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  • Writer's pictureBryony Neylan-Francis

Further Reading: Books for Art Department

Updated: Feb 23, 2020

While writing my last blog post I got thinking about how ironic it is that books are invaluable to those of us working in film, an industry often associated with the use of technological advances. Obviously technology has aided us greatly in telling stories, but when it comes to educating ourselves to better tell those stories, nothing beats a good book.

However, as freelancers we don't always have the budget for buying endless books. So here are some gems that are worth the money. If you're at university, take full advantage of reading everything your library has to offer - you'll miss it when it's gone; I even took the long drive back to my university just to read the specialist books.

If It’s Purple, Someone’s Gonna Die: The Power of Color in Visual Storytelling

By Patti Bellantoni Paperback: 276 pages ISBN-13: 978-0240806884

We'll start with my personal favourite, mentioned in the previous blog post. Guided by her twenty-five years of research on the effects of colour on behaviour, Bellantoni has grouped more than 60 films under the spheres of influence of six major colours, each of which triggers specific emotional states; films with a dominant red influence have themes and characters that are powerful, lusty, defiant, anxious, angry, or romantic, and she then goes on to discuss specific films as examples. She explores each film, describing how, why, and where a colour influences emotions, both in the characters on screen and in the audience. Each colour section begins with an illustrated page that includes examples, anecdotes, and tips for using or avoiding that particular colour.

Vision: Color and Composition For Film

By Santan Suryavanshi Hardcover: 240 pages ISBN-13: 978-1786272201

Featuring hundreds of carefully hand-crafted illustrations as well as significant tuition on how to best compose and use images to create the most powerful frames, this book is potentially Hans P. Bacher’s life’s work encapsulated in one volume. Here, the internationally renowned production designer shares his expertise in an easy-to-follow and imaginative way – giving tips, exercises, and a depth of knowledge garnered from a lifetime in the industry. Bacher’s production designs have established the look of many seminal animated films such as The Lion King, Balto, Mulan and Beauty and the Beast, so fans of his work will be delighted. While keeping the focus on storytelling, Bacher instructs readers in the art of animated cinematography with the ever-present aim of soliciting an emotional response from the audience.

Production Design For Screen: Visual Storytelling in Film and Television

By: Jane Barnwell Paperback: 224 pages ISBN-13: 978-1472580672

Jane Barnwell is an excellent author who can really teach you a lot. This book offers a new methodology for evaluating the designer’s work on screen through five categories of analysis: space, interiors and exteriors, light, colour and set decorating. All of which combine to create the visual concept evident in the final screen image and together provide a model for the analysis of production design. Seven case studies, developed from exclusive interviews with world-renowned designers, reveal the concepts behind some of the most engaging imagery on screen and establish a dialogue around the shared language of visual storytelling.

Production Design: Architects of the Screen

By Jane Barnwell Paperback: 144 pages ISBN-13: 978-1903364550

So good she has two books on this list - this one explores the role of the production designer through a historical overview that maps out landmark film and television designs. From the familiar environs of the soap opera to the elaborate and disorientating Velvet Goldmine and the hyper-realism of Trainspotting, production design is integral to understanding moving-image text, with the emergence of themes, motifs and colours offering clues to unravel plot, character and underlying concepts. In considering the importance of physical space in the creation of a filmed environment, the book investigates questions of authenticity in detail, props, colours and materials.

The Filmmaker’s Guide To Production Design

By: Vincent LoBrutto Paperback: 224 pages ISBN-13: 978-1581152241

Step by step, aspiring filmmakers will discover sound instruction on the tools of the trade, and established filmmakers will enjoy a new outlook on production design. They will learn, for example, the craft behind movie magic–such as how to create a design metaphor, choose a colour scheme, use space, and work within all genres of film, from well-funded studio projects to “gurilla filmmaking”.

