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Creative Arts Emmys: Inside the 11 Shows That Got the Most Nominations

This year, 11 shows were nominated for five or more Creative Arts Emmys in the major craft categories. Variety asked a team of writers to profile a key aspect of the below-the-line work on each program that is likely to help it gain votes as the awards shows approach. Emmy categories have become so numerous that the 2016 Creative Arts Emmys will include two ceremonies, one on Sept. 10 and another on Sept. 11. Both will take place at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles.

Game of Thrones – HBO (12 nominations)
Game of Thrones” has built a sprawling fantasy world that seems every bit as real as our own, and that verisimilitude is thanks in large part to the giants, White Walkers, and Children of the Forest that inhabit Westeros and its environs, all brought to life by prosthetics supervisor Barrie Gower and his team. “Our biggest challenge was ‘The Door,’ which was probably about 80%-90% of our build for the season,” Gower says of the Emmy-nominated episode. In addition to the White Walkers and zombie-like wights, “which were all at different degrees of decomposition,” the prosthetics for the six Children of the Forest took six weeks each to complete. The makeup department collaborates with the visual effects team, Gower notes. The wights call for a combination of practical makeups, “slight digital augmentation, [where] the vfx department will take away part of the skull or ribcage,” and a more vfx-heavy process in which actors wear “makeups that are pre-glued onto green lycra suits, so that visual effects can replicate and key out all the green and animate these skeletal characters.”
— Laura Prudom

Fargo – FX (9 noms)
Capturing the style of Joel and Ethan Coen’s classic film “Fargo” for the small screen was tricky enough; creating a fresh, period-appropriate look for season two had additional challenges. To achieve an authentic late ’70s visual, cinematographer Dana Gonzales used photographer William Eggleston’s images of the era as a benchmark for color and tone. “I only used the color of light from that era, like sodium vapor, warm tungsten, and small bits of fluorescent accents so the audience that was alive at that time would remember this is what it looked like.” He also used some period equipment. “The last bit of tone I used to create this world was vintage lenses from the ’60s — rehoused Cooke Speed Panhcros from my vendor Keslow Camera. I really wanted ‘Fargo’ season two to look like the films of the ’70s. I truly believe all these details help season two transport the audience into another time.”
— Paula Hendrickson

The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story – FX (8 noms)
As he was helping to re-create the most documented court case of our time, “The People v. O.J. Simpson” hair department head Chris Clark was determined not to make his contribution to the limited series look “hokey.” This is hard when practically an entire episode was devoted to prosecutor Marcia Clark’s (Sarah Paulson) hair. “It was a tragic hairstyle and we had to play on how bad she felt about it,” he says of those infamous tight curls. “You see that moment when she walks into that courtroom and everyone sees the haircut and how heartbreaking it was for her. In a small way, we felt that was a success because we helped convey that awful moment for her through this awful haircut.” Among the other famous follicles Clark had to re-create was the skunk tail of gray in the center of defense attorney Robert Kardashian’s (played by David Schwimmer) head. “I had the world’s tiniest wig made that lived right at [Schwimmer’s] hair line,” Clark says.
— Whitney Friedlander

Grease: Live – Fox (7 noms)
Upon reading the script for Fox’s “Grease: Live,” Tony-winning costume designer William Ivey Long knew immediately why he had been hired to re-imagine all the poodle skirts, leather jackets and pedal pushers made famous by Albert Wolsky’s designs for the 1978 movie: Keke Palmer’s rapid costume change from a teenage girl primping in her PJ’s at a slumber party to a va-va-voom USO singer slinking around in a red sequin dress for the number “Freddy My Love.” “The writers and one of the directors, Tommy Kail, and the producers wanted live Broadway magic,” says Long. “They wanted you to see Keke Palmer as that character imagining how she would sing to her boyfriend.” Long had worked with Palmer on Broadway’s “Cinderella” and knew she could handle the pressure. “Grease: Live” became a social media sensation and immediately showcased Long and his team’s innovative ideas. Later on, star Aaron Tveit and his gang of T-Birds would go through three layers of outfit changes to “dance the hell out of” their rendition of the classic “Greased Lightning.” “It was a whole bunch of Chippendales’ strip tricks, which as you can imagine, is lots of snaps,” Long says. “I sort of wish we had shown at least one of them ripping something off.”
— Whitney Friedlander

Saturday Night Live – NBC (7 noms)
The public showers the joke writers, celebrity guests, and cast of comedians at “Saturday Night Live” with praise (and sometimes animosity), but behind the scenes it’s costume designers Tom Broecker and Eric Justian who help bring those mostly beloved sketches to life. Broecker notes that in this election year he had the opportunity to meet and dress many politicians who came on the show. “It’s always fun to see what the writers come up with and how we can help them create their characters,” he says. Justian adds that several former cast members — including Tina Fey, Amy Poehler, Fred Armisen, and Tracy Morgan — returned to host this year. That brought him the added joy of revisiting past sketches and old costumes. “It is definitely a highlight when you see your past design work come back and entertain a new audience,” he says. The team is nominated for the episode hosted by Ryan Gosling. It included dressing a Scarecrow, Tin Man, Cowardly Lion and other characters for a for a parody of NBC’s “The Wiz Live!”
— Seth Kelley

