Oscars: The Fascinating, Manic Process Behind How the Statuettes Are Made
Hollywood's favorite leading man — which workers actually refer to as "the Man" — goes from pewter to gold in three weeks every January.
This story first appeared in the March 7 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
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Like the movies it honors, Oscar has a demanding development process.
1. The Oscar starts at Chicago's R.S. Owens & Co., which has manufactured the statuettes since 1983. (It also makes the Emmy statuettes.) Ingots of proprietary Britannia pewter alloy are melted and poured into molds based on the original 1928 design by MGM art director Cedric Gibbons that depicts a stylized knight holding a crusader's sword. Aside from minor alterations to the base, the statuette today is identical to the original. About 50 are made for each ceremony.
2, 3, 4. The statuettes are removed from the molds and allowed to cool, then deburred by hand and given a polish.
5. Oscar stands on a film reel whose spokes represent the original branches of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences: actors, directors, writers, producers and technicians. A serial number is engraved on each statuette's reel and its back.
6. R.S. Owens' 175 employees refer to Oscar as "the Man."
7. The statuettes are electroplated with copper, nickel, silver (pictured here leaving the silver bath) and finally 24K gold. "The finish on an Oscar is deeper and more lustrous because we polish between every single layer," says R.S. Owens' Joseph Petree.
8, 9. After a final polish and lacquer topcoat, the statuette is attached to its base. Bases were made of wood or plastic before the design was standardized in 1945 in black nickel plating.
10. The finished trophy is ready for shipping to Hollywood. Each Oscar (supposedly named after an Academy executive's uncle) is 13.5 inches tall, weighs 8.5 pounds and takes about 20 man-hours to complete. If a flaw is detected at any point, the statuette is destroyed.
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