ROCK TAVERN—As the 88th Academy Awards is televised around the world, Polich Tallix employees will watch the event with special interest. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences chose Polich Tallix to re-envision the Oscar statuette given to awardees in a return to its first design.
According to an announcement by the academy on Feb.16, the statuettes will now be hand-cast in bronze and finished in 24-karat gold. The bronze base will be given a black finish.
The new Oscar retains the basic physical characteristics of its immediate predecessor, which had been made by Chicago-based R.S. Owens & Co. since 1982, according to the academy’s website. The Oscar statues were cast in britannia metal and gold plated. The statuette’s base was made of black, nickel-plated spun brass.
Modern Yet Traditional
Rep. Patrick Maloney visited the foundry on Feb. 18 to meet with its 86-year-old founder and CEO Dick Polich. Maloney asked Polich about how his foundry got the job to give the statue a burnished upgrade in bronze. Polich said there are foundries all over the world, but the academy simply invited Polich Tallix to do this job.
Polich Tallix received a cast bronze Oscar from 1929 made by sculptor George Stanley and restored subtle features of the original sculpture, which was based on sketches by MGM Art Director Cedric Gibbons.
The re-envisoned statuette is actually a blending of the original with one produced for the last 30 years. Polich said the design has been changing over time in a way that made the statue look more modern. Working closely with the academy, the foundry made a composite that blends the old with the new but is cast in bronze instead of the pewter material more recently used.
The overall size of the bronze statuette remains at 13.5 inches tall and 8.5 pounds.
Stephanie Minor, who works in sales and public relations for Polich, said the changes are subtle. “[The statuettes] are mirror polished, so there is a different material to give them luster. There is a different engraving style. There is a different font. All these different changes have been incorporated into the new design.” All engravings are done in bronze, not brass as in the last 30 years.
Precision Sand Casting
Maloney watched artisans pour molten bronze into a sand cast. Vice President Adam Demchak who os also chief of operations said, “We have a very specific temperature that we want to pour it at—not too hot, not too cold. When it hits the right temperature, [the worker] is going to dump it as quickly as he can into the top of that sand mold.”
The super-heated metal fills the mold and is allowed to sit overnight, Demchak said. “He will come in in the morning, open up that sand mold, bust the sand all apart, and we’ll have a sand cast.”
The company used 3-D technology on the prestigious project. Artisans created digital scans of the 1929 statuette and a modern-era pedestal base. The digital Oscar was then 3-D-printed and molded so the form could be cast in wax.
Each wax statuette is coated in a ceramic shell that is cured and fired at 1,600 F, melting the wax away and leaving an empty Oscar-shaped form. The statuettes are then cast in liquid bronze at more than 1,800 F, cooled, and sanded to a mirror polish finish.
The figure portion of each Oscar is electroplated with a permanent layer of reflective 24-karat gold by Brooklyn-based Epner Technology. The statuette’s bronze base receives a smooth black patina, which is hand-buffed to a satin finish.
The time required to produce 56 statuettes in this manner was about three months.
Demchak and Minor will attend the ceremony to complete the final step of the project. Engravings are created for all nominees. After the Academy Awards concludes, Demchak and Minor will add the engraving of the winner to the statuette and give the finished statuette back to the winner at the Oscar after-party.
Trophy for Movies
MGM head Louis B. Mayer decided to hold a dinner event in Hollywood’s early years to recognize great moviemaking in different categories. Acclaimed Art Director Cedric Gibbons designed a trophy in an art deco-style of a knight holding a sword standing on a reel of film. Gibbons himself won an Oscar 11 times, including for art direction for “The Wizard of Oz.”
The first statuettes were cast in bronze by Guido Nelli at the California Bronze Foundry, according to a description on the foundry’s website.
Its name was coined in 1939, according to legend, by the academy’s librarian Margaret Herrick who thought it looked like her Uncle Oscar.
The foundry has earned a reputation for producing sculptures for some of the world’s most famous artists but making the updated Oscar is a crowning achievement. “Never have we made anything that has this kind of renown, this sense of accomplishment,” Polich said. “I could go to an igloo and knock on the door and say ‘What is this?’ and they would say ‘Oscar.'”
Polich Tallix, founded by Polich in 1972, will produce future Oscars. “With this project, we’ve been entrusted with continuing a great tradition,” Polich said.
“With the help of some 21st century technology, we’re able to honor the Oscar’s proud beginnings,” wrote Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs in the academy’s announcement. “The new statuette exemplifies impeccable craftsmanship and the enduring nature of art.”
The 88th Oscars will be held on Sunday, Feb. 28, at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood and will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.
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