Regina King’s Angela/Sister Night and Baby Yoda were the two pillars of success this Emmy season. So it was no surprise that “Watchmen” and “The Mandalorian” were the biggest craft winners at the Creative Arts Emmys, splitting seven awards apiece — and deservedly so, considering their bold and innovative work, which transcended their superhero and sci-fi trappings.
Damon Lindelof’s zeitgeist-grabbing “Watchmen” was a powerful “remix” of the famed ’80s graphic novel using the Tulsa massacre as a catalyst for excavating the generational sweep of racism and police brutality. HBO’s limited series award winner scored for Gregory Middleton’s cinematography, Sharen Davis and Valerie Zielonka’s fantasy/sci-fi costumes, Henk Van Eeghen’s editing, Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ original limited series score, and sound editing, sound mixing, and casting.
“The Mandalorian,” Jon Favreau’s breakout “Star Wars” hit for Disney+, cleverly melded the samurai and western, propelled by the game-changing LED-wall tech from Industrial Light & Magic (StageCraft). As expected, the half-hour series won for visual effects (the virtual production work and Baby Yoda proved an unbeatable combination), bolstered by Greig Fraser and Baz Idoine’s cinematography and the production design of Andrew L. Jones, Jeff Wisniewski, and Amanda Serino. In addition, “The Mandalorian” took home Emmys for Ludwig Göransson’s original series score, sound editing, sound mixing, and stunt coordination.
While several of “Watchmen’s” wins spanned different episodes, including King’s badass Sister Night costume in the opener (“It’s Summer And We’re Running Out Of Ice”), and the editing of Doctor Manhattan’s subplot (“A God Walks into Abar”), the most experimental episode, “The Extraordinary Being,” stands apart for its surreal aesthetic (listen to Chris O’Falt’s “Deep Dive” podcast for the complete collaborative story).
It’s about the origin of the Hooded Justice superhero and how his traumatic memories infiltrate granddaughter Angela under the influence of the dangerous Nostalgia drug. The episode serves as a horrifying mindscape — shot in black-and-white, with long takes, and floating in and out of her and young Will’s (Jovan Adepo) perspective. The sights and sounds were effective in tying together the past and present.
As for “The Mandalorian,” the popularity of Baby Yoda alone — a brilliant hybrid of puppetry and CG animation — was enough to secure the VFX win. Legacy Effects produced the effective hero puppet that established the fundamental movement and emotion of The Child. ILM took its cues from that and then handled the rest (walking, crawling, spitting out frogs, and using The Force) without us noticing it.
However, ILM’s launch of the StageCraft volume set at Manhattan Beach Studios was an enormous virtual production accomplishment with industry-wide ramifications. It offered a new paradigm shift for real-time onset shooting (in collaboration with Epic’s Unreal engine), with the actors performing in front of massive LED walls, where the exotic and dystopian worlds were projected. StageCraft eliminated the need for costly and time-consuming location shoots, which looms even larger for future productions. Yet the big breakthrough of this video wall tech was the accurate camera tracking and perspective-correct 3D imagery pulled together seamlessly and believably. (Season 2 of “The Mandalorian” begins streaming October 30.)
Indeed, StageCraft has been so successful that ILM will soon open a second permanent stage in Manhattan Beach, along with a third in Pinewood Studios in London, and a fourth in Fox Studios Australia. This will initially be devoted to Marvel’s “Thor: Love and Thunder,” directed by Taika Waititi. Meanwhile, both Weta Digital and Pinewood Atlanta Studios recently launched their own virtual production LED studios.
The other two standouts, of course, were the continued undefeated runs of “The Crown” and “The Handmaid’s Tale” for costume and production design, respectively. This just proves how defining wardrobes and world building are to the dramatic success of these two shows.
In Season 3 of “The Crown,” costume designer Amy Roberts came onboard to handle the arrival of Olivia Colman’s Queen Elizabeth and Helena Bonham Carter’s Princess Margaret in the ’60s and ’70s. That brought a lot more color. Roberts dressed the queen in pretty, clear colors to convey her steady, unwavering leadership, while making the unhappy princess more flamboyantly stylish.
And, in Season 3 of “The Handmaid’s Tale,” three-time Emmy-winning production designer Elisabeth Williams transformed Washington D.C. into a nightmarish “Gilead on steroids.” For a gloomy aesthetic of propaganda symbols, she turned the Lincoln Memorial into a headless shambles, the Washington Monument into a white cross, and The National Mall into a sea of red for 200 obedient Handmaids. It was a sign of the times, underscored by the crafty use of iconic landmarks.