How to fake it through the technical Oscar categories
Published Monday, February 26, 2018 6:00AM EST
With this handy Oscar guide, you won't have to own a pair of black-framed hipster glasses to fake your way through the Academy's many not-so-exciting technical categories on the big night.
Why is Cinematography not the same thing as Directing? What's the difference between the Sound Mixing and Sound Editing categories? What’s the secret to predicting the Best Costume category?
We've got your answers in this convenient Oscar breakdown.
Most people are generally aware of what a director does. He or she is the boss, telling everyone what to do and how to do it to make the movie happen.
The cinematographer is the camera-only version of a director. Cinematographers are in charge of capturing the visuals in a film, meaning everything from camera angles and lighting to colour, movement and makeup. A good cinematographer can make a film really pop off the screen by painting a visual portrait for the audience.
This year’s nominees include some visually stunning films, including the breathtaking “Blade Runner 2049,” by Canadian director Denis Villeneuve.
In the following scene from the film, Ryan Gosling’s character confronts Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard in an abandoned Las Vegas casino lounge, where malfunctioning celebrity holograms blink in and out of existence. The flashes of colour and light make it hard to determine what’s real and what’s not – a central theme in the film.
“Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water” and “Mudbound” are also nominated in this category.
Space, apes and superheroes. The visual effects category typically includes a rundown of blockbuster films from the year that was, and this year's nominees are no exception.
“Blade Runner 2049,” “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” brought sci-fi space fantasies to life, while “Kong: Skull Island” and “War for the Planet of the Apes” used computer-generated images (CGI) and motion-capture technology to turn humans into life-like apes that audiences could connect with and feel sympathy for.
There are plenty of scenes from these movies that demonstrate this year’s stellar visual effects, but perhaps the most enjoyable one is the opening credit sequence from “Guardians.”
Watch as Baby Groot – brought to life by director James Gunn in a motion-capture suit – dances around a space platform while his friends fight a gigantic tentacle monster in the background.
On a basic level, film editing refers to how a movie stitches together individual camera shots to make it look like something is happening in sequence.
In an action movie, for example, a film editor is in charge of making it look like one character has shot another. The editor will take footage of one character pointing a gun, then cut it with a close-up of the gun, then quickly show the shooting victim stumbling back. Maybe the editor shows a close-up of the victim's surprised face, or of the bullet wound in his stomach.
One actor didn't really shoot the other to create the scene, but it appears that way based on how the sequence unfolds.
This strategy is clearly on display during the aerial dogfights in Christopher Nolan’s “Dunkirk.” The film uses quick cuts between the aircraft, the pilots in the cockpit and the aircraft’s mirrors to convey the white-knuckle tension of aerial combat.
Other nominees for this category include “Baby Driver,” “I, Tonya,” “The Shape of Water” and “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
This one's pretty straightforward. The Oscar for Best Costume Design typically goes to period films with extravagant outfits. If it includes princesses or petticoats, it's likely to get a nomination.
Past winners include visually spectacular throwbacks such as “The Great Gatsby,” “The Young Victoria,” “Memoirs of a Geisha” and “The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.”
Among this year’s nominees is “Phantom Thread,” a 1950s piece focused on a renowned dressmaker who worked for celebrities and royalty in Britain. The film is essentially all about costume design, so it’s no wonder it earned a nomination.
Also nominated in this category are “Beauty and the Beast,” “Darkest Hour,” “The Shape of Water” and “Victoria & Abdul.”
Makeup and Hairstyling
Another self-explanatory category, Best Makeup and Hairstyling only has three nominees this year.
The makeup crew behind “Darkest Hour” transformed Gary Oldman into heavy-set Second World War icon Winston Churchill, while “Wonder” brought young Augie’s facial differences to life and “Victoria & Abdul” resurrected the elaborate looks and hairstyles of the British court under Queen Victoria.
Production Design is the physical or digitally-created environment of the film, both big and small. It’s everything from the look of a building, to the style of chairs in a room, to the posters on the wall that a person might walk past. Every little piece helps build the illusion of a world that doesn’t actually exist.
Production design plays a particularly central role in “Beauty and the Beast,” as many of the characters in the film are inanimate objects come to life. The musical number “Be Our Guest,” for instance, showcases many of the inanimate-turned-animate objects in the house. Production designers would have planned out everything in the scene, from the intricate edges of Lumiere the candelabra’s body, to the text on the menu Belle holds for a brief second during the musical number.
Other nominees include “Blade Runner 2049,” “Darkest Hour,” “Dunkirk” and “The Shape of Water.”
Here's a spoiler: most of the sounds you hear in a movie don't actually happen while the actors are performing their lines. Whether it be an explosion, a spaceship engine, a passing car or background conversation at a café, those sounds are added in post-production and then layered together at just the right volume to make them all sound natural.
Take a city street, for example. What individual sounds come together to make that street sound busy? A sound mixer is in charge of putting in all the tiny sounds you might take for granted while standing on a city street. That means everything from car engines and truck horns to footsteps and conversations on the other side of the road.
Watch this clip from “Baby Driver” and listen to the sounds of the city that punctuate Baby’s stroll to the coffee shop. He’s listening to music on his iPod and that’s definitely the dominant sound in the scene, but there are plenty of little noises that add breadth and depth to the world around him. You can hear people shouting, car wheels screeching and a jackhammer just before he enters a construction site. However, those sounds abruptly fade away as the camera follows Baby into the quiet atmosphere of the coffee shop, to be replaced by the whoosh of espresso machines. The sounds of the city then return after he steps out the door.
“Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk,” “The Shape of Water” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” are also nominated.
A sound editor is in charge of accumulating all the sounds used in a movie. That may sound like a simple task, but it's far more complicated than sticking microphones all over the film set.
For instance, what does a laser rifle sound like? Or a sea monster?
For fantasy films such as “The Shape of Water,” sound editors need to invent effects for creatures and places that don't exist – and they have to do it using objects from the real world.
Watch the following clip from “The Shape of Water” and listen to all the sounds used to create the secret government lab where scientists are preparing to examine the sea creature. The scene never offers a good look at the creature, but viewers know it’s in the tank from all the sounds they hear. Those sounds include:
- bubbling water;
- some sort of air respirator;
- whale-like noises coming from the creature; and
- the thudding sound of an underwater hand hitting the glass of the tank.
Other nominees in this category include “Baby Driver,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Dunkirk” and “Star Wars: The Last Jedi.”