Oscar art directors reveal tricks of the trade

Associated Press
Oscar statues stand in front of the Kodak Theatre as preparations for the 83rd Academy Awards continue in Los Angeles, Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
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The films up for this year's best art direction Oscar range from epics such as "Inception" to intimate tales like "The King's Speech," but they share at least one thing in common: Each used movie magic to tell their stories.

Here's five behind-the-scenes secrets spilled by the nominees during a panel Saturday at the Egyptian Theatre:

— While most of "Alice in Wonderland" was filmed in front of green screens and later constructed inside computers, the cast and crew knew what their version of Wonderland would look like, thanks to illustrations, composites and models available on set. "It had to be designed close to what it was going to be," said production designer Robert Stromberg.

— "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows" set decorator Stephenie McMillan, who worked on all the "Potter" films, said the production designers' most prized possession was a hand-drawn map by author J.K. Rowling of the Hogwarts grounds. She said the sketch helped represent the distance between such landmarks as the castle, Hagrid's hut and the Quidditch pitch.

— The twisty, turny world of "Inception" was created inside director Christopher Nolan's garage, according to production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas. He said he spent four weeks in — and out — of the garage drawing sketches and building miniature models. "It was sort of a challenge by Chris," said Dyas. "He wanted to see what you could do."

— All that fog in the London streets in "The King's Speech" didn't just add atmosphere. When filmmakers couldn't clear the way for the period piece, they obscured the scene with more fog, said production designer Eve Stewart. Her most helpful tool on the film wasn't the fog machine though. It was the actual diaries from speech therapist Lionel Logue.

— Those dead ducks hanging in the Chinese dry-goods store scene in "True Grit" were not props. The Coen brothers insisted on using real meat to add authenticity to Rooster Cogburn's Fort Smith enclave. "One of the first things we bought was a freezer," said set decorator Nancy Haigh. "It was one of the most expensive things we bought on the movie."

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