Oscars Set Design

The theme of the 85th Academy Awards is music in the movies, so to create the stage, Tony-winning set designer Derek McLane went back to his theater roots.

“[Producers] Neil Meron and Craig Zadan mentioned a number of my more adventurous Broadway designs when they asked me to design the Oscars, and suggested that I might find a way to riff on some those motifs,” says McLane, who met Meron and Zadan when he worked on their 2011 revival of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying. “They were interested in my coming up with something new, something that did not look like previous Oscar shows. They encouraged me to think boldly and explore previously untried ideas.”

Tasked with boldly going where no Academy Awards scenic designer has gone before, McLane, whose Broadway credits include 33 Variations–for which he won the Tony Award win for best set design in 2009–The Heiress, and the soon-to-open Breakfast at Tiffany’s, referenced old movie musicals, the geometric big screen dance routines dreamed up by Hollywood choreographer Busby Berkley, and a variety of musical instruments.

“Neil and Craig stressed the importance of making the Oscars a ‘show,’ not only for the audience watching on television, but also for the folks sitting in the Dolby,” McLane explains. “It is our hope that if we can create a stage show that is really exciting for the live audience, the television viewers will feel that excitement.”

Though he’s not allowed to share specifics before the stage is unveiled on Oscar night, McLane promises that there are “a couple of great surprises in store, some of which make clever use of antique movie equipment.” Visual effects will also come into play. “Ted, the bear from the movie Ted will be presenting an award. We tried training a live bear to do the sequence, but it just didn’t look right, so you are in for some cool special effects.”

The Oscars airs live Sunday, February 24, 2013 at 8pm ET on ABC.

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