When you’re an Australian writer-director making a Mayan end-of-civilization epic in the middle of a Mexican jungle, who do you ask to do the hair and makeup for hundreds of non-English speaking actors? Why, a pair of Italians, of course. “The research started in the classic way, with museums, the Internet and history books,” says makeup designer Vittorio Sodano, who teamed with Aldo Signoretti for the formidable assignment. “From that point, we started studying the Mayan pyramids and thousands of pottery vases with illustrations that represented scenes from normal Mayan life,” Sodano explains. “We learned that every single tattoo and scarification has a singular meaning. The simple designs worn by Jaguar Paw and his tribe represent the hunting life of the jungle, while decorative tattoos had only religious meanings. As he travels into the city and interacts with the higher classes, the designs become more complex and the jewelry more elaborate.”

Why it’ll win: Besides earning bonus points for historical accuracy, the detailed hair and makeup design serves as an extension of the characters, revealing who they are and where they come from.

Why it won’t: Judging from the last three winners (“The Chronicles of Narnia,” “Lemony Snicket” and “The Return of the King”), “Apocalypto” is at a disadvantage against the fantastical “Pan’s Labyrinth.”