Culture and Society

How are Oscar statuettes made?
Answered by Molly Edmunds and Discovery Channel
  • Molly Edmunds

    Molly Edmunds

  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. Molly Edmunds Staff Writer,

    My heart stopped when I saw the 2011 headlines -- "Toddler Breaks Oscar Statue." Simon Egan, who won an Academy Award for producing "The King's Speech," allowed his 15-month-old daughter to hold the Oscar at a party the day after ceremony. What was supposed to be a great photo opportunity turned into heartbreak when the girl dropped the statue, denting it in several spots. Was Egan simply out of luck?

    As it turns out, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is understanding of the fact that statues might get damaged during the winners' celebrations. When Egan called the Academy about the incident, he was invited to an "Oscar Hospital" where his broken statue was replaced with a brand-new award. R.S. Owens, who manufactures the Oscar statuettes, always produces a few extra, because it's impossible to determine the exact number that will be needed (a film might have multiple producers or sound technicians, for example). The extra awards are kept until the following year, unless they're called into duty following an accident with a toddler.

    But even if a winner makes it through days of partying with his or her award intact, time can take its toll on the statuettes. In 2002, R.S. Owens reported that it had repaired 160 statues in seven years due to corrosion -- winners were either polishing their statues with chemical solutions or storing them in poor conditions. If you do ever win an Oscar, skip the polishing chemicals and use a soft cloth.

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  2. R.S. Owens & Company of Chicago, Illinois, is the manufacturer of the Oscar awards. Standing 13.5 inches (34.3 centimeters) tall and weighing 8.5 pounds (3.85 kilograms), the Oscar statuette is made of a metal alloy called britannium, coated with 24-karat gold and placed (standing) on a round, black marble base. According to the Academy, the human figure depicted in the statuette is that of a crusader knight, who holds a long, downturned sword in a vertical position in front of his body. He is standing on a reel of film that has five spokes, symbolizing the actors, directors, producers, technicians and writers who made up the original five parts of the Academy.

    Not all of the statuettes presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences have been exactly the same. For example, early statuettes were cast in solid bronze. After several years, the Academy determined that it would be easier to apply the Oscar's glossy finish if the award statuettes were cast in an alloy like britannium, which has been used ever since. The Academy also has commissioned the creation of customized Oscars throughout the years. In the early days of the award, children who won Oscars were awarded smaller, child-sized statuettes. In addition, the Academy has issued specially-made Oscars for certain winners - - for example, in 1937, the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and his sidekick, a dummy named Charlie McCarthy, received a wooden Oscar with a mouth that moved like that of a ventriloquist's dummy. In 1938, Walt Disney took home one full-sized Oscar and seven miniature statuettes - - this was an obvious reference to his film, "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs." In the World War II years, metal was needed for the war effort, so Oscars were made from plaster. After the war was over, winners could exchange their plaster statuettes for standard awards, made with the traditional britannium body and gold finish.

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