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Production designers panel for Oscar nominated films

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The American Cinematheque in association with the Art Directors Guild and the Set Decorators Society of America presented its first ever-panel of Oscar-nominated art directors and set decorators on March 4 at the American Cinematheque in the Grauman’s Hollywood Egyptian Theater. The program included screening excerpts from this year’s five Oscar-nominated films for art direction. The discussion focused on understanding and appreciating the vision and craft of the artists honored by those nominations.Art Director Guild president Thomas A. Walsh, who moderated, listed the many disciplines—from architect to engineer, designer to sculptor, historian to survivor—employed by production designers, art directors and set decorators in their quest to create authentic worlds.During the discussion, Good Night, and Good Luck production designer Jim Bissell and set decorator Jan Pascale told how they constructed a set that allowed free-flowing camera movement while reinforcing the thematic concept that the corporate presence was always part of the newsroom. They concentrated on gray-scale values, not actual colors, since the film was presented in black and white, and they elicited a promise that no color photos would be taken on set.Production designer Stuart Craig and set decorator Stephanie McMillan have designed all the Harry Potter films, so they brought a continuity of vision to Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. “The details are in the book,” said Craig. “We have expanded and given the films an epic proportion.” The film’s sets that are almost 100-percent built, he added.Production designer Sarah Greenwood and set decorator Katie Spencer had some of the great manor houses of Britain to work with for Pride and Prejudice. But because of the historic nature of the locations, they often had to build sets within sets in order to maintain both the integrity of the buildings and the artistic vision of the film.Production designer Grant Major, art director/set decorator Dan Hennah and art director Simon Bright had to create two diverse worlds for King Kong: the mysterious island and a retro New York City. They tried to keep the stylistic quality of the original film and bring depth to their design by inventing a back-story.Although it was originally intended that the majority of Memoirs of a Geisha would be shot in Japan, production designer John Myhre and set decorator Gretchen Rau ended up constructing a town on a ranch in Southern California that included 45 two- to three-story buildings and a flowing river. The “back lot” had to look exactly like Japan and when the shoot was finished the site had to be returned to its original state.

Written by Mary Ann Skweres

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