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All you need to know about a career in art direction

AIT-SAP alumnus Prashant Dubey explains the key responsibilities of an art director

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Like many other Mathematics students from small towns, after completing his class 12, Apeejay Institute of Technology-School of Architecture and Planning (AIT-SAP) alumnus Prashant Dubey moved to Delhi to prepare for IIT. However, Prashant, who was brought up in Gorakhpur, just had two callings since childhood – to become an artist and to work in the movies. Delhi gave this AIT-SAP alumnus the freedom to explore himself. “Although I was aiming to prepare for engineering, a random stroll with the sketchbook would effortlessly eat up my day. I used to go to PVR Saket to stand behind a portrait artist and observe him sketch for hours. It was my everyday ritual for a few months and one day he taught me to draw a portrait correctly.” 

He had also joined a theatre group wherein he worked as an actor on stage, did countless street plays, directed a few plays, made a few short films and assisted a film director before finally moving to Mumbai in 2015 to work as a photographer, cinematographer and editor in Bollywood.

The art director’s first work in Mumbai was with the Mumbai film festival Jio MAMI for which he designed creatives and was lucky to shoot some of the popular stars. He has also worked as a Production Design Assistant in Kedarnath. In an interview, the AIT-SAP alumnus highlights career prospects for an art director and more. Edited excerpts:

What inspired you to study architecture from Apeejay and later on pursue a career as an art director?  

By that time I already knew about the National School of Drama but the eligibility was a bachelor’s degree. And I didn’t have enough courage to go to art school. A choice between engineering and art made me choose architecture. I wanted to keep my family’s dream alive but I didn’t want to leave what I wanted to do either. I thought architecture would work best for me and them. And I am glad I chose it. Apeejay had a reputation. I had an option to go to Sushant School of Art and Architecture but I chose Apeejay.

I wanted to work as an architect, learn from the best and start my own architecture firm. My film dreams were stored safely in a superseded folder somewhere. I had no time to find it or open it. Finding a job was the priority. My first city of choice was Mumbai, I went there and gave a few interviews. Got two job offers but chose Ahmedabad instead. Those four days in Mumbai gave me a sense of belongingness. I had found the folder and felt my dreams breathing. You’ll never be ready to take the first step unless you take that first step when the universe reciprocates, it helps you mysteriously. And that’s how my life has been taking me forward. I took that step without knowing the next. I finally moved to Mumbai after three years of missing that belongingness. In all the hustle, I forgot that I am no longer a fresher. I had already added eight years to that age. Although I had a lot of experience here I was new. Starting work as an intern was not easy. My portfolio, designs and artworks helped me get my first job in the art department as an intern.

What does an art director do? What does an average day look like for you? 

The head of an Art Department is the Production Designer. Next in line comes the Art Director. But sometimes the Art Director and Production Designer are the same people. It depends upon the type and scale of the project. But for now, let’s assume that the project is a feature film and the Art Director is the head of the art department. He reads the script, discusses it with the director to know his/her vision. Following which, he/she makes a mood board/ look and feel of the entire film with the supporting visuals. It’s the first step to start the conversation with other departments like direction, camera, costume, and makeup. Alongside, a colour palette gets finalised and the art director with his team does the research and design each space according to the story, palette and mood. The team makes a presentation with a detailed prop list with references, designs, 3D drawings, models and other supporting mediums finalised by the art director. It’s then presented to the director, cinematographer and producer for further discussion. After the creative and financial approval, renting/purchasing or construction/setup starts. An average day would be around 12 hours of shift. Well, the day can be hectic, frustratingly creative, creatively challenging, annoying, unpredictable but nevertheless it’s always fun. A light day might end up with a party but a hectic one gives us sleepless nights too. 

What are the skills and personality traits an art director must possess? 

The key is he/she must be a team player. An art director should be able to convey the visual language to the team in whichever way possible. Knowledge of graphic software and sketching can come in handy when it comes to communication. Being open to ideas and feedback can enhance the result but he/she should also know when to stop. This comes with experience.

Your words of wisdom for those aspiring to become an art director?

Start from zero and never hesitate to ask. It’s because your hesitation will lead you in the wrong direction. Alongside, hone your skill and especially, work on your observation skills. Start noticing small details; it helps when you get the opportunity to prove yourself. When you visit a place, a tea stall or a mall, try to be aware of the place, notice and observe how the space functions. The character of the location. A dental clinic in a small town and a dental clinic in a city with the same walls will have different characters. Identifying those details will make you stand out in your journey.

What is the career scope for an art director in India?

Just recalled one dialogue in a twisted way, ‘Iss duniya mein jab tak cinema hai, logon ko kaam milta rahega’. Around 2000 movies are made in India every year. Then there are advertisements, digital films, web shows, television and many more. The scope is endless.

Please share three key learnings from your professional journey so far?

·  There will never be a right time to start anything. The right time starts when you start

·  Be focused, be humble and keep learning

·  Take risks; if you believe in yourself, don’t be afraid

Harshita is Assistant Editor at Apeejay newsroom. With experience in both the Media and Public Relations (PR) world, she has worked with Careers360, India Today and Value360 Communications. A learner by nature, she is a foodie, traveller and believes in having a healthy work-life balance.

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