The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, are presented annually by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS)to recognize excellence of professionals in the film industry, including directors, actors, and writers. The formal ceremony at which the awards are presented is one of the most prominent award ceremonies in the world. It is also the oldest award ceremony in the media, and many other award ceremonies such as the Grammy Awards (for music), Golden Globe Awards (all forms of media), and Emmy Awards (for television) are often modeled from the Academy. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences itself was conceived by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer studio boss Louis B. Mayer.
The 1st Academy Awards ceremony was held Thursday, May 16, 1929, at the Hotel Roosevelt in Hollywood to honor outstanding film achievements of 1927 and 1928. It was hosted by actor Douglas Fairbanks and director William C. deMille. The 81st Academy Awards, honoring the best in film for 2008, was held on Sunday, February 22, 2009, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, with actor Hugh Jackman hosting the ceremony.
It may take decades for someone to win an Oscar, but creating Hollywood's golden object of desire takes but a few days.
It takes about a week-and-a-half to create each Academy Award at R.S. Owens, the Chicago-based manufacturer of the coveted gold statuette.
The figurines cost an estimated $18,000, but are "worth millions to the recipients," says Scott Siegel, president of R.S. Owens.
The process of making each 13-and-a-half-inch, 8-and-a-half-pound statuette begins with casting a mold. The mold is cast using a combination of tin, copper and antimony that's the highest grade of pewter available -- along with a few secret ingredients, according to Siegel.
Once cast, the statuette is sanded down and polished "until there are no flaws," Siegel says.
After roughly an hour of polishing, the statuette is electroplated with four different finishes: copper, nickel, silver and a heavy layer of 24-carat gold. The statuette is hand dipped into each of the plating materials.
Once the plating is completed, the Oscar figure is screwed onto its metal base. Each statuette also is numbered. The academy began numbering statuettes in 1949, starting with No. 501.
"We've been making about 50 to 60 each year," Siegel says.
No nameplates attached
According to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, once the statuettes are completed, each award is individually packed into a plastic foam container slightly larger than a shoe box.
Eight of the containers are then placed in a cardboard box and shipped by air express to the Academy's offices in Beverly Hills, California. The boxes are shipped with no identifiable markings, according to the academy.
After the awards, R.S. Owens also engraves the plates with the names of the winners and sends the plates out to Hollywood to be affixed to the statuettes.
Any statuettes that don't meet strict quality-control standards are immediately cut in half and melted down, according to the academy.
Keeping it clean
R.S. Owens works a year ahead of schedule, so the statuettes that will be awarded on Sunday were made last year. That's partly because of the theft of 55 statuettes on March 10, 2000. They vanished while en route from Chicago to Los Angeles.
Fifty-two statuettes were recovered nine days later next to a trash bin in Los Angeles. They were discovered by salvage man Willie Fulgear, who attended the awards that year as a special guest.
R.S. Owens also works on its creations after the Oscars have been awarded. According to the academy, R.S. Owens has repaired more than 160 statuettes since 1995.
"Maybe somebody used chemicals on them to polish them and the chemicals rubbed right through the lacquer and into the gold," Siegel says. "Or maybe people stored them someplace where they corroded."
Should you ever win an Oscar, here's Siegel's advice: "If it gets dusty, simply wipe it with a soft, dry cloth."