Christopher’s sets set his work apart

Stage magic to give floating illusion, production designer sez

HOLLYWOOD — Inventive, inspiring and imaginative work has always been part of the Academy Awards. Those adjectives are not only descriptive of the honorees but how the entire Oscar show is staged.

Production designer Roy Christopher, is in his 13th stint with the Academy Awards of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences kudofest, is working this year with his favorite collaborators: producers Gil Cates and Louis J. Horvitz, and lighting designer Bob Dickinson. Christopher designed the Oscars three years in a row before taking off 2000.

“Gil called me and said he might be doing the show again and asked if I would if he did. I, of course, said yes,” Christopher recalls on how he became involved in this year’s affair.

A recipient of six Emmy wins and 29 nominations, Christopher is production designer on both TV’s “Becker” and “Frasier,” has tackled the Emmys eight times and seven Tony broadcasts.

Putting his ideas onto paper back in October for this year’s Oscar set, Christopher made between 200-300 thumbnail sketches and then presented his ideas to Cates in December.

In the middle of that month, art director Tamlyn Wright came on board and the full design team — model maker, art coordinator, art assistant and Christopher’s wife, Dorothy, a decorator — started full steam in January.

Christopher says this year’s set includes four 30-foot tall stainless steel arcs with the Oscar silhouette carved into them for presenters and performers to walk through. It’s a completely enclosed space, allows no glimpses into the wings, no backstage glances. Christopher was adamant about trying to make the audience forget that there are hundreds of people scurrying about.

The cost is approximately $500,000 and, he adds, the structure will be “clean, sleek, contemporary, glowing, and diffuse. The kind of set where everything wants to be floating.”

In addition to large sculptural components, this year’s design is also lighting-intensive.

“We are using scrims, mirrors, smoke and lighting — stage magic techniques — to give the illusion that things are floating,” he says.

Christopher admits he’ll be rooting for a sentimental favorite during this Oscarcast, “The Man on Lincoln’s Nose,” a short subject documentary about legendary production designer Robert Boyle.

A collection of Christopher’s Oscar sketches, drawings and renderings is housed at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Center for Motion Picture Study in Beverly Hills.

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