Art Directors Guild is holding their awards ceremony tonight. My best guesses:

Period Film

Fantasy Film
Prediction: LIFE OF PI

Contemporary Film
Prediction: SKYFALL

Review all the Art Directors Guild nominees for movies and TV, or find the ADG feature film nominees after the cut.

Period Film

Fantasy Film

Contemporary Film

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  • steve50

    Period: prediction – Anna Karenina
    NGNG – Les Mis

    Fantasy: prediction – The Hobbit
    NGNG – Cloud Atlas

    Contemporary: Prediction – Skyfall
    NGNG – The Impossible

  • Patrick

    Just a heads up Ryan, it’s not listed in the Awards Calendar, but the Annie Awards are tonight too.

    NGNG: The Impossible for Contemporary Film

  • MauiJim

    Period Film
    Prediction: Les Mis
    NGNG: Anna Karenina

    Fantasy Film
    Prediction: Life of Pi
    NGNG: The Hobbit

    Contemporary Film
    Prediction: Skyfall
    NGNG: Best Exotic …

  • Zach

    Can someone please explain to me what constitutes production design in Life of Pi?

    Ooh, The Impossible SHOULD win Contemporary Art Direction.

    Weak nominees though. Anna Karenina will easily win Oscar.

  • Can someone please explain to me what constitutes production design in Life of Pi?

    First explain to me what you think design means and how Life of Pi or any film can exist without being designed into existence?

  • Roberto

    Period: Anna Karenina
    Fantasy: Life of Pi
    Contemporary: Skyfall

  • Zach

    Ryan, no need for snark. It’s a genuine question. When something like ROTK didn’t even get nominated for Cinematography because it was considered a CGI-fest, I’d like to know what in Pi can be distinguished as production design, as opposed to visual effects and camera work. If there is no answer for that, then I’d like to know why Toy Story and Aladdin weren’t nominated for Art Direction.

  • Sincerely not trying to snark. I just don’t see how it’s hard to understand that everything we see onscreen has been designed. Life of Pi is one of the most visually beautiful films every made. Where does that beauty come from, Zach? Just turn on the camera? Is that all it took?

    Effects don’t design themselves. Effects artists do not design the look of a film. Cinematographers don’t design the landscapes they light.

  • I’d like to know why Toy Story and Aladdin weren’t nominated for Art Direction.

    This could turn into a really long conversation if we want to be fair and cover all the filmmakers who ever missed out on a nomination.

    Shortest answer: the voters liked 5 other films better.

  • Zach

    I’m not denying Pi is visually one of the most beautiful films of all time. I just don’t remember much in the way of stereotypical “Art Direction” that the Academy and even guild typically rewards. I don’t remember many sets other than the boats and Pi’s adult and childhood houses. This category is always tailor-made for the Anna Kareninas to get their due. It’s my understanding that most of what we saw in Pi was CGI and, therefore, designed by visual effects artists. Are you saying the visual effects count? The island?

  • Anthony

    The ROTK cinematography snub always kind of threw me… I guess Master and Commander needed to win SOMETHING that night, but I digest.

  • I don’t remember many sets

    It’s not only about sets. Although every single scene you saw for over two hours was something visualized, designed and built on a set.

    Just not sure what I can say to you, Zach. If you don’t believe what professional Art Directors tell you when the say they know, see, and recognize that ever frame of Life of Pi was designed top-to-bottom corner-to-corner, then why would you believe me?

    It’s not an award for best architecture.

  • Zach

    Ah, I do recall Wall*E being nominated for the ADG, but of course the Oscars ignored it. Not to really debate it, but that one makes more sense to me. The entire film is animated, so I don’t consider most of it to be visual effects, and there were stunningly detailed interiors that had to be designed, not just animated.

    Again, I don’t mean to dis Pi because I thought it was a visual feast. I just don’t think of the production design as separately award-worthy, probably because most of the film was on that boat or traditional visual effects in a live-action film.

