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Masters of make-believe

An art director for a film or serial recreates a world set in the past, present or future. Razvin Namdarian tells more.

education Updated: May 23, 2012 12:41 IST
Razvin Namdarian

The rustic ambience of your favourite TV serial set in a village; a mind blowing disco throbbing with music and wild strobe lights in a Bollywood blockbuster… There are minds that work 24X7 when it comes to creating magical worlds in showbiz (films, TV, ads) and they’re called art directors. Meet one such man who has managed to carve out a niche for himself… Sumit Mishra’s entry into the profession was not easy, with his family objecting to his choice of career when he graduated in fine arts from Banaras Hindu University. He headed for Mumbai, because in his final year, he had decided that art direction in films was his goal.

“Mumbai is an expensive city, and I had to work with an animation company and then with advertising firms to earn enough to power my ambition,” states Mishra. His first break as an art director came in 2003 with Insaaf — the Justice, starring Dino Morea. He has done numerous television serials as well. He works with a team of assistants and workers in creating the right ambience for the story line. While the sets are completely his brainchild — he makes hand-drawn images complete with composition, colour schemes, spatial visualisation — he needs his team to supervise the ‘bringing-to-life’ of the design. When erecting a set, he works with a team of almost 100 workers, whittled down to 10 by the time shooting starts.

Asked to choose between films and serials, Mishra states, “Films give you greater creative freedom. You just need to be on the same wavelength as the director and understand the requirements of the scene. ”
An art education is essential to succeed in this profession, feels Mishra. “While studying art, we constantly gain experience by executing projects, meeting stalwarts in the field of art, consulting with our professors — all of these lay the foundation for an art director’s work. Apprenticing with an established art director will let you understand camera angles and essentially make the move from a static frame in art to a moving frame,” he explains.

A good art director needs to have clarity of composition, an understanding of the story’s dictates and, most importantly, be able to give the best results with the least costs to keep the producers happy. “Art direction should be such that the entire geography and history of the story is outlined to the viewer in a single glance,” says Mishra.

As for work opportunities, the scope is only getting better, says Riaz Ahmed, a Delhi-based art director who has worked on such films as Bandit Queen and TV serials like Tol Mol Ke Bol. “In India, there are more job opportunities than able professionals. Today, an art director can work on platforms as diverse as Freehand or 2D or 3D,” says Ahmed. “The challenge before an art director today is that he is expected to do something new. Parameters have changed. Indian movies today have international themes. An art director is required to adapt to this.”

With inputs from Pranab

What's it about
An art director works on the entire look and visual concept of a project. This may refer to coordinating the images and the text of a print ad or creating the ‘look’ of a magazine. An essential part of films, art directors work on set designs — for events and stage productions as well

Clock work
11 am: Supervise set erection, meet producers and directors
1.30 pm: Break for a meal
2.30 pm: Resume work and meetings
6 pm: Take a break again
7 pm: Spend time in research, design etc
10 pm: Calling it a day

The payoff
In films, you earn no pay during your training period. After the training, you may expect Rs 1,500 a day or per episode as an assistant. An art director earns about Rs 4 lakh per film or about Rs 5,000 per episode for a serial. In the world of advertising, a fresher could expect about Rs 10,000 a month. An advertising art director’s salary would vary as per the firm, his skill set and experience

Proficiency in software like Adobe Photoshop, Illustrator and Quark XPress
Strong visualisation skills
Good spatial sense
Good communication skills
Leadership qualities

How do I get there?
A study of graphic design, photography and drawing is essential, which can be studied in an art school. Knowledge of designing software, too, is required.
Before applying for a job, make a portfolio of sample campaigns or designs. For this, an internship with an ad agency or film production house will help a lot

Institutes & urls
Film and Television Institute of India, Pune

Asian Academy of Film & TV (AAFT), NCR

LS Raheja School of Art

Banaras Hindu University

Srishti School of Art, Design and Technology

Australian Academy of Design, Melbourne

Royal College of Art, UK

National College of Art and Design, Dublin

The Art Institute of Pittsburgh, USA

Pros & Cons
You feel a special high as you create a small universe
You constantly learn more about cultures
You merge technology with fine art
The job leaves you with little personal time
Does not pay much at the beginning

Gaining a toehold in delhi is tough

An industry insider gives a ringside view of the options available to young aspirants

What are the opportunities for someone wanting to work as an art director?
There are plenty of opportunities. There are not adequate number of capable art directors in the field. As for the options, if one knows hand printing, the knowledge will stand him in good stead. Similarly, there are options of 2D and 3D design to be implemented in full length or ad films. Whatever platform a person chooses to work, he is required to excel in it with time. Of late, I have seen that people here are not taking art direction seriously. But it is a very important component of production — be it film or anything else. It is an art director who helps people understand and even relate to a scene.

What kind of formal education does an aspirant require to become an art director?
Education is important. But if you consider my own career — I have worked in six full-length films and 60/70 serials — I am just a matriculate. I learnt on the job. But nowadays, there are many good institutes which impart coaching and people training there will certainly find themselves in an advantageous position. I fervently want youngsters taking up this profession to do something really remarkable — both setting and breaking trends.

What kind of money can a newcomer expect to earn in this profession?
If one enters the field of art direction today, he can earn anything from Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 (a month). This might go up to Rs 70,000 to Rs 80,000 in a span of six to eight years. At the entry level, one earns on the basis of one’s educational qualification. Later, one gets paid on the basis of the experience gained.

Do we have good art directors in Delhi? If not, why?
It is true that Delhi doesn’t have enough good art directors. One of the reasons may be that Delhi has no real base as far as film production goes. As of date, there are not many opportunities outside news channels here — and these do not have the kind of requirements a good full length feature film has — say, an eye for detail.

However, there is no dearth of work opportunity here.

Which is the best city to work in — from an art director’s point of view?
Mumbai. The reason is obvious. It’s the country’s film capital — our Bollywood.

What are the challenges a young aspirant faces in the profession?
The biggest challenge for a new art director working in Delhi is to find a toehold — be it a good production house, a studio or a television channel.

Secondly, he has to compete with existing players and make sure he excels. And, last but not the least, he has to ensure that he does something different, something new, to make his mark.

Interviewed by Pranab Ghosh