Backstage Interview: Robert Stromberg & Karen O’Hara
by Daniel Haim
Robert Stromberg (Production Design) and Karen O’Hara (Set Decoration) accepted the Oscar for best art direction for ‘Alice in Wonderland’ at the 83rd Academy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 27, 2011, in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles.
Here’s the Backstage Interview with Robert Stromberg & Karen O’Hara
Q. Congratulations. What did you put on top of the Oscar? Oh, now I can see it.
A. You couldn’t see it? It’s a little Mad Hatter’s hat.
Q. Did you make that?
A. I had one of my prop makers make it, and I just thought it was a nice little punctuation to the end of the show. Could you not see it on the broadcast? You could see it.
Q. Congratulations. I just want to ask you, what was your biggest production design challenge on this film because it seemed like every scene probably would have been, but can you talk about that, but also in terms of set direction, what was your biggest challenge?
A. Well, you know, any time you work on a Tim Burton film, there’s a bar that you have to meet, and the challenge for a film like this is that we had a great deal of digital sets, but there were some challenging physical sets. And the biggest challenge was sort of making sure the director, the actors knew where they were at all times in these green environments through, having virtual versions of those sets available to them; physical models, and illustrations.
Q. The Academy made a big splash of connecting art direction, cinematography, and yet Alice’s other big below the line nomination is in visual effects. So, in an increasingly rendered age, what is the relationship between production design and the visual effects department?
A. You guys ask a set decorating question next. Well, I come from visual effects. But the difference between how we work now in these types of films is that the production designer is involved with the visual effects probably more heavily, and involved more in post production, which is actually good because the way it normally works is the production designer will sort of leave after the end of principal photography, and then you are relying on visual effects people to fill in those green screens. So, this keeps a more cohesive design coming from visual effects myself.
Q. This is your second in a row in art direction after your first nomination being in visual effects. Where do you see your art evolving from here?
A. I should probably retire (laughs). You know, I feel honestly, I feel that I’ve always done creative things, but design is design no matter what you do, no matter what form. We have lots of new technology that we’re trying and I feel like we are pioneering fusing art and machine. I am very proud of that because the next generation of kids coming up will know what they are doing.
Q. I just want to get some reaction from you, you’ve been up there before is it different the second time, and I want to hear from both of you about this?
A. Stromberg: Honestly, I was not expecting it. I was sort of following INCEPTION. I thought it had the upper hand this year, but I’m very proud that it was recognized and very happy to win, but all the nominees I take my hat off to.
A. Karen O’Hara: I think that the most difficult time that we had was when Johnny decided to walk across the table and suddenly all of our china and our tables, we had to triplicate. Other than that, though, we had a wonderful time working with Tim and this is really a nod to him and his supportive artists.
A. [Stromberg] Thank you all.
Q. Thank you, and congratulations.