Much is written about the enormous impact of technology in such film disciplines as cinematography and visual effects, but production design has also been hugely affected. One of the big issues these days within art departments is balancing traditional hand drafting with computer drafting.
Hand draftspeople are traditional artists who work with pencils to draw sets, bringing a production designer’s vision to life through sketches, construction blueprints and physical models. Computer draftspeople use technology to do the same thing and work with digital models that can be edited rapidly in ways that physical miniatures cannot.
Longtime set designer Scott Herbertson (“Avatar”) was a pioneer. He transitioned from hand to computer drafting in the early ’90s and considers the computer an asset that allows multiple set designers to work together more effectively, sharing files while drafting sets. “It gives the art department more control of the final look of a movie,” Herbertson says.
Computer-drafted plans also are easily shared among departments. While there’s no standard program, department heads can convert the set designer’s files for their own purposes, allowing each to work more efficiently. Though plans have always been distributed production-wide, the scanned PDF of hand drafting doesn’t allow for the same flexibility.
But while the computer may hasten the process for other departments, within the art department that isn’t always the case. If hand and computer set designers begin a job at the same time, two days in, those drafting by hand will be ahead, according to Greg Papalia, who hand-drafted sets for “War for the Planet of the Apes.”
That’s because hand draftspeople begin with construction blueprints of the proposed set, which refine the production designer’s vision and are used to obtain approval of the concept from the director and producers. Computer draftspeople, on the other hand, begin the process from a…