Maddy Fangio / Daily Nexus

The Santa Barbara International Film Festival spent the morning of Sunday, Feb. 11 honoring the artists whose work makes film possible with the 10th annual Variety Artisans Awards.

The sold-out ceremony and discussion kicked off at downtown Santa Barbara’s historical Arlington Theatre, with awards given to 11 recipients from a wide variety of fields including composing, song writing, virtual effects, production design, hairstyling/makeup, costume design, editing, cinematography and recording mixing. 

Films “Barbie” and “Oppenheimer” received the most awards of the ceremony with two each — with contributions to the films “Maestro,” “Poor Things,” “Killers of the Flower Moon,” “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3” and “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse” also being honored.

Host Jazz Tangcay, Senior Artisans Editor at Variety, began the ceremony by commemorating its 10th anniversary and reflecting upon its growth. 

“When we started 10 years ago, we only had 10 people in the audience. Today, we have 2,000,” Tangcay said.

The panel began with one-on-one discussions with all 11 award recipients, followed by a group panel discussion and finally the acceptance of the awards. The first discussion of the morning was with Stephane Ceretti, a visual effects artist being honored for his work on Marvel Studios’ “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3.”

According to Ceretti, the film required 3,066 VFX shots with 3,200 overall cuts. Ceretti shared insight into the process of working with director James Gunn and the continued development of CGI character Rocket Raccoon. 

“In order to learn about raccoons, we had a real raccoon come into our office for a day,” Ceretti explained. “I ended up with a lot of scratches on my face, actually.”

“There’s a lot of James in Rocket … and it’s a character that people love and we really had to pay a lot of attention throughout production,” he continued. “Making sure that you guys would cry when you needed to cry, and that you guys would laugh when we needed you to laugh, and really connect with that character — which actually is just a bunch of pixels.”

Ceretti also shared his experiences working on one of the film’s final battle sequences, set to the track “No Sleep Till Brooklyn” by hip-hop group The Beastie Boys. Ceretti said that the team would dedicate one hour a week working on the scene. 

One of the biggest draws of the festival was the appearance of nine-time Grammy Award winner Billie Eilish, being awarded with the Artisans Award for songwriting for What Was I Made For?,” featured in the record-breaking “Barbie” film. 

Before entering the building, Eilish took time to greet the crowd of fans that gathered outside the Arlington Theatre, with some even waiting until the previous night to have a chance to glimpse the star. Running down the barricade of fans armed with merch and vinyls, Eilish gave hugs and high-fives before turning to the red carpet with her brother and musical collaborator Finneas O’Connell, known eponymously in the music world as FINNEAS. 

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Upon arriving at the venue, the duo expressed their appreciation at receiving the award and acknowledged their fanbase in an interview with the festival. 

“I feel like we make music in such a private, kind of isolated way… It feels like our first time ever seeing people,” O’Connell joked.

When asked during the ceremony about the moment that Eilish realized that she had written a song that would go beyond the “Barbie” film and would go on to impact many, the singer admitted that she wasn’t aware of the song’s reach at first.

“I was dumb enough to not know that, to be real. I think that’s what’s so funny, that we go through life feeling things and feeling like we’re the only one who’s ever felt that way,” Eilish shared. “We all feel the same inside … This song picked me out with a little hook, from a dark little place and kind of saved me and kind of saved our writing process.”

O’Connell also detailed the process of crafting the song with his sister, particularly when it came to the opening line of the now-iconic track and watching the movie with director Greta Gerwig. 

“We really improvised that first opening portion of the song … we’d just seen the movie the day prior with Greta so we were sitting in our studio … and we were just sort of recounting the experience of watching the movie, and that was the line, ‘I used to float/ Now I just fall down,’” O’Connell shared. 

“We had seen the movie 24 hours before writing,” Eilish added. “We saw the first 30 minutes of the movie, and then we saw scenes that Greta wanted us to see, one of them was I’m Just Ken” … one was the America monologue which had me in tears and Ariana’s scene at the school … [and] the last scene, which was in the white-kind of abyss.” 

When reflecting upon their careers, Eilish discussed her relationship with her brother and music collaborator Finneas O’Connell.

“Finneas and I have really been soulmates for our whole lives,” Eilish said. “And I know we’re siblings but some siblings are not soulmates, you know what I’m saying? Our bond has gotten stronger and we’ve gotten so, so much better at writing and working together … You can never stop learning.”

