Despite its title this award recognises the production design of a particular film and the two nominated candidates are often the production designer and art director.
So, why isn’t the category called ‘Production Design’ instead of ‘Art Direction’?
The Academy rules state:
Eligibility for this award shall be limited to the production designer and set decorator primarily responsible for the design of the production and the execution of that concept, as verified by the producer. The Art Directors Branch shall have the discretion to give more weight to design than to execution.
The title of this award has its roots in history as ‘art director’ was used to denote the head of the art department, which is the group of people in charge of the overall look of a film.
But this role has evolved, as from 1927 until 1939 the award was called ‘Interior Decorator’.
This changed when producer David O. Selznick felt that William Cameron Menzies played such a significant role in the look of Gone with the Wind (1939), that he gave him the title of ‘Production Designer’.
However, from 1940 until 1946 the award was still called ‘Interior Decoration’ and was split between colour and black and white.
Then from 1947, the award was given to the art director and set decorator and the colour/black and white split was phased out in 1967.
So, essentially the award keeps the old title, but rewards the production designer and set decorator.
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