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HomeAwardsOscar Winners Part 2

Oscar Winners Part 2

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By Bruce Shutan
On the shuttle bus ride home following the 76th annual Academy Awards presentation, members of the Hollywood press corps griped about the ceremony turning out to be a real yawner. Why even bother with a five-second delay, they complained, when the evening’s most audacious moment saw last year’s best actor recipient Adrien Brody open wide for a shot of breath spray in a reference to his dramatic kiss with Halle Berry in 2003?
Ah, but it was a memorable night for the crew—with below-the-line talent on New Line’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King taking the biggest bow.
Jim Rygiel, who, along with his team of Joe Letteri, Randall William Cook and Alex Funke scored the now famous hat-trick win for visual effects, admitted that initially it wasn’t easy luring top talent to New Zealand for such an extended period of time on a then largely unknown project.
“I remember on the first film we had a Web site where about 20 people a month would put their names in,” Rygiel told Below the Line in the backstage pressroom. “Once the success happened, we were getting probably 20 a day. [Director] Peter [Jackson] gave our group a lot of creative freedom, which really attracts artists.”
Grant Major, who won for art direction on LOTR along with Dan Hennah and Alan Lee for set decoration, said his illustrations of the J.R.R. Tolkien classic upon which the trilogy was based date back about 10 years. They served as a tool for gathering material to help visualize the scripts as they were being written by Jackson and his team, with certain images being converted to three-dimensional sets.
“It occurred to them to actually invite myself and John Howe, another Tolkien illustrator, to come over and to help to develop the look of the films along with Richard Taylor and Grant Major and Dan Hennah,” Lee recalled. “It was six years ago that we started this, and we’re still just finishing off the last few shots for the DVD, so it’s been a very, very long process.”
Taylor and Peter King, winners for LOTR in the makeup category, didn’t believe the film’s technical achievements overshadowed the acting because of the superb ensemble cast. “I think the makeup just complements what they do,” he said.
In his acceptance speech, Taylor thanked Marjory Hamlin and Dominie Till for looking after the “on-set prosthetic applications for so many months” as well as Jason Docherty, “who manufactured over 10,000 of those prosthetics,” and Gino Acevedo, “the gentleman within our company that looked after the work for so long.”
Russell Boyd, who won for cinematography for Fox’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, said it was quite uncomfortable for cast and crew to endure thousands of gallons of water raining down from dump tanks and jet engines. “I think we shot the storm sequence for a week or so and we were wet from call time to wrap time,” he told Below the Line. “Not only were we wet, we inhaled the fumes from all sorts of engines and the wind blew us to kingdom come and back. But it was worth it.”
Richard King, winner in the sound editing category for Master and Commander, lauded director Peter Weir’s aural aim to place the audience on board the ship to experience what it felt like to be a man-o-war in 1805 without making it seem like a Hollywood movie. “We felt the best way to create these sounds was to go out and record them—not only to get the actual sounds but also to experience for ourselves what it was like to be fired at with 24-pound shot and being in a ship in heavy weather at sea,” said King.
Andrew Stanton, who won in the animated feature category for Pixar/Disney’s Finding Nemo, when asked about CGI being used as a ploy to sell theater tickets at the expense of storytelling and traditional animation, said that view is perpetuated by “short-sighted thinking. All you have to do is look at the entire history of cinematography; technology and the methods have changed cyclically, and almost always the best story wins, and I don’t think it takes that long to figure that out.”
In an evening dominated by down-under nations, Denys Arcand, director of Cinemaginaire’s The Barbarian Invasions, which won for best foreign language film, wasn’t sure why it took Canada so long to finally win in this category. He remarked that his country is “like the third British colony” after Australia and New Zealand in terms of walking away with Oscar gold. “We never seem to win anything,” he said with a dose of self-deprecating humor. “I guess it’s because half of our people are already working here [in the U.S.].”
Adam Elliot, winner in the animated short film category along with Melanie Coombs for Melodrama Pictures’ Harvie Krumpet, said that while Australia isn’t known for animation, the victory may “put a little spark in our industry for us.”

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