Eilish also expressed her desire to continue making music with her brother. 

“I really hope it never ends,” she continued. “I have no interest in never not making music with Finneas.”

The next interview featured acclaimed composer and four-time Grammy winner Ludwig Göransson, who was honored for his work on the biographical film “Oppenheimer.” Göransson conducted two hours and 43 minutes of music for “Oppenheimer,” a film with a runtime of exactly three hours. 

When creating the film, director Christopher Nolan decided that the violin would be the central instrument in the film’s score — a decision that Göransson elaborated on.

“I asked Chris — why the violin?” Göransson said. “He mentioned that depending on the performance of the violin, if you hold down a note you can go from the most somber, beautiful, romantic vibrato and within a split second to something horrific or frenetic … and you can go between those feelings exactly like Oppenheimer is doing.” 

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Göransson also described the process of coming up with the theme for the character of J. Robert Oppenheimer, a six-note motif that is featured prominently throughout the film. Göransson worked on the theme alongside his wife Serena McKinney, an accomplished violinist, and their creation received a quick response from Nolan. 

“She started playing it … with no vibrato, this very, very intimate, vulnerable, fragile feeling and immediately I was like, ‘this is very special,’ and I could really feel Oppenheimer in that theme and the way it was performed. So I sent that to Chris, and he called 10 minutes later and was like, ‘this is it,’” Göransson recalled.

Göransson also discussed the process of creating the theme for another central character, Kitty Oppenheimer, played by actress Emily Blunt. Kitty’s theme differs from her husband’s with the introduction of the piano, something that Göransson highlighted in his discussion.

“Kitty’s kind of the only person who keeps Oppenheimer grounded and so I wanted her sound world to feel completely different from Oppenheimer’s, and that’s why her theme is played on the piano,” Göransson explains. 

“As further we go into the story, Oppenheimer’s theme joins her medley and it goes into walls, and it’s almost like they’re dancing together there at the end.”

Next to the stage were production designers Sarah Greenwood and Katie Spencer, being honored for their work on the film “Barbie.” The duo began their conversation by describing the initial steps they took to bring Barbie Land to life. 

“We began by actually buying some Barbies and a dreamhouse, and we started to play, which was really informative actually,” Greenwood shared. 

“We built it in the office and people would play with it as they came through,” Spencer added. She also shared that they designed a pair of giant legs for actress Margot Robbie for the film’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” style opening. The group also described the difficulty of the Barbie dreamhouse’s lack of walls and the process of turning Barbie’s iconic home into Ken’s Mojo Dojo Casa House. 

“It became even more challenging when we turned to the Kens and we had to fit 22 televisions … well there’s no walls, where do you put the televisions? Up on the lamppost, up on the chimney,” Greenwood joked. 

The two also revealed that they had to go through a detailed process of sorting through shades of pink in order to find the perfect color for Barbieland, with the shade “Millennial Pink” immediately being dismissed by director Greta Gerwig. 

“‘Millennial Pink’ doesn’t exist; what she’s talking about is pornographic pink,” Greenwood joked. “We did a whole range and there were about a 100 … as soon as we found it, we knew it, but what we didn’t think to do was check if there was enough pink paint to do it.” 

Next to the stage was Kazuhiro Tsuji, being honored for his work for hairstyling and makeup in the film “Maestro,” a biographical film about composer Leonard Bernstein. Tsuji was previously honored at the sixth annual Artisans Awards ceremony for his contributions to the 2019 film “Bombshell.”

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When asked about how he became involved with the film, Tsuji shared that he was recommended to the director of “Maestro” and lead actor Bradley Cooper by acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro.

“He asked Guillermo, who do you recommend? And Guillermo told Bradley, ‘Kazu’s the only one who can do this,’” Tsuji recalled. 

The artist also described the process of not only transforming Cooper into the iconic composer, but also adapting his craft to show Bernstein’s aging as the film progressed. He divided the process of hairstyling and makeup into five stages for the character, approximately one for every 10 years Bernstein aged. 

“He has such an iconic look,” Tsuji said. “So we were figuring out what would be the best combination of a look of Lenny on a Bradley, and we also had to think about a practical way to do the makeup, because he was in the makeup for 50 days. And he had to direct and act and produce and co-write in the movie … It still took two hours to five hours, depending on the stage.” 

