking about the space. How were we going to make this space feel appropriate to the scene for a therapist and for a patient on a minimal budget and without disturbing the space (as there are live cats everywhere!)
We took a look at their logo which is white and black with red accents. We had to figure out how to inject this color into the set while it still feeling organic. One thing we did was add furniture using their color palette as inspiration. This is a really simple way to add a little flair to your shots without breaking the bank. We also considered wardrobe, we wanted the wardrobe to feel appropriate for the character’s but also stay in line with our color theme. With these small considerations, boom! We had a set fit to shoot!
With lots of pre-planning, storyboarding and location scouting you can imagine what you want the scene to look like to plan ahead. Think about what makes the space believable and how to incorporate color and space.
Stay tuned next month when we will dig into using pyrotechnics, stunts or animals in a video!