Cameras clicked away as a team of metal workers clad in fireproof suits, gloves and welding masks poured molten bronze – heated to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit and glowing like lava – into a container of red wax molds. Witnessed by media members, actors and the Screen Actors Guild Awards Committee, the Pouring of the Statue celebrated the elaborate process behind the annual creation of the signature SAG statuettes.
“It’s always a thrill every time,” SAG Awards Committee vice chair Daryl Anderson told Variety at the American Fine Arts Foundry in Burbank, Calif., on Tuesday morning. “I always say it’s too bad that you can’t really capture that color of the bronze on a camera. It’s just not there. It will look great, but it’s just not there. Being here is different.”
The master mold for “The Actor” statuette was created from an original sculpture by Edward Saenz at the award show’s inception in 1995. American Fine Arts Foundry president Brett Barney and production manager Angel Maza oversee the crafting of the statuettes, which are all fashioned from the master mold employing the “lost-wax” method of casting.
“Out of that master mold, we make a wax copy,” Barney explained. “So, we went from the positive form as the original. We made a negative mold, now we are going to make a positive wax, then we are going to coat that wax in a shell material to make a temporary negative mold. We’ll melt the wax out of that, pour in the bronze, put all the parts back together by welding them and grinding the surfaces back so that nothing has a seam. And then we put the patina on it and mount it on the base.”
“That’s the abbreviated version of how it all works,” he continued. “But essentially, it’s 10-11 departments, depending on how you count them, to go all the way from beginning to the end and make it presentation ready.”
The patina, applied with a paintbrush and activated with a blowtorch, is the chemical that gives the statuette its trademark blue-green hue. Though the patina is temporary, its application is intended to give the appearance of how the statuette will eventually look once the copper inside the bronze has oxidized over time. “The whole thing is sealed to get it through the awards night with a secret ingredient: bowling ball wax,” Anderson revealed.
Each batch of statuettes is produced over the course of about four months and the number manufactured every year varies depending on the size of the nominated acting ensembles. Barney noted that though 45 statuettes had been created for the 2020 awards, the Foundry also has leftover inventory from last year. “We always have a few extras on hand,” he said.
Creating a truly original award was always the intention of the SAG Committee but Anderson observed that the process is also serendipitously reflective of the collaborative nature of filmmaking.
“We started with the idea that we weren’t just going to give a typical trophy, like you find in a trophy shop,” Anderson said. “We were going to send our honorees home with a fine art piece. One of the things that we didn’t really appreciate at the time was that the way it’s produced is very similar to the way we produce our work. There are a lot of people behind the scenes and you are seeing them here today. And they are artists too.”
Since each statuette is handmade, no two statuettes are exactly alike. To further designate their uniqueness, every 16-inch tall, 12-pound statuette has an individual serial number carved into its base.
Ashleigh LaThrop, a SAG Ensemble Award nominee for “The Handmaid’s Tale,” attended the pouring and participated in the process by taking a hammer to break the mold on one of the statuettes.
“Not only had I never seen this before, but I had never really considered how these statures were made and the process that goes into it but getting to watch it was sort of an unreal experience,” LaThrop told Variety. “Getting to see these statues that are going to be handed out to my fellow peers, people that I admire and the process and the artistry that goes into making these. Because I have never seen one up close. Getting to see how they are made and how beautiful they are, it was very special.”
The SAG award statuettes will be handed out at the guild’s annual awards ceremony on Jan. 19.