The Art Direction Handbook For Film & Television (Second Edition)

By: Michael Rizzo Paperback: 544 pages ISBN-13: 978-0415842792

Whether you’d like to be an art director or already are one, this book contains valuable solutions that will help you get ahead. This comprehensive manual details the set-up of the art department and the day-to-day job duties: scouting for locations, research, executing the design concept, constructing scenery, and surviving production.

Sets in Motion: Art Direction and Film Narrative

By Charles Affron and Mirella Jona Affron Paperback: 272 pages ISBN-13: 978-0813521619

This book by Charles Affron and Mirella Jona Affron is one of the few books providing thorough production design theory at an academic level. It is an analysis on the history of production design in cinema and helps the reader suss out the various ways in which sets function in storytelling to visually drive the film narrative.

What An Art Director Does: An Introduction To Motion Picture Production Design

By: Ward Preston Paperback: 190 pages ISBN-13: 978-1879505186

What an Art Director Does is a comprehensive introduction to film and television art direction and production design. Starting with a brief history of the field, Mr. Preston’s lively, well-written text leads the reader through the ins and outs of all the responsibilities and duties that fall on the art director’s shoulders. A wealth of information on preparing script breakdowns, research, design and presentation, scouting and working on locations, set design and construction, working as part of a team, and much more is coupled with examples drawn from the author’s own experiences.

Designing for Screen: Production Design and Art Direction Explained

By Georgina Shorter Paperback: 176 pages ISBN-13: 978-1847973849

Design is at the essence of storytelling, but how does a production find its style and identity? This book explains how to approach design, whether for film, television, video promo, or commercial making, and introduces the techniques needed to make ideas happen. Through theory and practical exercises, it looks at design in a different way and shows how the simplest decisions can become powerful ideas on screen.

Designs on Film: A Century of Hollywood Art Direction

By Cathy Whitlock Hardcover: 384 pages ISBN-13: 978-0060881221

With hundreds of rare photographs, set sketches, and original renderings showcasing films of every era and genre—many shown here for the very first time—author Cathy Whitlock offers movie fans a backstage pass to 100 years of Hollywood’s most memorable film sets. In the vein of Deborah Landis’s Dressed: A Century of Hollywood Costume Design, Whitlock’s Designs on Film delivers a fascinating tour through Hollywood’s back lots, including the stories of how numerous movies came to their final on-screen looks—whether by collaboration, conflict, or divine chance.

FilmCraft: Production Design

By Fionnuala Halligan Paperback: 192 pages ISBN-13: 978-1908150615

Production Design, the fifth title in the FilmCraft series, addresses one of the most important roles in cinema. Production designers do nothing short of creating whole new worlds, turning the bare bones of the script into a physical 3D environment that can be filmed.  This book introduces that art in the words of the people best-equip to explain it, as well as looking at the legacies of the great innovators of the past.

The Art of Illusion

By Terry Ackland-Snow and Wendy Laybourn Paperback: 192 pages ISBN-13: 978-1785003431

The fast-moving pace of technology makes it hard to keep abreast of current practices in production design. However, the ethos and skills behind filmmaking remain the same. Here, art director Terry Ackland-Snow shares his passion and knowledge of traditional film design from more than 50 years of industry experience, using real-life case studies from such iconic films as BatmanLabyrinth, the James Bond franchise, and The Deep. With more than 100 original sketches, as well as rare behind-the-scenes photographs, storyboards and artwork, this book demonstrates the skills and techniques of film design with stunning intricacy.

The Architecture of Image: Existential Space in Cinema

By Juhani Pallasmaa Paperback: 184 pages ISBN-13: 978-9516826281

This book explores the shared experiential ground of cinema, art, and architecture. Pallasmaa carefully examines how the classic directors Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Michelangelo Antonioni, and Andrei Tarkovsky used architectural imagery to create emotional states in their movies. He also explores the startling similarities between the landscapes of painting and those of movies.

