The unsung heroes of Bafta

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

The Baftas saw honours go to home-grown talent from behind the scenes. Now, Hollywood gets its chance to recognise the skills of our unsung heroes as well as the stars. We meet four winners with high hopes for the Oscars


Best Visual Effects- The Golden Compass

When the big-budget blockbuster The Golden Compass was released at Christmas, who was it that garnered breathless adulation in a set of otherwise mediocre reviews? Not Daniel Craig or Nicole Kidman. Not even the precocious Dakota Blue Richards. Rather, it was a computer-generated polar bear called Iorek.

"It is the computer-generated animals and rodents which are the real stars – rarely has so much human talent been so overshadowed by digital effects," gushed The Daily Telegraph. The Guardian singled out the clash of the armoured bears, while Cosmo Landesman in The Sunday Times noted, with surprise, that "some of the most stunning moments – when we see Lyra, riding, on the back of her bear, across the wasteland of the north – are computer generated".

These "stunning moments" are the work of Ben Morris, now the owner of a shiny Bafta for Best Visual Effects. When we meet in his studio at Framestore CFC in Soho soon after his triumph, he is full of the joys of last Sunday, producing his Bafta with a flourish from a paper bag under his desk ("I've had to keep it in the office because my colleagues keep wanting to be photographed with it..."). After our interview the 37-year-old is off to Devon to see his mum, who "wants to touch the golden face", before he flies to Los Angeles for next Sunday's Oscars; he's nominated in the Achievement in Visual Effects category. "It feels like getting married or having children, when everyone comes together and wishes you well," Morris beams.

Where will he put his Bafta? His Emmy (for Dinotopia) is on top of the kitchen cupboard, and he and his wife had considered putting the Bafta in the lavatory: "People like to have their own private moment with it, don't they?" But someone told them that was terribly passé, so it's likely to end up in his daughter's bedroom.

Another helpful friend told him: "Whatever you do, don't rush the red carpet." So Morris milked the moment ("Even though people are looking at you and saying, 'Who the hell is that?'") in his best Moss Bros suit. After a wardrobe malfunction – a stud popped off and he had to scrabble under the seats in front, occupied by Brad Bird from Pixar, who won a Bafta for Ratatouille, and Trudie Styler ("I'm name-dropping now, because I can") – he and his wife relished the occasion. Emily Blunt, the Devil Wears Prada actress, presented him with his award, but the highlight was chatting to Sir Anthony Hopkins in the queue for the limos after the ceremony. "He tapped me on the shoulder and said, 'Hello old boy, I see you got one of these too.'" After a winners' photograph, they headed off to dinner at the Grosvenor House ballroom before continuing the party at The Dorchester.

Morris shares the award with three other visual effects (VFX) supervisors, unsung heroes who carved up the task of bringing Philip Pullman's masterpiece of the imagination to life on the big screen. Mike Fink was overall supervisor, Bill Westenhoefer was responsible for the daemons, and Trevor Wood took charge of physical effects. Morris and his 240-strong crew at Framestore took on the bears, including Iorek, an exiled prince (voiced by Sir Ian McKellen) of a race of armoured bears. "When we got up on stage on Sunday, we were really representing the work of 1,000 people," says Morris, modestly.

The job was "a dream come true". Morris had read the His Dark Materials trilogy in 2000 when he was working on the second Harry Potter movie, and remembers saying to a colleague: "Can you imagine making that film? And can you imagine doing the bears? So it was always nagging at my mind." When they heard a film was in the offing, they pitched for it, putting together a 20-minute presentation package, which included the scene in which Lyra rides on Iorek's back across an Arctic landscape. Morris and team got the job. "Chris Weitz, the director, said to me, 'You have the co-star. If the bear doesn't look real, the film won't work.'"

There followed 16 months of intensive work – filming polar bears in captivity near Oxford, gathering thousands of photographs, sculpting a lifesize model and then scanning images into a computer to create a lifelike animated character. The finished Iorek has a coat of five million hairs. His armour is made up of 36,000 chainmail links. Such detail meant that each frame took up to 12 hours to shoot. During the seven-month shoot, Morris was on set to tell the actors what was happening "virtually" all around them, using such lo-fi props as "eyes on sticks" and a giant "inflato-bear" to focus the actors and cameramen. For the scene in which Lyra rides on Iorek's back, they created a customised "bucking bronco" in a white fur rug, on which Richards was filmed against a green-screen backdrop. The CGI Iorek was added later.

The greatest challenge was to make a convincing emotional foil for the actors, one that could embody human traits such as nobility and stoicism. "Six months in, everybody stopped talking in terms of technicalities and Chris started talking to us about the bears as if they were actors. That was a huge breakthrough. But that's the goal you have to hit now."

