Oscars: A Big Night For Below The Line

Cannes Film Festival

Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S.

In the days prior to Oscar Sunday, two camps had formed: "The Hurt Locker" and "Avatar."  Yet, many films in the Oscar race provided stiff competition in the below the line categories, whether it be the combined world of miniatures and CGI employed in the art direction of "The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus," the documentary-style camera work found in "The Hurt Locker’s" cinematography, the costumes celebrating theatrical dance and passionate life in "Nine," or the age makeup in "Il Divo."

411 Publishing was in the press room to speak with those individuals who discovered the honor that comes with calling themselves "Oscar winner." 

After winning the Best Animated Feature Oscar for "Up,” Pete Docter said his interest in animation began with creating flip books as a boy.  Backstage he was asked if he still creates flip books.  He confides that his family’s holiday cards are flip books.

The Art Direction team for "Avatar": Rick Carter, Robert Stromberg and Set Decorator Kim Sinclair, made it backstage after winning their Oscars to field questions about working with "taskmaster" James Cameron. 

”It was very fulfilling for me and it was a great working relationship with the director," said Kim Sinclair.  "On a personal note, I’ve never been thanked so many times.  Jim would come up and say ‘Great scene, thank you’ which is really, in my experience, unique."

"Working with James is about a visionary that you follow,” said Carter.  “We’d follow him to the Alamo." 

Although "Avatar" has a limited amount of live action sequences, Mauro Fiore’s Cinematography received the Best Oscar.  Backstage, Fiore was asked about his perspective on being honored for a film that used so many different tools to craft the film’s images.

"I think it’s a pretty amazing thing for me to be honored in this capacity," said Fiore.  "This is a huge revolution for the industry."


Fiore explained he was well prepared for his role as cinematographer by watching Cameron’s "art reel"; a creative tool designed before the film was shot that presented Cameron’s ideas to each member of the creative team.

"I definitely viewed the reel," said Fiore.  "Before the interview process I had an hour discussion where I was briefed on all the visuals that were created for the film, and the whole technical process.  I was definitely briefed on Jim’s vision for the film." 

Sandy Powell received her third Oscar for her Costume Designs in "The Young Victoria."  Powell explained her process for creating the fashions in the movie.

"Victoria was actually vibrant and attractive and a real character," said Powell.  "I was fortunate enough to actually see some of Victoria‘s real clothes; they’re archived at Kensington Palace.  I also looked at portraiture from the period.  That was the inspiration."

When "The Hurt Locker" won Best Film Editing, the press room became very animated, for historically the winner of this category is the indicator of what film will take the Best Picture award.  The husband and wife team of Bob Murawski and Chris Innis explained how they balanced the film’s action with the inner turmoil the characters felt witnessing the realities of war.

"I think we were trying to treat the conflict between the characters and the action equally," said Innis.  "Jeremy Renner’s character is like an onion and you are peeling away the layers."

Added Murawski, "The important thing is to create a movie that’s true to the characters, and try to convey what they are going through in the most eloquent fashion, be it quick cuts or slow cuts.  Basically, it’s getting inside of their heads and knowing what they are responding to and what the audience should see."

Barney Burman, Mindy Hall and Joel Harlow won the Makeup category for "Star Trek."  The original "Star Trek" mythology inspired their work.

"The mythology of ‘Star Trek’ was that the Romulans and the Vulcans began as the same race," said Harlow.  "The Romulans followed their animal tendencies.  In designing prosthetics, we wanted to make a Romulan stand out as more animal; we adjusted the ridge brows, the bone on their noses.  Then, this band of Romulans was tattooed to single themselves out from all the other Romulans."

In creating the Oscar winning score for "Up," Michael Giacchino spoke about understanding the story to find the balance in his orchestration.

"You may have a tendency to over-dramatize what’s going on, but if you think about it, when you’re in a room with somebody telling you about their most desperate moment in life, you’ll be quiet." said Giacchino.  "You want to talk to them softly.  For me it was all about being as quiet as I could be, using a lot of piano, and letting it grow from there naturally."

After Morgan Freeman narrated a section of the broadcast explaining the difference between Sound Editing and Sound Mixing, “The Hurt Locker’s” Paul N.J. Ottosson and Ray Beckett won both categories.  Backstage, Beckett described the elements that were added during the mixing stage.


"In the desert I recorded the wind going through the sand dunes, the sound of little bugs in the dunes, just to really give you a sense of a place for this film."

Having previously interviewed the visual effects team for "Avatar," I was excited to see Joe Letteri, Stephen Rosenbaum, Richard Baneham and Andrew R. Jones arrive in the press room, each holding their Oscars.  I couldn’t resist asking if they were tired of the attention their work has brought them.

"Not at all," said Letteri.  "This is the culmination of it.  Everything else has been great, because, after four years, there’s a lot to talk about, and I don’t think we are shy about that."

Added Baneham, "Gold never wears thin."

To watch episodes of Production Tech Tips, please visit:



For a complete list of Oscar nominees and winners, please visit: