The art director is the title for a variety of similar job functions in theater, advertising, marketing, publishing, fashion, film and television, the Internet, and video games.
It is the charge of a sole art director to supervise and unify the vision. In particular, the art director is in charge of the overall visual appearance and how it communicates visually, stimulates moods, contrasts features, and psychologically appeals to a target audience. The art director makes decisions about visual elements used, what artistic style to use, and when to use motion.
One of the most difficult problems that art directors face is to translate desired moods, messages, concepts, and underdeveloped ideas into imagery. During the brainstorming process, art directors, co-workers, and clients are engaged in imagining what the finished piece or scene might look like. At times, an art director is ultimately responsible for solidifying the vision of the collective imagination while resolving conflicting agendas and inconsistencies between the various individual inputs.
An art director, in the hierarchical structure of a film art department, works directly below the production designer, in collaboration with the set decorator and the set designers. A large part of their duties includes the administrative aspects of the art department. They are responsible for assigning tasks to personnel such as the art department coordinator, and the construction coordinator, keeping track of the art department budget and scheduling (i.e. prep/wrap schedule) as well as overall quality control. They are often also a liaison to other departments; especially construction, special FX, property, transportation (graphics), and locations departments. The art director also attends all production meetings and tech scouts in order to provide information to the set designers in preparation for all departments to have a visual floor plan of each location visited.
In the past, the title of art director was used to denote the head of the art department (hence the Academy Award for Best Art Direction) which also included the set decorator. Now the award includes the production designer and set decorator. In the movie Gone with the Wind, David O. Selznick felt that William Cameron Menzies had such a significant role in the look of the film, that the title art director was not sufficient and so he gave Menzies the title of the production designer. The title has become more common, and now production designer is commonly used as the title for the head of the art department, although the title actually implies control over every visual aspect of a film, including costumes.
On films with smaller art departments, such as small independent films and short films, the terms 'production designer' and 'art director' are often synonymous, and the person taking on the role may be credited as either.