The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop

By Richard M. Isackes and Karen L. Maness Hardcover: 352 pages ISBN-13: 978-1941393086

In almost every feature film of Hollywood’s golden age, from The Wizard of Oz to North by Northwest to Cleopatra to The Sound of Music, painted backings have convinced moviegoers that what they are seeing—whether the fantastic roads of Oz, the presidents of Mount Rushmore, or ancient Egyptian kingdoms—is absolutely real. These backings are at once intended to transport the audience and yet remain unseen for what they really are. The Art of the Hollywood Backdrop reveals the hidden world and creators of these masterpieces.

Pretty Pictures: Production Design and the History Film

By C. S. Tashiro Paperback: 252 pages ISBN-13: 978-0292781504

Tashiro looks at cinematic production design from a broadly interdisciplinary perspective, encompassing art and architecture theory, audience reception, narrative theory, and phenomenology, to arrive at a more encompassing definition of the process. He builds his argument around studies of several prominent history films, since design is central to historical representation, and explores the most pertinent issues raised by the topic, particularly commodity consumption. In his conclusion, he also offers possible solutions to some of the social problems raised by design.

By Design: Interviews with Film Production Designers

By Vincent LoBrutto Paperback: 296 pages ISBN-13: 978-0275940317

In By Design, twenty prominent feature film production designers talk about their careers, their relationships with Hollywood directors, and how they formulated and executed the technical and aesthetic designs of their film projects. The interviews explore production design techniques and the total process of establishing the visual look of a feature film, including the design and creation of sets, finding locations, establishing the colour scheme or palette of a film, and supervising the costumes, hairstyles, and makeup. The designers discuss in detail their work on many highly acclaimed and seminal works in the field, including North by NorthwestChinatownBarry LyndonRedsAmadeusBrazil, Blade Runner, and The Last Emperor.

Atlas of Emotion: Journeys in Art, Architecture, and Film

By Giuliana Bruno Paperback: 512 pages ISBN-13: 978-1786633224

Atlas of Emotion is a highly original endeavour to map the cultural terrain of spatio-visual arts. In an evocative blend of words and pictures, Giuliana Bruno emphasises the connections between “sight” and “site” and “motion” and “emotion.” In so doing, she touches on the art of Gerhard Richter and Louise Bourgeois, the filmmaking of Peter Greenaway and Michelangelo Antonioni, media archaeology and the origins of the museum, and her own journeys to her native Naples. Visually luscious and daring in conception, Bruno’s book opens new vistas and understandings at every turn.

Production Design and Art Direction (Screencraft Series)

By Peter Ettedgui Paperback: 224 pages ISBN-13: 978-0240804002

In Production Design and Art Direction sixteen of the world’s greatest production designers discuss their craft, revealing the creative process which led to the look of the most memorable films of our time. Contributors include Dean Tavoularis (Godfather Trilogy), Dante Ferretti (whose work with Fellini, Pasolini and Scorsese covers the span of the best of Italian cinema) and Anna Asp (Fanny and Alexander). As aesthetically appealing as any art book, Production Design and Art Direction is densely illustrated with drawings, scripts, storyboards and models, as well as stills from the films.

Art Direction & Production Design: A Modern History of Filmmaking

By Lucy Fischer Paperback: 216 pages ISBN-13: 978-1784530952

Art directors and production designers are the cinema’s ‘architects of illusion’. Their overall purpose is to produce the overall pictorial vision for a film. This book examines the crafts of art direction and production design. It traces their contribution from Thomas Edison’s primitive studio, the Black Maria, to the growth of the Hollywood ‘studio system’, to the effect of sound and colour, and onto the computer-generated imagery of contemporary Hollywood. It does so with reference to many major productions, including Gone with the Wind, McCabe and Mrs Miller and Batman, demonstrating the real significance of the contribution of the art director and production designer to filmmaking and its history.

