Oscar nominees talk about their work — and their many paths to recognition from the Academy

Guy Hendrix Dyas
Production designer

Dyas feels he won his first nom “because the film’s sets are so integral to Chris Nolan’s script. … He gave us an amazing canvas to work with.” Part-heist movie, part sci-fi mind-bender, and brimming with cutting-edge visuals, “Inception” challenged Dyas to design practical solutions “wherever possible” to realize the director’s vision.
“Anyone can design interesting, pretty sets, but when Chris tells you, ‘I need this set to spin like a tumble dryer, and it needs to be 200 feet long,’ or when you’ve climbed a snowy mountain with him and at 9,000-feet he says, ‘I want a 90-foot tower here, with a 300- x 400-foot set that contains the entire unit — wardrobe, makeup, catering, etc. — and built so we can shoot it like a James Bond film’ — that’s about as challenging and exciting as this job gets,” says Dyas, who’s co-nommed with set decorators Larry Dias and Doug Mowat.
To up the ante, production spanned three continents and five countries. “I had three art directors in the U.S., two in England, and one each in Africa, Japan and Canada,” he says, “and just 200 in construction, the art department and props — and we only had 14 weeks to prep everything.”

Stuart Craig
Production designer
“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1”

This marks the designer’s ninth nom (he won for “Gandhi,” “Dangerous Liaisons” and “The English Patient”) and his fourth with set decorator Stephanie McMillan. “I think we got (the nom) because it’s a fresh take, in that for the first time we don’t go to Hogwarts at all,” he says. “It’s all outside, in urban London and rural landscapes.”
This didn’t make his job any easier. “We had the enormous Ministry of Magic set, and overall a pleasing combination of traditional techniques — painting, sculpture and so on — and huge advances in digital set extensions,” he says. “But it takes a lot of prep work — about a year in this case, and we treat digital and physical sets in the same way, starting with my rough sketches, then illustrations and then gradually building them, either in reality or in computers.”
Craig estimates that over the eight-film franchise he’s designed “about 860 sets, which breaks down to over 100 per film.” To create the final two films, “which were totally intertwined as we shot them simultaneously over nine months,” Craig headed up a small army of 35 in the art department, and 200 construction workers, “along with various specialists and then all the visual effects houses and teams.”

Robert Stromberg
Production designer
“Alice in Wonderland”

Stromberg, who’s co-nominated with set decorator Karen O’Hara, is no stranger to huge, complex productions — he won for “Avatar” and was nominated for his visual effects work on “Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World.” “Thanks to ‘Avatar’ there’s increasing recognition of the ways all the new digital set technology can be combined with the old ways of designing sets,” he notes, “and this created a unique world from scratch with its own design.”
And thanks to Tim Burton, Stromberg, along with O’Hara and vfx supervisor Ken Ralston, got the chance to design a very surreal, abstract world, “a big change from the extreme photo-realism of ‘Avatar.’?” Because so much was shot using blue- and green-screen, “we had to pre-design a lot more,” he says, “and to help Tim and the actors navigate through the digital sets I built physical and digital models of each set, and did tons of illustrations.”
The team was also able to composite in real time the digital version of the set into a monitor for Burton, so he could see what the actors in the non-existent digital world would actually look like. Stromberg ultimately created more than 80 digital sets and over 20 conventional sets.

Jess Gonchor
Production designer
“True Grit”

I think I got nominated because people look at ‘True Grit’ and realize that it’s not as easy as it seems to create that whole western world,” says Gonchor of his first Oscar nom, shared with set decorator Nancy Haigh. “And as hard as it was to create the towns and cabins and all the interiors we built, it was far harder to create the terrains.”
To achieve this, Gonchor and his crew spent eight months on location in New Mexico and Texas, building sets and grooming landscapes to fit the circa 1875 story; “Remove trees, add more intimidating trees, whatever it took to tell this non-traditional tale — and people saw that and studied every area of the screen and saw all the work that we did,” he says.
lus, all the usual challenges of a tight budget and schedule were compounded by bad weather. “We built and shot in the winter, so you’re battling rain and hail and all the drawbacks of being outside in the raw elements, and all the logistics of finding a location and getting to it and doing the work in time. It was tough.”
This marks Gonchor’s fourth film with the Coens. “It’s a true collaboration and like working with two other production designers — they just get it.”