  • Zach

    “It’s not an award for best architecture.”

    Except it always, always ends up being that (or about the interiors, really), unless you have an overlap scenario when something like Avatar wins.

    I’m not denying its nomination. I just probably wouldn’t vote for it myself, nor would most Academy members unless and until the Academy membership changes.

    It wasn’t a particularly great year for epics and period pieces, though, so this could be the year that changes everything.

  • Zach, were you bothered when Avatar won the Oscar for Best Art Direction? What grand “sets” do you recall impressed you from Pan’s Labyrinth that won its team of art directors an Oscar?

  • Jerry

    Period: Anna Karenina
    Fantasy: The Hobbit
    Contemporary: Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

  • daveinprogress

    I’ll take the road less travelled with my predix

    Zero Dark Thirty, Life of Pi, Les Miserables

  • Elton


    The ADG has a delightful magazine called “Perspective”. In the latest issue, it has articles written by the production designers of “Les Miserábles”, “Lincoln” and “Life of Pi”, talking about the experience of making these films.

    The article about “Life of Pi” is by far the least interesting in terms of production design. I agree with Ryan that everything we see on screen was designed by someone, but not all by the production designer. In case of any doubts, read the article written by Mr. David Gropman himself. He talks about his work: how it was to create the ZOO, the SHIP, the BOAT, the ISLAND etc. He talks and judges his work in doing this, creating the visuals of the [few] scenarios – of course, always in the intend to create a particular universe to tell a history and blah blah

  • Period Film

    Prediction: ANNA KARENINA

    Fantasy Film

    Prediction: CLOUD ATLAS

    Contemporary Film


  • Zach

    But Avatar, though mostly CGI, had interiors, like the lab. During the ceremony when they showed clips of Avatar’s art direction, I think I remember designs of the interiors. I remember knowing it was going to win and I’m not sure if I felt there was a good enough alternative at the time. I probably preferred Sherlock Holmes. Call me an old-fogy! I just like to think of each technical category independently–except for cinematography, really.

    Pan’s Labyrinth is completely different. It’s more like The Hobbit and LOTR. The entire film (or at least what was visually distinctive about it) wasn’t just CGI. There were walls, hallways, rooms. That’s just completely incomparable to me.

  • The Master deseves a nomination here.

  • Elton


    I could make a daily tumblr only with stills from the “grand sets” from “Pan’s Labyrinth”.

    Of course it’s not about the architecture, it’s about how the visual design creates an universe to tell a story and how good [or bad] it does it. That’s why “Avatar” and “Sweeney Todd” – which has lots of CGI sets – deservedly won.

  • Zach

    @Elton, sounds interesting. Which would you pick to win?

    Again, I hate that I sound old-fashioned, even if I am. When I have favorite films, I like to throw them awards too. But I wasn’t even sure Hugo should beat Tree of Life last year for Cinematography or Apes for Sound, and I loved Hugo. (Ultimately, Hugo was the right winner in every category it won because it’s a technical feast and artistic triumph.)

    But I’m someone who was pissed when people acted like Keira Knightley’s Atonement dress was the best thing ever and so going to win. I’d vote for movies I hated in tech categories if I thought they deserved it. Now, I would never vote for a Norbit or a Hitchcock for Makeup, but thank goodness it never comes to that.

  • “it’s about how the visual design creates an universe”

    That’s the thing, Elton. Cinematographers and VFX artists don’t create the cohesive visual look of the scenes they help create. Production designers do that. I think where my understanding diverges from Zach’s understanding of art direction and production design is in the scope of the overall artistic visualization of the entire film.

  • Zach

    But if you’re going to go that route, then for a film like Pi, it all boils down to Ang Lee’s vision anyway.

    I’m not denying there’s overlap in any CGI-heavy film, but in Pi, it seems the visual effects artists designed the visuals, and the production designers designed the few sets and maybe gave the visual effects artists input. But it’s not like the visual effects artists are pure technicians. And so much of what stands out in Pi are its pure visual effects — Richard Parker, the island, the waves, the other animals in its most memorable sequence.