Tsuji’s efforts not only received him an Artisans Award, but a nomination for Best Makeup and Hairstyling in next month’s Academy Awards ceremony.

Also nominated for an Academy Award is editor Jennifer Lame, who was awarded by Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF) for her work on “Oppenheimer.” She described the process of working on “Oppenheimer” after its production. 

Lame was only given four weeks to provide a first cut of the film. 

“It was weird because I had asked a lot of other people for advice … and they were like do not do that, it’s one of the worst things that you can do, ‘cause typically we start while filming so we’re editing as the film is being shot,” Lame explained.

“It weirdly worked okay for me, because I met with Chris the day after they stopped filming. I showed up and he said, ‘watch all of the footage, but I don’t expect that you’ll be able to finish an assembly so just do what you can.’ That kind of took all pressure off,” she said. 

“When you’re working alongside the shoot, it’s just really intense and the footage is coming in all out of order … there was something freeing about coming into this not knowing anything … It worked quite well with this specific film.”

Lame also described the experience of bringing Oppenheimer’s Trinity Test to the big screen. 

“A big part of the Trinity sequence is building up to the actual night,” she detailed. “Ruth, the production designer, she had built a lot of extra things that weren’t in the script … So we actually had so much to play with.”

Honored for his contributions for “Killers of the Flower Moon,” cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto had a successful 2023, as he also worked on cinematography for “Barbie.” 

In his discussion, Prieto detailed the process of researching for the coloring of “Killers of the Flower Moon” and the discovery and implementation of a technique involving autochrome to create a contrast between the characters.

“There was a whole exploration of different feels or looks for the different times in the movie, but also the different groups — in this case, the Osage — and we wanted to represent them differently than the descendants of the Europeans, the immigrants,” Prieto shared.

“I thought that still photography was a good basis to start from in terms of color. I started testing different methods, looking at a lot of still photography from the era — in particular, color photography — and fell in love with autochrome … It was import from Europe to the rest of the world, in this case, America, just like the white people are an import from Europe. So we decided to give them that look — autochrome,” Prieto explained. “The Osage, on the other hand, when they’re alone, when they’re not surrounded by these white people, we photographed them as naturalistically as possible, in terms of color.”

Re-recording mixer Michael Semanick was also honored for his work on acclaimed animation “Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse.” Semanick discussed the process of distinguishing between the film’s multiple different universes through sound — a feat that he described as “challenging” and guided the audience through his construction of a scene featuring a song by James Blake and Metro Boomin that also marks the arrival of character Gwen Stacy. 

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“It’s so wonderful because we tried many different ways … that song just worked so well and I had all the elements so I could spin everything around the room,” Semanick recalled.

When asked what the biggest challenge for the film was, Semanick joked that it was “the whole thing.”

“There’s such beautiful, emotional scenes and then you’re off to the races … all the directors really wanted to earn the audience’s respect,” Semanick explained. 

“We don’t want to blow people away when we get to the action scenes. We want to calm things down and make the audience kind of lean into the film and really pay attention,” he continued. “Once we earn that from them and they’re invested, then we can take them on a wonderful ride.” 

The last recipient to be interviewed was Holly Waddington, costume designer for “Poor Things,” led by actors Emma Stone and Mark Ruffalo. Waddington detailed how she approached the character of Bella Baxter played by Stone, through costume design and highlighted the importance of capturing the character’s transformation throughout the film. 

“The clothes at the beginning were very much based on the idea of her being a child wearing grown women’s clothes but not wearing them properly,” Waddington stated. “Chaotic and a bit of a mess, that’s what I was going for, but then it sort of matures by the end of the film.”

 Waddington also described the physical process of coming up with costumes throughout the film. “I had this great big book that I made, this huge thing,” Waddington shared. “I split it into chapters, different sections of her development. And really, the costumes had to describe her transformation from being a young child to being a fully formed person … It was an ever-evolving piece of work. It was a collage; it was the job, really, working out that journey.”

In the final minutes of the ceremony, SBIFF directors David Wasco and Sandy Reynolds-Wasco gave a last acknowledgement of the recipients’ achievements, and the 11 awards were handed out to conclude the event. 

“This year’s artisans have done more than support. They’ve been integral to the success of Oscar-nominated films,” Wasco stated, with Reynolds-Wasco adding a final statement to conclude the morning’s event: “Directors and producers have nothing but words without you.”