Below-the-Line Artists Discuss Their Oscar-Nominated Crafts

JoJo Whilden/Paramount
Fight scenes in "The Fighter" were shot to mimic the look of 1980s video footage.

Creating a tsunami, chasing SUVs and sewing bear pelts — it’s just another day on set.


Pamela Martin
The Fighter

“The fighting footage is all shot with an HBO crew and a five-camera setup in standard-def video — typical for the time period — and an additional three standard-def video cameras operated by our crew. I used the original fights as a jumping-off point. I edited our shots to mimic exactly what they had done during Micky Ward’s HBO fights and then said, ‘What needs to be better dramatically?’ Typically, you watch a fight and not the audience. But we were able to go outside the ring for reaction shots, which you would never see normally.”


Stephenie McMillan
Set decorator
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

“This one is a road movie; it’s not like all the other Harry Potters, which were, quite a lot, set in the school. We don’t go to the school at all in this film. We had a wedding to do, which takes place in a tent and then gets sabotaged. The linings of the tents, which were silk, were surprisingly resilient to quite a long shoot and being roughly handled, but we had to substitute a stronger fabric when we came to the burning sequences because the effects people weren’t happy with the amount of flame that you could get from the silk.”

Eve Stewart
Production designer
The King’s Speech

The King’s Speech was being filmed last winter around London, and it was phenomenally snowy. We filmed for only 10 weeks, and we had terrible weather for a good five weeks. We couldn’t get our production trucks in, and at times it held up filming. It meant we had to work twice as hard. It impacted the design, but in fact we used the weather to our advantage. That particular year — 1936, when the film takes place — was also very snowy. There were days for which I had hired trucks to come in to provide artificial snow, but we ended up not needing them at all.”


Roger Deakins
True Grit

“This girl on a horse, swimming a river, was kind of tricky. I shot that scene hand-held out of a rubber dinghy, following the action. The outdoor night scenes were the biggest challenge. You’re out in the middle of nowhere, and there’s not really a moon. In the story, it’s about to snow. I wanted to create a softer light than normally you would do for moonlight. The trick was to create a big, soft light source. I used lines of very large lights — the longest line had 29 of them — and they were staggered at 5-foot intervals. It ended up being 100-odd-feet long. It’s something I’ve used a lot on a smaller scale, but on True Grit, just the size of the night shoots and the size of the locations in New Mexico meant I needed something bigger.”


Adrien Morot
Makeup supervisor
Barney’s Version

“When the producers signed off on the looks of an aged Paul Giamatti, they told me, ‘You can do everything you want, as long as it doesn’t take more than 125 minutes.’ It was a race against the clock. When Barney is in his late 60s, Paul is basically covered from forehead to collarbone in prosthetics, but it’s very subtle. My assistant and I were doing the facial prosthetics while somebody was working on his hands using a timer. The first few times, I cheated a little bit and stopped the timer in the middle of the process. When the ADs came to see me, I was like: ‘See? I’m still within my 125 minutes.’ ”

Rick Baker
The Wolfman

“The original director on the film wanted Anthony Hopkins to grow a beard for his character. I was against it because I said, ‘If we’re going to do a transformation and there’s mostly hair on this guy’s face, the transformation will be less effective.’ But we decided that it was better for his Sir John character, so I had to design the wolfman makeup around his beard. On Hopkins’ last day of shooting — he was already done with the Sir John character — [co-nominee] Dave Elsey and I were ready to make him up with the makeup that we designed utilizing his beard as part of the hair. Hopkins walks in with a big smile, clean-shaven. He said, ‘I know you didn’t want the beard, so I shaved it off for you!’ He had been growing it for months. He said, ‘Are you ready for me?’ I said: ‘Just give me a minute. Go get a coffee or something.’ Then Dave and I went, ‘Ahhh!’ We quickly prepared the hair we needed to glue on his face to try to match the beard that he once had. He was so sweet; he really thought he was doing us a favor.”


