Cast­ing Os­car: Foundry cre­ates art

Each stat­uette is cast, buffed and fussed over, far from Hol­ly­wood

The Hamilton Spectator - - BUSINESS - MICHAEL HILL

ROCK TAV­ERN, N.Y. — Ev­ery Os­car fist-pumped or tear­fully cra­dled by Academy Award win­ners is first cast, buffed and fussed over at a foundry far from Hol­ly­wood.

Work­ers at the Polich Tal­lix fine art foundry, about 80 kilo­me­tres north of New York City, be­gan work in late Septem­ber on the awards to be handed out Feb. 26. Each of the 60 Os­cars shipped from the hangar-like pro­duc­tion floor is 34 cen­time­tres (13½ inches) tall with the same dis­tinc­tive Art Deco fea­tures pol­ished to a mir­ror fin­ish. Each glossy black base lacks only a win­ner’s name­plate, which is added af­ter the cer­e­mony.

Polich Tal­lix, which be­gan mak­ing the awards last year, tweaked the look of the styl­ized knight with an eye to­ward the orig­i­nal stat­uettes handed out in 1929. The path of these new stat­ues from a small town in up­state New York to cen­tre stage in Hol­ly­wood might not be the stuff of movies. But it’s worth a close-up. Ev­ery Os­car starts with a ver­sion made of wax, which is re­peat­edly dipped into a cream-coloured ce­ramic slurry. The ce­ramic har­dens and the wax is melted out to make way for molten bronze. What’s left once the ce­ramic mould is chipped away is a sort of rough-hewn ver­sion of the el­e­gant icon.

John Men­zie and other work­ers make sure ev­ery sur­face de­tail — from Os­car’s hair­line to the film reel it stands on — is hand-sanded and pol­ished to a fine fin­ish.

Men­zie said it’s a kick to see the pieces you worked on for hours handed out on TV, like he did last year while watch­ing the Academy Awards.

“When Leonardo DiCaprio gave his speech and he was hold­ing his Os­car I was just think­ing ... I might have worked on that one,” Men­zie said. “I wish in his ac­cep­tance speech, he would have said the se­rial num­ber that was on the back, you know? So I could say, “That’s the one I worked on!’”

When Polich Tal­lix took over pro­duc­tion from a Chicago com­pany, the Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences asked the foundry to cre­ate a statue truer to the orig­i­nal. Foundry artist Daniel Plon­ski made 3-D scans of an early statue and a re­cent statue, and took de­sired qual­i­ties from each for the new­est it­er­a­tion. Os­car’s restora­tion was sub­tle; his styl­ized fa­cial fea­tures are more de­fined, there’s a greater hint of his ears and a hair part, and his sword rests in sharper re­lief be­tween his legs.

“The trick was not to make it too shock­ingly dif­fer­ent,” Plon­ski said.

The most sub­stan­tial dif­fer­ence is one peo­ple don’t see. The statue is once again cast in bronze, in­stead of a pewter-like al­loy.

The stat­ues are shipped to Brook­lyn for 24-karat-gold elec­tro­plat­ing at Ep­ner Tech­nol­ogy, which also is in its se­cond year of Os­car mak­ing.

Pres­i­dent David Ep­ner said that be­fore his com­pany be­came in­volved in Os­car pro­duc­tion, ac­tor F. Mur­ray Abraham and a cou­ple of other award win­ners had asked him to plate gold fin­ishes that were wear­ing off. He vows that won’t hap­pen un­der his process, which in­cludes cop­per plat­ing and nickel plat­ing each statue be­fore gold plat­ing.

“The gold is guar­an­teed — not for the life of the re­cip­i­ent, but for the life of the statue,” Ep­ner said

Polich Tal­lix has one more task af­ter the nom­i­nees are an­nounced: mak­ing a name­plate for each po­ten­tial win­ner. The award win­ners are handed an Os­car on stage with no name­plate on it. Win­ners can later take their statue to a ta­ble back­stage to get their name­plate af­fixed. The un­used plates are de­stroyed.


Os­car stat­uettes in dif­fer­ent stages of pro­duc­tion wait to be in­spected be­fore be­ing fin­ished at the Polich Tal­lix Fine Art Foundry in Rock Tav­ern, N.Y.

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