Adrien Morot
“Barney’s Version”

With “Barney’s Version,” Morot took on one of makeup’s most daunting tasks — how to age a human face and body naturally and believably over several decades. “Each character has about seven stages of makeup, as Barney ages along with all his friends and family, and the evolution had to be very gradual and subtle,” he says. “And when I did my Academy presentation I think all my peers must have felt I got it right, as they all have very keen eyes and had a lot of questions about the prosthetics.”
Morot says by the time the title character reaches 60 “he’s covered in prosthetics from the eyebrows down, and no one noticed.” Achieving such subtlety was no easy feat on a low-budget film. “You need three months’ prep time before shooting for this kind of job, but we had just half that. And to properly apply all these kind of prosthetics, you need about four hours, and we only had just over two hours to do it all, including the hair work.”
Morot and his small team — two makeup assistants and two hairdressers — didn’t even have time to apply forehead prosthetics. “And instead of the usual bald cap (for Paul Giamatti) I just thinned his real hair,” he says. “Luckily Paul was really into it.”

Rick Baker and Dave Elsey
The Wolfman

It’s appropriate that six-time Oscar winner Baker received his 12th nom for “The Wolfman” “because it was the classic original film with Lon Chaney Jr. that made me want to become a makeup artist,” he says. “I even begged Universal to let me do it; it’s very special to me.”
Once on board, Baker’s initial fears that the remake “would become a big CG-fest” were laid to rest. “Benicio (Del Toro) and I both wanted to pay homage to the original, so I went old-school with the makeup, although we amped it up a bit,” he says. Coming up with designs that worked “without completely hiding the actors” was a big challenge. “You need to see it’s still Anthony Hopkins when he changes into a wolf.”
To take advantage of tax credits, the production was based in the U.K., where Baker set up shop, hired a team and partnered with co-nominee Elsey on, among other makeup effects, 12 hair suits “that were like full-body wigs. I love his design sense and we both love the classic film,” says Baker who did the initial designs.
Baker ended up commuting from L.A. to London “some 25 times,” while Elsey oversaw their team of 25 artists in London.

Colleen Atwood
Costume design
“Alice In Wonderland’

The nine-time Oscar nominee (she won for “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “Chicago”) says “it’s always a thrill to be nominated — and especially for ‘Alice,’ as I felt I did very creative, fun work, some of my strongest.”
She’s also thrilled to be nominated by all her peers, “because I think it’s the kind of film most costume designers would love to do, with all the detail and unusual designs.” For Atwood, a frequent Tim Burton collaborator, the main challenge was creating several alternative realities at once. “We begin in the real world of the 1860s, so there’s all those costumes and big crowd scenes,” she says, “and then there’s the whole fantasy world and all the technical issues involved: How tall is Alice when she shrinks and grows? How do you deal with the Red Queen’s collar when her head is three times normal size?”
To execute Burton’s and her vision, Atwood employed a battalion of some 50 key assistants and seamstresses. “I had a workroom in the U.K. making the costumes for the 1860s, and simultaneously another one in the U.S. doing all the Alice and Johnny Depp clothes and other costumes for all the green-screen work. It was a big operation.”

Antonella Cannarozzi
Costume design
“I Am Love”

Each film has its own spirit and needs to be faced in a different way,” says the first-time nominee. “The first approach to the script is fundamental. Everything I focus on during the first reading almost always determines the ideas to follow. In this film the idea received a lot of love and care, and this made costumes symbiotic with staging, and I think all this made my work good.”
Director Luca Guadagnino asked Cannarozzi “to focus on the bourgeois esthetic and to note things down like an entomologist in order to succeed in reproducing it,” she says, and she followed up by identifying symbols of luxury, which are “a stylistic constant — they don’t date.”
In the classic Italian movie tradition, Guadagnino also involved such high-fashion names as Fendi and Jill Sanders in the film. In collaboration with the costume department, Sanders tailored Swinton’s wardrobe for a character “who is a stranger within the family but is the closest to contemporary time” and Fendi tailored the whole Recchi family male wardrobe.
Cannarozzi had access to a large dressmaking area “where I could stock textiles from the most qualified industries and skilled artisans,” she adds. “All the suits were tailored in their shops — shirts and ties included — in Rome and Milan; it took about five months.”

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