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Art Director (Film, Television or Stage)

Kaitohu Toi (Kiriata, Pouaka Whakaata, Whakaari rānei)

Alternative titles for this job

Art directors plan, organise and control artistic aspects of film, television or stage productions.


Pay rates for art directors vary depending on the size, length and budget of the production.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as an art director are poor due to high competition and few paid, full-time jobs.


Pay rates for art directors vary depending on the size and length of the production, the size of the team, and the budget.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

What you will do

Art directors may do some or all of the following:

  • go over the script with the director to plan what sets need to be built
  • prepare a budget for the set design and build
  • design the set
  • hire an art department team
  • build or co-ordinate the building of sets to ensure it happens on time and within budget
  • work with wardrobe and make-up departments
  • work with special effects companies or teams to design special effects
  • hire equipment such as specialised props
  • prepare a daily breakdown of the script before shooting to confirm all sets and props are complete and in working order.

Skills and knowledge

Art directors need to have:

  • an understanding of the film, television, theatre and/or commercial production process
  • knowledge of the different roles within an art department and how the department operates
  • artistic and drawing skills
  • creative building skills such as carpentry, painting, sculpting or mould-making.

Working conditions

Art directors:

  • work varying hours depending on the size, location and filming schedule of the production. It is common for art directors to work long hours that may include early mornings and weekends
  • work indoors in studios, and outdoors on location
  • may need to travel nationally and internationally to different filming locations.

What's the job really like?

Joe Bleakley

Joe Bleakley

Production Designer/Art Director

"When you're working on a film that you really like, really believe in, and really think should be made, then that's the most wonderful thing," says Joe Bleakley, who has been working in the film and television industry for around 30 years.

Creating the director's vision

"In the purest sense, the director will have a vision based around the script, and it's the job of the art director to create everything that the camera sees in line with what the director wants the film to look like."

King Kong and Lord of the Rings

Over the years Joe has worked in various roles on numerous films, including The Lord of the Rings trilogy, Perfect Strangers and the remake of King Kong. "I was an off-set art director on The Lord of the Rings and also on King Kong, so my work was focused on getting the sets ready before filming."

Getting into the industry

Joe's advice for anyone wanting to get into the art department of a film crew is to look at films and see what interests them. "There's a starting point for almost anyone, but you need to be able to define the area that you think you've got the most skills in and go for it."

Entry requirements

To become an art director you usually need to have progressed through other roles within an art department to gain the necessary skills, knowledge and experience.

A driver's licence is usually required.

A degree in film, television or theatre production may be useful – for example, a Bachelor of Design (Stage and Screen). A diploma or degree in any type of art, craft, or textiles subject may also be useful.

Secondary education

Useful secondary subjects include te reo Māori, design and visual communications, media studies, history and classical studies, history of arts,  processing technologies, music, dance and drama.

Personal requirements

Art directors need to be:

  • imaginative, creative, artistic and passionate
  • good communicators
  • good at research
  • able to lead, manage and motivate people
  • able to work well under pressure
  • well organised, with good planning and time management skills
  • adaptable, and able to multitask
  • good at budgeting and financial planning
  • patient.

Useful experience

Useful experience for art directors includes:

  • film, television or theatre production
  • any type of construction work
  • creative pursuits such as painting or sculpting.

Find out more about training

Screen Production and Development Association of NZ (SPADA)
(04) 939 6934 - -
Check out related courses

What are the chances of getting a job?

Strong competition for art director jobs

Competition for art director jobs is strong due to a limited number of opportunities.

Finding full-time, permanent jobs in the entertainment industry can be extremely difficult. Most art directors are employed on fixed-term contracts due to the production/project-based nature of the work. The location of filming can be varied, and often changes for each production. When big films are in production in New Zealand, the job market is flooded with art directors and designers, creating strong competition for openings.

Experience and networking boost chances of securing art director work

Your chances of securing work as an art director are best if you:

  • have industry experience – for example, in entry-level production jobs, such as art department runner, which can lead to an art department assistant role, and then onto a speciality area such as props buyer or set dresser
  • network and contact employers directly, as jobs often aren’t advertised
  • hire a booking agent who can help you find work
  • have a portfolio to show employers that you can reliably create sets that tell and enhance a story. 

You can increase your chances of getting entry-level production work by building your portfolio, though this work is often unpaid. You can develop your portfolio by:

  • making your own short films – for example, as part of the 48 Hours Film Competition
  • creating online video clips and web series
  • designing for amateur films and videos. 

Types of work varied

Art directors may work independently, for production companies, or for advertising agencies.

They may work on:

  • music videos
  • television productions
  • commercials
  • web-based video clips
  • short or feature films
  • documentaries
  • corporate videos
  • theatre productions including ballet and opera
  • festivals
  • concerts
  • exhibitions (such as Armageddon)
  • still shoots.


  • Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission research, 2017.
  • Riera, N, production designer, Careers Directorate – Tertiary Education Commission interview, October 2017.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

Progression and specialisations

Art directors usually specialise in film, short videos, or stage productions.

Joe Bleakley standing on a film set

Art director Joe Bleakley stands on a set he designed for the film Perfect Strangers

Last updated 12 September 2019