American Horror Story: Hotel – FX (6 noms)
When Lou Eyrich and her costume design team checked into “American Horror Story: Hotel,” they started from scratch, just as they’ve done for the past four seasons. “You don’t have a closet from previous seasons you can go to pull from,” says Eyrich. The Countess, Lady Gaga’s character, was the biggest challenge. “We had to marry new and established designers, vintage with custom-made.” The team resourced costume houses, used clothing stores, and online to create the season’s looks — including Elizabeth Taylor’s turquoise caftan. “We threw it on Denis [O’Hare] so when he walked down the hallway it just billowed,” Eyrich says. “We used vintage pieces in a contemporary setting.” Going into season six of the anthology, Eyrich says the nomination “is a reward because last year was really tough for us design-wise. We not only had to figure out the hotel regulars, but also the vampires.”
— Maria Cavassuto

Dancing With the Stars – ABC (6 noms)
Heading into its 23rd season, “Dancing With the Stars” is still finding ways to innovate, and the show’s costume designers, Daniela Gschwendtner and Steven Lee, say they’re proud to be able to take creative risks. “It’s so rewarding that the celebrities and dancers trust our ideas and allow us creative freedom,” Lee says, pointing specifically to episode four, for which they designed Disney-themed costumes for the cast that included three professional football players. “I loved seeing them embrace a costume and allow that to transform them into a character.” Gschwendtner adds they have fun “shopping for fabrics, trims, rhinestones, etc. and building the costumes.” In the Disney episode, Gschwendtner says Witney Carson’s Cinderella dress with a light-up skirt was especially challenging. “The light-up part wasn’t so hard, but to make it work for dancing was.”
— Seth Kelley

Penny Dreadful – Showtime (6 noms)
In 2015, during “Penny Dreadful’s” second season, production designer Jonathan McKinstry asked John Logan, its creator, to visit the Natural History Museum in Dublin. Logan resisted, given that the season two story didn’t require a set like that. “But I said, ‘Look at it. I think it’s a place you’d like.’ Logan walked in and he went, ‘Oh my God, this has to be in season three,’” McKinstry says. “He literally wrote the character of Dr. Sweet working at the Natural History Museum, having seen that location a year prior.” Further afield, “Penny Dreadful” also shot on sets in Almeria, Spain, that had been used for spaghetti Westerns in the ’60s. They stood in for the birthplace of Ethan Chandler, a character who hailed from New Mexico. “We had to go in and do quite a bit of work. We did our own adding and subtracting, but a lot of the structures were already there,” McKinstry notes. Giving the show’s sets — such as Dr. Frankenstein’s elaborate lab — a great deal of depth and texture was McKinstry’s priority, especially in a genre piece like “Penny Dreadful,” which used fantastical scenarios to get at difficult emotions. “One of my sticking points is to try and make it feel real, because I think about what that does for the actors,” says McKinstry. “However absurd the things they’re having to do or say might be, I think it just helps actors to believe it that much more if they’re in a believable environment.”
— Maureen Ryan

The Wiz Live! – NBC (6 noms)
Water may bring down wicked witches, but sweat was the nemesis of the makeup department on “The Wiz Live!” Department head Cookie Jordan employed a roster of 23 makeup artists to dry off, reapply and update the looks of the background actors and dancers during the production’s precious little downtime between scene changes and commercial breaks. “In designing the show, I had to sort of work backward,” she says. “For example, the [background] went from being poppies to the Emerald City, so we had to design a look that would take them [there] and that was a lipstick choice.” Her team also had to unite with the many famous leads to find a look that fit the show and was comfortable to wear. “In theater, it’s all about collaboration,” says Jordan. “I never walk in and do their makeup and say, ‘This is what you’re going to look like.’ We want them to be very comfortable with what they look like because they’re the ones who are going to be out there and they’ve been thinking about this character a lot longer than we have.”
— Whitney Friedlander

Downton Abbey -PBS (5 noms)
The sixth and final season of “Downton Abbey” included three weddings, which proved challenging to costume designer Anna Mary Scott Robins and her relatively small team of 12, including fellow nominees Kathryn Tart and Michael Weldon. “One wedding per filming block is usually quite enough to keep me and my team busy,” she says. “The three weddings were so different in character and had to be researched and sourced.” The grand scale of the show’s set pieces — such as the weddings and an auto race — involve crowds of extras that all need period attire. “My small workroom team was pushed to its limits from January right through our wrap in September, creating the bespoke costumes for all the principals. It was challenging in terms of time, our available resources, and extremely tight schedule constraints.” The season also brought opportunities to show off a confident new wardrobe for Lady Edith (Laura Carmichael) and the garments of the staff outside the Abbey.
— Paula Hendrickson

The Voice – NBC (5 noms)
Among the many technical achievements that it takes to put on a live reality competition show, “The Voice” excels at lighting design. After winning a creative arts Emmy in 2015, the lighting team — which includes Oscar Dominguez, Samuel Barker, Daniel K. Boland, Craig Housenick, and Johnny Bradley — is hoping for a repeat. This year, the show is nominated for season nine’s live semifinals episode. In addition to performances from the season’s top nine performers, the team was responsible for planning and rendering unique experiences for live performances from Ellie Goulding, who performed her song “On My Mind,” and judge Blake Shelton. With such a large-scale task and a tight schedule, the team is able to design fresh cues for each performance that correspond with the set and reflect each song’s mood.
— Seth Kelley

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