After 15 years in the business, Morris clearly remembers the moment he made his career choice: "When I was seven, I went to see Star Wars and I knew that was what I wanted to do." His parents bought him a Super 8 camera on which he made films using plasticine models. After art college, he went to Bristol to study engineering. During his degree, he went to a talk at the BFI about Jim Henson's Creature Shop; at the end of the lecture, he marched up to Muppets supremos John Stevenson and David Housman and asked for a job. He spent five years there among the puppets, eventually becoming part of the team that won an Oscar for Babe. Although it remains one of his favourite pieces of work, a screening of Jurassic Park II made him realise that the future lay in CGI. Over the last eight years he has brought to magical life Gladiator, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets and Troy.

Now, the focus is on the Oscars. He flew to LA three weeks ago for the "bake-off" when a long-list of seven films was reduced to three. Having beaten The Bourne Ultimatum, I Am Legend, Evan Almighty and 300, now only Pirates of the Caribbean III and Transformers stand between Morris and an Oscar. "I don't want to tempt fate. The nomination is accolade enough," he says. "But when I got the news of both nominations, my wife said, 'Sorry, it's got to be two dresses.'"

Morris is at the pinnacle of what his industry can achieve. "Technologically, we're at the point where we can make things look photo-real and it's down to the subtleties of creating entire performances that need to be as powerful as those of human actors. But you don't want the effects to overwhelm the story."

Framestore is now working on the next Narnia, Batman and Bond films, but Morris has his eye on the Golden Compass sequels. "We're waiting for the phone call. There's unfinished business and I really feel that the story needs to be told to its conclusion." Is there a tiny part of him that wishes he wasn't an unsung hero? "I'm not a closet director. Visual effects have become so integral to film-making that I get just as big a kick out of that. I'm quite happy where I am."

By Alice Jones

Watch a clip of Ben Morris's work on 'The Golden Compass'

Best Adapted Screenplay - The Diving Bell and the Butterfly

At 74 years of age, Ronald Harwood has never been busier; he's about to fly to LA, perhaps to pick up a second Oscar (he won for The Pianist in 2002), and he's won the Bafta and a Golden Globe. "I had no idea this was coming," he says of the success of The Diving Bell and the Butterfly (right) "A French-language film with subtitles? I didn't think the Americans would go as mad as they have. I thought it was what they used to call an arthouse film."

It's in the category of Adapted Screenplay that the South-African born Londoner, once a would-be conductor ("I wasn't any good") is in the spotlight again. And it didn't come easy: "In the case of Diving Bell I was terribly, terribly stuck; for two weeks I paced and God knows what and didn't sleep and thought I might have to chuck the whole thing in. I even took myself off to Paris, where the man who wrote the story, Jean-Dominique Bauby, came from – in order to write, but it didn't help.

"What do you do in that state? I pretended to do research, I met the mother of Bauby's children, one of his nurses. None of it made any difference, of course." Then the idea came to Harwood that this unique tale of a man trapped in an inert body after a stroke-like trauma, forced to narrate his memoirs through a series of blinks, could be captured from the point of view of the man himself. "The camera would do the blinking – it would be Jean-Dominique Bauby – that was the breakthrough idea." Harwood went straight to his desk and put down the first scene "in its entirety. And then I was just away."

The producer Kathleen Kennedy, who went to Harwood first after buying the rights to the book, green-lit his script on his first go. "It's the only time it's ever happened to me!" he chuckles. Maybe that's why Bafta and Academy voters are impressed; it's not easy to tell the story of a man who cannot speak or move in pictures. The director Julian Schnabel is receiving accolades for his direction, but it is because of the script Harwood gave him that he was able to paint the pictures that he has.

Now it's time for the Moulin Rouge! director Baz Luhrmann to link up with Harwood. Will there be singing and dancing? "No, no! It's Doctor Zhivago in the Australian outback, an epic love story." Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman star in Australia, and Luhrmann has already aired a rough cut of the film for cast and friends.

By Nicola Christie

Watch a clip of Ronald Harwood's work on 'The Diving Bell and the Butterfly'

Best Cinematography - No Country For Old Men

Roger Deakins first worked with the Coen Brothers in 1991 on Barton Fink and became their principal cinematographer. This is his second Bafta; the first, in 2001, was for the Coens' crime noir The Man Who Wasn't There.

Deakins, 58, grew up in Torquay, Devon, where he enjoyed painting. As a cinematographer, he says, he has "a sense of composition and light and it might have been from growing up there". At school, he rejected all advice from his careers officer and went to art school. He was in a local film society, but "I never thought I'd work in films," he says. He discovered still photography and spent a year in North Devon documenting the way of life on farms and in villages.

