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Academy Awards

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At the 78th annual Academy Awards, Oscars were widely sprinkled. But the craft awards came in clusters. As a result, Memoirs of a Geisha and King Kong each won Oscars in three below-the-line categories, winding up with a similar trio of Academy Awards as Crash and Brokeback Mountain.While Geisha has had mixed responses from critics and audiences, the acclaim for the lavish period film’s art direction, cinematography and costumes had built throughout awards season—and it all came together at the Oscars. Production designer John Myhre and set decorator Gretchen Rau, who recreated Kyoto’s Gihon geisha district complete with running river on a village-size set built in the San Fernando Valley, won for best art direction. DP Dion Beebe’s luminous camerawork was honored with the Oscar for best cinematography. And Colleen Atwood’s stunning kimonos and other outfits got her the Academy Award for best costume design.It was the second Oscar for Myhre and Atwood. Both won Academy Awards in 2003 for their work on Chicago. And Beebe received his first Oscar nomination for his filming of the stage musical. Chicago wound up winning the best picture award that year, as well as a best director Oscar for Rob Marshall, who in directing Geisha reassembled the same creative team.In giving their thanks at this year’s awards, all three were effusive in their praise of Marshall. “This was your vision and I think we were all a part of it,” said Beebe, who was born in Australia and raised in South Africa. “I think it’s a little suspicious how many Australians are nominated, but I think there’s a strong tradition of cinematography in Australia, and I follow in the footsteps of John Seale and Dean Semler and Russell Boyd and Andrew Lesnie, just to name a few.”Myhre, who explained that his set decorator co-winner could not make it to the awards because of illness, said that had Rau been there “I’m sure she would also like to thank Rob Marshall because this is really his movie—every single frame of it.” Myhre also thanked his own production design team: Tomas Voth, John Hoskins and Clyde Zimmerman.Director Peter Jackson’s remake of King Kong garnered its Oscar triple crown with awards for best visual effects and in the two sound categories—mixing and editing.The mostly New Zealander cadre of winners for Kong were also mainly repeaters, many having won for their contributions to parts of Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. The trio of awards for Kong set the imprimatur on Weta Workshop and Park Road Post, the effects and postproduction facilities based in Wellington, as among the world’s premier digital studios.The four recipients for best visual effects were Richard Taylor, Joe Letteri, Brian Van’t Hul and Christian Rivers. Besides thanking director Jackson and their cohorts at Weta, actor Andy Serkis, who played Kong for motion capture purposes, was singled out. “For those of us who aren’t actors it’s really a thrill to be able to create a character and a performance like Kong,” said Letteri. “But I’ve got to say we had a great actor working with us the whole time to show us how it’s done. I’ve got to thank Andy Serkis for really giving us the heart of Kong.”For Taylor it was his fifth Oscar. He had also received an Academy Award for special effects for The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in 2002, and three Oscars for makeup and costumes for other episodes. Letteri had won in 2004 and 2003 for visual effects on Lord’s The Return of the King and The Two Towers installments, respectively.Taylor said his multiple Oscars don’t stay in his possession but “go back to Weta to be shared with all of the technicians. None of the awards are at home. They are all on the shelves so the guys can take them home and have them with their families and enjoy them.”The Oscar for achievement in sound mixing went to another Kong quartet: Christopher Boyes, Michael Semanick, Michael Hedges and Hammond Peek. This was the same sound-mixing crew that won an Oscar in 2004 for The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Boyes has also won best achievement in sound mixing Oscars for Pearl Harbor in 2002 and Titanic in 1998.Kong sound editors Mike Hopkins and Ethan Van der Ryn received the Academy Award for best achievement in sound editing. They had teamed on all three The Lord of the Ring movies and received an Oscar in 2003 for their sound editing on The Two Towers. Hopkins, in his acceptance speech, paid tribute to “the guy that paved the way for us, Murray Spivack, the original sound designer for the 1933 version of King Kong.”Of Crash and Brokeback Mountain’s trio of Academy Awards, one for each film was awarded for below-the-line craft excellence. Hughes Winborne got the Oscar for achievement in film editing for his deft interweaving of the plot lines in Crash. And Argentinian composer Gustavo Santaollala won the Oscar for best original score for his brooding music for Brokeback.The Oscar for achievement in makeup went to Howard Berger and Tami Lane for The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Lane noted that the creative makeup for the fantastical film was a melding of traditional and digital techniques. “I think what’s revolutionary about this film is that it’s a giant combination of both techniques,” Lane told the press after receiving her award. “It’s a new magic trick as opposed to going all practical or all digital—it’s a great combination.”For best animated feature, the Oscar went to Nick Park and Steve Box for Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. The film was done in the traditional slow stop-motion technique that’s been around for decades.Parks was asked if he was surprised there was no computer graphics style animation competitor in the category this year. “Maybe there is a kind of message there that the hand-crafted, more unique, more unusual kind films are more important,” he said. “I hope there’s a message for the Academy there.” But Box piped up to say “We’re big admirers of CGI films—I’m glad Pixar didn’t have a movie out this year!”

Written by Jack Egan

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