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Last Updated: Wednesday, 22 February 2006, 09:35 GMT
Meeting the Oscars set designer
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

The 2006 Oscars set was called "retro with a capital 'r'"

The new Oscars set has been unveiled, created by Roy Christopher who has designed sets for the show since 1979.

"I'm almost synonymous in the design world of Hollywood as the guy who does the Academy Awards," he says proudly.

"I grew up as a farm boy in Fresno, which is an agricultural town plunked in the middle of California - thousands of miles mentally from Hollywood.

"I'd watch the Academy Awards and it was such a magical event, I really wanted to be part of that world like everyone does."

This year marks Mr Christopher's 17th assignment as the Academy Awards production designer. Over the years he has won six Emmy awards for his work on Oscars sets.

Golden days

"I'm humbled and I'm grateful and I never get tired of doing it. It's wonderful," he says.

It is a job that comes with the awesome responsibility of decking out a stage for the world's most-watched awards show.

Following a miserable year at the US box office, Oscars organisers are hoping to reinvigorate the movie-going public by harking back to the golden days of cinema.

"We decided to make it all about going to the movies - the subtext of that statement was, yes, let's remind people," says Mr Christopher.

Roy Christopher
Last year's was so high tech, it was my idea to really take a look back
Designer Roy Christopher
"To truly appreciate a great film - go and see it in the theatre."

At the centre of the stage is a huge marquee-style theatre entrance.

"Last year's was so high tech - a lot of technology and video on the floor and video over the audience - it was my idea to really take a look back and we call it 'retro' with a capital 'r'."

The process of designing the set started in the autumn, long before it was known which movies would end up with nominations. Also, at that stage, Jon Stewart had not been named as the show's host.

"Last year I knew that Chris Rock was hired early on so that permitted us to be a little edgier for the Academy Awards - this year we didn't know until later," Mr Christopher recalls.

"We thought it was going to be a year of very big movies like King Kong, Geisha and The Producers. While they've all done rather well at the box office and in other areas, they didn't emerge as the best picture choices."

'Huge' experience

Instead, low-budget films which relatively few people have seen dominate the list of nominations.

"By then we'd gone down the road of designing this tribute to going to the movies and different movie palaces," Mr Christopher says.

"From the movie palace baroque look to streamlined modern to art deco, we've gone down that road and we realised, like being a kid when we went to the movies, the movies were small but the experience was huge.

"You go into these great theatres and you might see a very intimate movie - so we're hoping that is still the connection we can make this year."

Jon Stewart
US comedian Jon Stewart will host this year's ceremony
Of course, times change. In the digital world many believe that the movie-going experience could indeed become a thing of the past.

Also, an often-heard observation from Hollywood veterans is that "we just don't have stars like we used to".

"Having started this in 1979 when we had Audrey Hepburn, Cary Grant, Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck - the list goes on and on - who would sit out here and mingle with everybody. It was a very different experience."

"The stars from the golden era were very much more comfortable with doing these kinds of shows and they seemed bigger than life."

While today's A-list celebrities appear to be shrouded in less movie star mystique, Mr Christopher believes they are among the most gifted Hollywood has ever seen.

"I think we not only have greater stars, we have much finer actors and actresses. I think we're in a golden age and I think they're gorgeous people and I think they're enormously talented.

"So I think things change, but it's fine. As long as people don't desert the theatres altogether."

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