When he heard that the National Film School was opening, Deakins applied and was accepted in 1973. He had a passion for the films of DA Pennebaker and Fred Wiseman, and he started with the aim of following in their footsteps, making documentaries. He shot several in Africa for TV – his first, Zimbabwe, was a powerful film about the country's guerrilla war. He covered the Whitbread round-the-world yacht race, which involved him working for more than nine months as a crew member while filming a documentary that captured the relationships between the yacht's crewmen. He made music videos, including Carl Perkins's "Blue Suede Shoes", before starting feature-film cinematography, first in England and then in America. His first feature, in 1990, was Mountains of the Moon. The following year he began his collaborations with the Coen Brothers. "It's really nice working with Joel and Ethan. We do a lot of prep, talking about our approach so when we come to the day of the shoot we will be very well prepared."

The filming of No Country for Old Men involved much travelling. It's set in the Texas border area, which is much dryer and flatter than Santa Fe in New Mexico, where they shot most of the movie. "The trick of filming is that for the most part you're shooting out of sequence – a bit on stage, a bit on location three weeks later – and it has to flow. That's the hardest part.

"What I enjoy most is working with great actors. I get such a buzz filming someone like Tommy Lee Jones [Ed Tom Bell in No Country for Old Men]. Seeing him just acting, just becoming the character in the story. When it all comes together, that is the story right there, coming alive in front of you. That is a thrill."

Deakins's Oscar nomination is one of eight in total for the film.

By Elisa Bray

Watch a clip of Roger Deakins' work on 'No Country For Old Men'

Best Make-up & Hair - La Vie en Rose

For her role as hair designer for La Vie en Rose, which picked up four Baftas and is up for three Oscars, Jan Archibald set about researching the life of the film's subject, the French singer Edith Piaf, and studying film footage before applying the look to the actress Marion Cotillard.

"There's a lot of photographic evidence of Edith Piaf," Archibald says. "I came across some things of great interest; old home-movie footage taken by one of her friends when they were all on tour together in the 1930s, when she was at the height of her fame. Many images of her are very well-known; people will recognise them instantly, especially in France. It was about choosing the images that pinpointed moments in the story of her life."

Archibald describes the varying hairstyles of the singer through her life: her well-groomed days in the early 1930s; her increasingly glamorous styles following her rise as a singer and her growing fame; and her less glamorous days in the late 1940s and early 1950s, when her health was failing. "Obviously she was physically fragile, and when she got older her hair got very thin. She also started dying her hair red in the 1950s because it was fashionable," Archibald says.

Through the film, Cotillard's own hair is never on show. Instead, eight wigs were designed by Archibald (who has more than 20 years' experience of wig design) to represent the different hairstyles, from the bouncy, wavy hair of the young Piaf to the thinning, frizzy hair of her later life. For this late period, Cotillard wore bald caps underneath the wig. Archibald decided to use the old method of curling hair before the arrival of the perm – steaming and baking it – and she overprocessed it to reconstruct the appearance of unhealthy hair later in the singer's life.

To recreate Piaf's high, wide forehead, Archibald began by shaving Cotillard's hair back almost two inches. Archibald also studied a sample of Piaf's own hair that had been cut from her head after her death, kept first by a friend in a locket and then at a private museum in Paris.

Archibald's creations met with the approval of Piaf's former secretary. Archibald says: "She approved. She said she used sometimes to curl Piaf's hair herself."

Archibald began studying fashion design before going on to study costume design in London. The history of clothes was a passion. "When I worked in theatre," she recalls, "I got hooked on hair and wigs. That's when I found my niche. You go where the opportunities take you."

She began her career as a film hairstylist with A Private Function in 1984. More recently, she gained a Bafta nomination for her hairstyling in the Robert Altman-directed film Gosford Park, and has worked with many actresses, including Laura Linney and Keira Knightley.

Of this year's Bafta win, which she shares with the make-up artist Didier Lavergne, she says: "I wasn't really expecting it. I don't expect to get an Oscar, but I'm very chuffed to be nominated. It's very exciting and a little nerve-racking."

As a designer, Archibald is in charge of the overall look. "The day starts with the main artist, making sure the looks are right and that they are happy with the image. All day, you are watching the shoot for the little things that need to be adjusted." It's not just aesthetic; getting the look of the main actors right is essential, she says, in "helping the viewers to understand the story". She laughs off the assumption that the job must be glamorous, saying: "It's a hard job, and exciting."

Of Cotillard, who won the Bafta for Best Actress, she says: "I knew from day one that this was going to be an exceptional performance. She was so committed and so prepared. The lip-synching and the body language were spot on. One knew whenever one watched her on the set that she was exceptional."

By Elisa Bray

Watch a clip of Jan Archibald's work on 'La Vie en Rose'

Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
Metallica are heading for the Main Stage at Reading and Leeds Festivals next summer


Arts and Entertainment
Kurt Cobain's daughter Frances Bean Cobain is making a new documentary about his life


Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp

TV Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' near to camp

Arts and Entertainment
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

Arts and Entertainment

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital