It's all about the craft

A category-by-category look at the Oscar crafts shoot

Oscar Preview: Art Direction

As soon as the trailer for Paramount's "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" debuted, it was clear that the work of production designer Donald Graham Burt and set decorator Victor J. Zolfo had all the Oscar-friendly elements that would make it a favorite in this category. Large-scale sets? Check. A variety of historical settings, in this case spanning several time periods, from the end of World War I to the 21st century? Check. Bonus points for a big name director (David Fincher) exploring serious universal themes (love, aging, death, etc.)? Check, check.

Oh, yeah -- and visually it looks pretty damn impressive.

Similarly, Universal's "Changeling" (James J. Murakami/Gary Fettis), which recreates 1920s Los Angeles, and Fox's epic "Australia" (Catherine Martin), which takes viewers Down Under in the days before World War II, should also be seen as favorites.

On the other hand, Sony's "Quantum of Solace" is something the Academy has never shown much fondness for: a James Bond film. But "Quantum's" sleek, ultramodern, epic-scale sets, hearkening back to the iconic work of original Bond production designer Ken Adam, could inspire voters to buck that trend. And it doesn't hurt that the film's production designer Dennis Gassner and set decorator Anna Pinnock were nominated just last year for "The Golden Compass," making them fresh in voters' minds.

By all rights, production designer Ralph Eggleston's imaginative interpretations of postapocalyptic Earth and spacecrafts-come-resorts in Disney/Pixar's "WALL-E" should also earn him a nod, but the Academy has never demonstrated a willingness to honor purely animated films in this category, which is ironic considering how many of the sets in recent nominees were constructed almost entirely through digital animation.

Other contenders include Warner Bros.' "The Dark Knight" (Nathan Crowley/Peter Lando), Universal's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (Stephen Scott/Elli Griff/Zsuzsa Mihalek), Paramount's "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" (Guy Hendrix Dyas/Larry Dias/Beth A. Rubino/Alyssa Winter) and Paramount's "Iron Man" (J. Michael Riva/Lauri Gaffin).

Next: Cinematography