Film, Architecture and Spatial Imagination (1st Edition)

By Renée Tobe Paperback: 216 pages ISBN-13: 978-1138588615

Films use architecture as visual shorthand to tell viewers everything they need to know about the characters in a short amount of time. Illustrated by a diverse range of films from different eras and cultures, this book investigates the reciprocity between film and architecture. Using a phenomenological approach, it describes how we, the viewers, can learn how to read architecture and design in film in order to see the many inherent messages. Architecture’s representational capacity contributes to the plausibility or ‘reality’ possible in film. The book provides an ontological understanding that clarifies and stabilises the reciprocity of the actual world and a filmic world of illusion and human imagination, thereby shedding light on both film and architecture.

The Dramatic Imagination: Reflections and Speculations on the Art of Theatre

By Robert Edmond Jones Paperback: 192 pages ISBN-13: 978-0878305926

The Dramatic Imagination is one of the few enduring works written about set design. Robert Edmond Jones’s innovations in set design and lighting brought new ideas to the stage, but it is greater understanding of design – its role at the heart of theatre – that has continued to inspire theatre students. The volume includes “A New Kind of Drama,” “To a Young Stage Designer” and six other of Jones’s “reflections.”

Film Architecture: From Metropolis to Blade Runner

By Prestel Art Press Paperback: 208 pages ISBN-13: 978-3791321639

Beginning with oddball stuff like The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari whose tilting, dream-curved sets would appeal equally to Virginia Woolf (who praised its visual shorthand for the nervous metropolis) and the Viennese architect Adolf Loos (who saw the possibilities in its plastic city), the book devotes sections to big-look movies like Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, King Vidor’s The Fountainhead, and Jacques Tati’s Playtime. Each film, the authors argue, further explores the psychologically charged spaces that Dr. Caligari first created, and each eventually incorporates the look of actual cities within its urban visions. As much a collection of photographs of film sets as an examination of Expressionist influences on filmic cityscapes from the 1920s to the near-present, Film Architecture is full of information–for example, that the abiding strangeness of Tati’s work in Mon Oncle “elicited furious responses from members of the architectural profession.”

Architecture and Film

By Mark Lamster Paperback: 254 pages ISBN-13: 978-1568982076

Architecture and Film looks at the ways architecture and architects are treated on screen and, conversely, how these depictions filter and shape the ways we understand the built environment. It also examines the significant effect that the film industry has had on the American public’s perception of urban, suburban, and rural spaces. Contributors to this collection of essays come from a wide range of disciplines.

Spectacle of Property: The House in American Film

By John David Rhodes Paperback: 288 pages ISBN-13: 978-1517903701

Rhodes tells the story of the ambivalent but powerful pleasure we take in looking at private property onscreen, analysing the security and ease the house promises along with the horrible anxieties it produces. He begins by laying out a theory of film spectatorship that proposes the concept of the “spectator-tenant,” with reference to films such as Gone with the Wind and The Magnificent Ambersons. The book continues with three chapters that are each occupied with a different architectural style and the films that make use of it: the bungalow, the modernist house, and the shingle style house. Rhodes considers a variety of canonical films rarely analysed side by side, such as Psycho in relation to Grey Gardens and Meet Me in St. Louis. Among the other films discussed are Meshes of the AfternoonMildred PierceA Star Is BornKiller of Sheep, and A Single Man.

Designing Dreams: Modern Architecture in the Movies

By Donald Albrecht Paperback: 204 pages ISBN-13: 978-0940512269

A thorough examination of the almost symbiotic relationship between modernist architecture and film design of the 1920s and 1930s. Albrecht traces the connections between film designers’ art and its roots in European design movements, such as Art Deco and the Bauhaus. The penthouses, nightclubs, and skyscrapers that showed moviegoers a new way of living demanded a new look, which these architectural movements provided. DESIGNING DREAMS concludes with an essential chapter on The Fountainhead, modernist architecture’s last fervid gasp in the movies. Illustrated with rare stills from classic films. Original article: Art Departmental

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