Film and TV drama

Art department trainee

Also known as: Art department runner, Art department assistant

Entry level

Art department trainee

What does an art department trainee do?

The work of art department trainees varies greatly from production to production. On big budget features with a large art department, trainees will do more administrative type jobs. They will often work closely with the art department coordinator, providing backup and doing basic running duties between the art department office, the drawing and construction team and the production office.

On small budget productions, there’s likely to be more scope for creative input. They might work with assistant art directors to record detailed measurements of locations and then move into the drawing studio to make sure the draughtspersons have what they need. They may be responsible for ordering and collecting art department drawing and model-making materials and might even help with the construction of scale models for sets.

During filming, they might help the standby art director and art department coordinator with any last-minute requests or changes to the sets.

Watch

What’s an art department trainee good at?

  • Art: draw by hand, use art software packages
  • Watching film and TV drama: have a passion for the medium and a love of the industry
  • Learning by listening and watching: observe what’s happening in the art department, understand how it works
  • Learning by asking: ask questions at the right time to learn the tricks of the art department trade
  • Reliability: get there on time and do what’s asked
  • Communication: be able to ask, explain, share and make cups of tea at energy-flagging moments

Tools of the trade

You will build up your kit over time. Here are some of items you will need to start with.

  • Laptop with image editing software, such as Vectorworks and SketchUp. Use the free versions until you are well enough established to buy the paid software.
  • Printer; able to print on A3 is desirable but A4 will suffice.
  • Drawing kit. Pencils, scale rulers, furniture templates, compass, adjustable set square.
  • Modeling kit. Cutting board, scalpels, steel rule.
  • Portable desktop A2 board. Not essential as a drawing board might be provided, but handy none the less.
  • SLR digital camera for photoshoots (not essential but desirable).

The production will provide inks and card. On big budget productions, there’s usually a kit allowance of £50 per week.  

Once your kit is worth more than £2,000 you should insure it and think about getting the advice of an accountant about trading as a limited company or applying for Schedule D status.

Who does an art department trainee work with?

Art department trainees might be working with anyone in the art department; the art director, assistant art director, set decorator, draughtsmen or art department coordinator. They report to the production designer. They also work with the painters, plasterers and carpenters who work with the construction manager and are likely to have contact with the production management office too.

How do I become an art department trainee?

Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. This will help you make the contacts and build up the industry knowledge to work in the art department of a film or TV drama.

At school or college:
If you want to go to university, A-levels or Highers in art, architecture, photography, graphic design or graphic communication are useful. Or you might want to take the following Level 3 vocational qualifications:

  • BTEC National Diploma/Extended Diploma Art and Design
  • UAL Applied General Diploma in 3D Design and Crafts
  • NCFE Applied General Certificate in Art and Design

If you want to go straight into a job or apprenticeship, the following Level 3 vocational qualifications will equip you:

  • BTEC National Diploma in 3D Design and Crafts
  • UAL Diploma/Extended Diploma in Art and Design

Get an apprenticeship:
An apprenticeship is a job with training, so it’s a great opportunity to earn while you learn. It can be challenging to find jobs as an apprentice with production companies as many are not able to take on people for a whole year, which is an apprenticeship requirement at the moment. However, it might be worth looking for a job as an apprentice in an industry that uses similar skills, such as being an illustrator in publishing or a graphic artist in advertising. This could help you develop your craft and create a body of work for a portfolio that you can use to find your way into film and TV drama at a later point.

These are the relevant apprenticeships available throughout the UK:

  • Junior 2D Artist (Visual Effects) (Level 4, England)
  • Furniture, furnishings and interiors (SCQF Level 5, 6, Scotland)
  • Design (Level 3, Northern Ireland)
  • Creative and Digital Media (Level 3, 4, Wales)
  • Design (Level 2, 3, Wales)
  • Design Practice (Level 5, Wales)
  • Furniture and Furnishings (Level 2, 3, Wales)

In Scotland, you might be able to find the following degree-level apprenticeships:

  • Creative (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
  • Creative and Digital Media (SCQF Level 6/7, Scotland)
  • Design (SCQF Level 5, 6/7, Scotland)

Before taking any apprenticeship, check what you’ll be learning with your prospective employer and college, so you can be sure it will be giving you the skills you want. Go to how to become an apprentice to learn how to find apprenticeships in your region or approach companies directly.

Develop a wide range of art skills:
Learn how to paint, do 3D modelling and graphic art. The more you can do at this stage, the more chance you have of being useful in the art department later on.

Learn to drive: 
If possible, get access to a car. This makes you more versatile and means you can help more.

Get a degree:
It isn’t essential, but if you want one, have a look at ScreenSkills’ list of recommended courses in film and TV and select ones in quality-assured higher education courses in film and TV, visual art or design. We recognise courses with our ScreenSkills Select award where they offer training in the relevant software, dedicated time to building a portfolio and have strong links with the film and TV drama industries.

Build a portfolio:
This is essential for impressing admissions tutors and people in the film industry. Go to build a portfolio to learn how.

Meet people in the industry:
Go to ScreenSkills’ events like Open Doors to people in the art department. Show them your portfolio and give them your professional contact details.

Network online:
Create a LinkedIn profile. See if there’s a Facebook page or other social media group for people making films or videos in your area. Join it and take part. Create a ScreenSkills profile.

Become a trainee:

Get onto ScreenSkills’ Trainee Finder scheme. Get the skills, make contacts and start working in an art department.

You might also be interested in…

Being an art department trainee in unscripted TV. Some independent TV companies (indies) run art department trainee schemes.

Further resources