Mary Zophres
True Grit

“There’s a character called the Bear Man that they didn’t have in the original movie, but he’s in the book. They cast Ed Corbin, who’s 6-foot-3 and 250 pounds. We had to use three or four bears to make his costume. We had to go to a taxidermist in Albuquerque to get some pelts — one was an actual bear rug. Bear Man lives in the woods, and he’s been wearing this bear for a long time, so we used gel and acrylic paint to give the hair a clumpy, nasty quality.”


Tom Myers
Sound designer/supervising sound editor/sound rerecording mixer
Toy Story 3

“We recorded day care centers, six or eight different types of garbage trucks and went to recycling plants and recorded the giant claw like the one in the film. The Toy Story world needs to feel familiar. It was lots of trial and error of going through Toys “R” Us, garage sales and our homes. For Stretch, the rubber octopus, we got a rubber shower mat that twisted and used the suction cups for pops.”

Mark P. Stoeckinger
Sound editor

“Director Tony Scott wanted the unstoppable Beast Triple-7 train to have its own voice. We used sounds that trains naturally make and created a library of sounds, too. One key element was a high, intense whining — a sound recorded on set of a train doing dynamic braking. We used it to make the approach long and feel intense. Tony also wanted to hear big, heavy wheels — a ‘clickity-clack’ sound. We found that with trains that still ran on bolted rails.”


Michael Semanick
Sound rerecording mixer
The Social Network

“In the opening scene in the noisy college pub, we were trying to protect the dialogue, but David Fincher said: ‘People don’t have to hear every word. They only need bits of information.’ The gist is that Mark Zuckerberg is talking a million miles an hour, and this girl’s trying to keep up with him. And the audience is like, ‘Whoa!’ It really establishes that he is inept and not social.”

William Sarokin
Sound mixer

“At the beginning of the shoot, we were filming part of the chase after Angelina Jolie has escaped from the CIA office in Washington. The last shot of the day was Chiwetel Ejiofor spotting her running from his SUV and shouting, ‘There she is!’ We did a couple of takes, and then it got too dark. The next day, I set up my sound cart and planted a couple of mics in the SUV. I was expecting the SUV to drive a few feet and then stop. Instead, the car turns around and drives away — a few miles away. My radio mics only have range of a few hundred yards at best, so I asked the PA remaining on set where they went and was told director Phillip Noyce wanted a longer drive and more ad libs from Chiwetel while he searched for Salt. Lesson 1: Don’t assume I know what the shot is. If Phillip has time to think about a scene, he’s going to make more of it than is written. Fortunately for me, my radio mics have built-in recorders, so I did get the sound for the entire new scene.”


Tim Burke
Senior visual effects supervisor
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1

“We’ve done more than 1,000 effects shots on the film, which is probably just over half the screen time. The biggest thing was the aerial dogfight and road chase at the beginning, a good 10 minutes of action. We spent about six months designing it. We started while we were finishing the sixth Potter, and it rolled into filming, which was 18 months. At one point, we were finishing the sixth film and previs-ing and shooting Deathly Hallows, Part 1 and Part 2, so we were almost working on three films at the same time.” 

Ben Snow
Visual effects supervisor
Iron Man 2

“When we shot the battle between Robert Downey Jr. and Don Cheadle in the Japanese garden, they wore Velcro suits with black and white tracking bands, and we added the Iron Man suits with CG later. Rob would be gesturing in such a way that, with the suit added, his hand would be going through Don’s chest completely. So the animator had to go and move everything a little bit, keeping the essence of the performance but extending it to reflect what the suit would be doing.”

Michael Owens
Visual effects supervisor

“The tsunami sequence in Hereafter was a major challenge because of the water effects. The environment and the people needed to be mostly virtual due to the complexity of the scene. The hereafter visions were not technically difficult but rather aesthetically and artistically difficult. You’re treading a fine line of explaining too much to the audience or not giving them enough of an experience. You can neither overstate nor understate what those things are, but you have to make them intriguing enough so that it would be compelling for viewers to think about the emotional side of the film.”