Oscar Watch: Craft

The artists who designed, dressed and dolled up Oscar's picks

Art Direction

Home sweet home.

The Oscar art direction nominees relied on their characters' homes to lay the groundwork for the overall look of their films. "Changeling" production designer James Murakami and set decorator Gary Fettis found the house for Angelina Jolie's lead character in San Dimas.

"The house was empty and in bad shape, so we remodeled the house to fit the period. Since she was a single mother, there were modest decorations," Murakami says. Fettis adds, "The interiors were simple, uncluttered and monochromatic -- the Depression-era look."

Similarly on "Revolutionary Road," "The look of where (the main characters) lived was very important to the storytelling,"says production designer Kristi Zea, who worked alongside set decorator Debra Schutt.

In the adaptation of the Richard Yates novel, a dull and constricting small town in Connecticut suffocates a young couple and their marriage during the 1950s. "You needed to feel claustrophobic," Zea says.

"The Duchess" production designer Michael Carlin and set decorator Rebecca Alleway utilized stately furniture and rich fabrics inside the Duke of Devonshire's estate to emulate the decadence of 18th century England.

"The Duke was a very wealthy man and bought the finest furniture. His home looked expensive and not cluttered. This wasn't middle class," Alleway says.

Inside the New Orleans home of the title character in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," production designer Donald Graham Burt and set decorator Victor Zolfo successfully created an environment that spans the years 1918-2005. "We were going for a very real look, keeping the color very muted and very true to each period and not overindulging in cliche period motif."

But in "The Dark Knight," the city -- rather than the home -- was the central focus. Production designer Nathan Crowley and set decorator Peter Lando wanted as much shot in Chicago as possible.

"We needed to describe Gotham City, but it had to jump from the look in 'Batman Begins' to show that the chaos has left the city, so that when we introduced the Joker, there was something to juxtapose," Crowley says. "We used modernism and hard straight lines as much as possible -- take the gothic out of Gotham. It made Bruce Wayne a lonely figure."

Costume Design

Audiences learned the power of the red dress in 2008. The standout was the crimson frock worn by Cate Blanchett on a memorable date with Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button."

"Clothes in the late '40s had a lot of browns and grays, and it was wonderful to have her in a new-look dress. And red on the redhead reflected a somewhat rebellious nature," costume designer Jacqueline West says.

"Baz (Luhrmann) likes red dresses for pivotal scenes where there is a turnaround in the life of a character," "Australia" costume designer/production designer Catherine Martin reveals, referring to a dress worn by Nicole Kidman. "There was a Chinatown in Darwin, Australia. The way (Kidman's character) embraces the Chinese influence in the dress was meant to illustrate that she has come to terms with the people she met on the drive and that she now sees herself outside of society. Nicole played a stuck-up aristocrat who discovers herself. I wanted to articulate that though clothes."

With all five nominees falling in the period-piece category, the costume designers were tasked with allowing the clothes to extend the stories and characters -- but subtly.

"The Duchess" director Saul Dibb "was keen that it be an intimate story between the Duchess and the Duke, so it was also about knowing when to hold back," costume designer Michael O'Connor explains. "You don't want the costume to take away from the story."

"When it is a period, especially a part of our lifetime, you want to be accurate but not overdue it," Oscar vet Albert Wolsky says of his work on "Revolutionary Road." He used costumes with a very controlled color palette of pale mid-tones to depict the social confines of Connecticut during the 1950s.

Similarly in "Milk," "The top goal was to really go into the story and recreate San Francisco from that time, exactly and precisely, in order to be able to cut to archival footage," first-time nominee Danny Glicker says.


The digital aging in "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" and the digitally treated character of Two-Face in "The Dark Knight" suggest the lines between makeup and visual effects are beginning to blur.

"There are some worries in the makeup community," makeup designer Greg Cannom admits. "I don't think it is a bad thing. Our makeup with digital enhancements will be even more real. Makeup is going to be a combination of the two."

Cannom earned his ninth nomination for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," where he faced the challenge of de-aging Pitt's title character from age 62 to 47. His work had to blend with other sequences, where the VFX team completed digital work on the characters' faces.

In addition to Two-Face's makeup in "The Dark Knight," John Caglione Jr. and Conor O'Sullivan closely collaborated with Heath Ledger and director Christopher Nolan to create the Joker makeup.

"Chris wanted it to look very caked on and smudged, and to degrade in the film through stages," Caglione Jr. explains. "Heath would make a distinct facial expression, and I would paint over it to let it crack and give it a more sinister look."

Mike Elizalde and Thom Floutz were focused on creating convincing creatures in the stylized "Hellboy II: The Golden Army."

"For audiences to believe a fantasy creature, you are trying to make the unreal believable," Floutz says. "We stretched reality in the designs, the sculptures, the materials, and even the paint work. We did that by borrowing from the familiar, right up to and including the performance."