In both film and television, the role of the Visual Arts Director is to oversee, usually in coordination with a set designer, the visible images that will be seen in the final product. Whether a studio is being used to film interior scenes or “on location” sets are being constructed utilizing actual streets and buildings (or, in the case of Westerns, desert and other remote exterior locales), the job of the Visual Arts Director is to make sure the setting for the footage to be shot represents the director’s image of how the scene should appear. Film in particular being an obviously very visual medium, how the final cut looks is an extremely important part of the production process. Such films as “Out of Africa,” “Blade Runner,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Gravity,” “The Tree of Life,” “Melancholia,” and many other visually stimulating films all owe a debt to the work of the Visual Arts Director, as well as the set designers and cinematographers. To many older directors, the transition from film to digital productions has altered – often negatively – the “look” of film. The more current of the above-listed films, however, demonstrates that the role of the art department and photographers remains as important as ever.
Television, with respect to set design and art production, is far less demanding medium than film. Whereas major film productions today can cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the average television episode costs only $1-2 million for an hour-long drama. The cost of producing an episode of a half-hour sitcom is even less, although the most popular sitcoms in which the leading actors succeed in securing higher salaries can cost considerably more. Little attention, in most regards, however, is paid to set design and art beyond establishing a relatively realistic environment, such as a hospital or police station. The demands of film production dwarf those of television.