    But it’s good to think the Academy’s production designers are turning over a new leaf and recognizing the necessary interplay between art and CGI and not penalizing films for it, to say the least.

  • Akumax

    The design of the Piscine Molitor in Paris would alone make Life op Pi deserving of a nomination. Let’s add the island or the introduction of Pondicherry… and you have an Oscar worthy design. Let’s consider the whole movie and you have a masterpiece of both visual and narrative beauty: direction, production design, cinematography, visual effects are 4 awards I can see Pi take home on Oscar night.

  • Akumax

    @ Zach,

    you should read the book: “The Making of Life of Pi: A Film, a Journey” by Jean-Christophe Castelli to better understand the process and the role of production design in this film.

  • steve50

    “It’s not an award for best architecture.”

    This killed me, Ryan. I wonder what Life of Pi would have looked like if the production designer called in sick.

    I’m with you, Fabihno. If The Master had been nominated, it would have been my choice.

    And I still think that power green dress in Atonement was a killer worthy of an Oscar. Damn!

  • Elton


    Well, so it’s how it works in Hollywood and sounds amazing.

    I talk based on my experience in South America – at college or at films/tv productions – I always saw – and was teached this way – cinematographers with big voice power in the visual creating process. I only worked in one project with Effects, and the effects guys also contributed a lot. Of course, always everybody leaded by the director’s vision.


    I can’t even imagine picking a film that’s not “Anna Karenina”. I think Sarah Greenwood’s work TERRIFIC and genious. The movie is so-so, but I really love when filmmakers tries to tell stories in a non naturalistic way, and in “Anna Karenina” the art direction is a crucial character and creates an unique universe. Without it, the movie would sucks a lot more.

  • Bette

    “Ultimately, Hugo was the right winner in every category it won because it’s a technical feast and artistic triumph.”

    I disagree. Yes, Hugo was a technical feast and artistic triumph, a superb film. But I don’t think that means it deserved to be called “best” of the year in every category for that reason alone. If something was “better” in a given category, then that should be named best. Rise of the Planet of the Apes seemed like the more deserving winner of visual effects last year. Moreover, “Tree of Life” was robbed of the Best Cinematography prize. I’m not a member of the cult that adores that film (top 125 ever at the Sight & Sound critics poll), but the cinematography was amazing, to me, by far the finest element of that film.

    Anna Karenina and Life of Pi, in my opinion, deserve to duke it out for Best Art Direction. The reasons for Karenina are obvious, while others in posts above have articulated why Pi is an amazing achievement. I would have nominated Moonrise Kingdom, The Master and Beasts of the Southern Wild. No disrespect to the other nominees. Lincoln’s art direction was very fine, would have been my #6 or #7, but it just didn’t feel as imaginative as the others, more paint by numbers (albeit great painting). We’ve seen the Hobbit look before. Sure there was some new stuff, but it was Fellowship that made my jaw drop, not Hobbit. As for Les Miz, well, maybe a bit of disrespect intended there, because I honestly thought the barricade was more impressive and imposing on the Broadway stage.

  • Zach

    Bette, I don’t disagree with you about those other films in those categories, but I didn’t mean to say Hugo merely deserved a bunch of wins because it was the best film and best technical achievement overall. I really did feel like Hugo, at the end of the day, deserved each of its awards on their own merit. The visuals were so rich and beautiful and the sounds elaborate. The cinematography win over Tree of Life is not unlike when Pan’s Labyrinth beat the supposed frontrunner, Children of Men. I don’t mean to sound hypocritical, but I think some of the techs (like sound, visuals, and cinematography) do run together more naturally, whereas others (like art and costumes) I subconsciously as well as intentionally try to think of as disparate from other technical elements. But I do think Hugo was worthy in each tech category it won, and then some.

    I figure Anna Karenina will handily win Art and Costume this year.

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