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Expansion plans

As the ADG house hunts, it also embraces blurb designers

The Art Directors Guild has been filling out the frame for the upcoming Ninth Annual Excellence in Production Design Awards with a more festive and elaborate scene.

“For the last few years we’ve been trying to raise the profile of the event and make people more aware of the contributions of production designers and art directors to film,” says ADG President Tom Walsh. “But this year we have found some real good reasons to toot our own horn.”

The biggest may be that the ADG is near to closing a deal for a big new headquarters for the 86-year-old institution, which Walsh — production designer on the hit series “Desperate Housewives” — hopes to announce by the time of the gala on Feb. 12.

Procuring of the site constitutes a long-standing goal that has already been paid for by 15 years of contributions set aside by members. Walsh won’t disclose the location of the new building, since negotiations haven’t been finalized, but he says it’s somewhere in the Hollywood/Studio City nexus.

“It will give us space for all kinds of extended programs for the membership like digital training, and farther down the road an actual screening room,” he says. “It will also be more than just an office building. We want to create a campus-type atmosphere where designers can come and take classes and actually have some sense of community with their peers.”

In addition, the building will house the guild’s research library and more space for extensive archives dating back to the 1930s, including artwork, illustrations, ground plans and photos from feature films, television shows and commercials. The oldest material is currently housed at at the Herrick Library collection at the Motion Picture Academy. “It’s pretty much a unique collection,” declares Walsh.

“We’re in the process of exploring a more extended sharing arrangement with the Academy, which is planning its own museum.”

As for the ADG’s annual ceremony, there will be more kudos handed out than in the past at the black-tie gala at the Beverly Hilton’s International Ballroom.

Many ADG members work in the commercial field, some exclusively. So the guild has added a new award category, excellence in art direction for commercials, on top of the 10 traditional honors for work in both motion pictures and television.

At the dinner, the ADG’s new Hall of Fame will be splashily inaugurated with a visual tribute to the seven posthumous production designers who comprise the first inductees:

  • William Buckland, who revolutionized movie lighting in the early teens (the silent “Robin Hood”).

  • Richard Day, known for his modern realism (“Streetcar Named Desire” “On the Waterfront”).

  • John DeCuir Sr., who specialized in lavish productions at Fox (“King and I,” “Cleopatra”).

  • Anton Grot, who created water ripple and wave illusion devices (“The Sea Hawk”)

  • Boris Leven, who triumphed in Technicolor musicals (“West Side Story” and “The Sound of Music”).

  • William Cameron Menzies, the self-titled first “production designer” (“Gone With the Wind”).

  • Van Nest Polglase, who created the look for several Astaire-Rogers films (“Top Hat”).

There are several special events surrounding this year’s ADG awards. The night before the Oscars, a reception sponsored by Architectural Digest will be held. Invitees include the yet-to-be-announced winners at this year’s ADG awards, as well as those members nominated for the Academy Award for best art direction. Their co-nominee set decorators will also be there.

The ADG also intiated a three-day fest at the The American Cinematheque in Hollywood that unspooled films from the guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award winners. Most of the art directors appeared for discussions along with their films, including Gene Allen, repped by the 1954 version of “A Star Is Born,” and Henry Bumstead for “Vertigo.”

Bumstead, who turns 90 in March, is an ADG nominee this year in the contemporary feature film category for “Million Dollar Baby.” He says he was called initially by the ADG to tell him he had been inducted into the new Hall of Fame. “Then they called me back and said, ‘You can’t be in it because you’re not dead yet.’ “

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