Kobe Bryant tribute set for Oscars’ In Memoriam, as show producers reveal few details

Oscar-nominated "A Star Is Born" producer Lynette Howell Taylor, left, with "Dear White People" producer Stephanie Allain, right, and director Glenn Weiss, left, talk about producing the 92nd Academy Awards show.
Director Glenn Weiss, left, Oscar-nominated “A Star Is Born” producer Lynette Howell Taylor and “Dear White People” producer Stephanie Allain talk about producing the 92nd Academy Awards show.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Last year, the Academy Awards became a popular meme days before the actual show, as its production design was reminiscent of a presidential hairdo. That’s less likely to happen again, production designer Jason Sherwood hopes.

“Whenever we make a project, we spend time looking for subliminal imagery, we make sure that it doesn’t offend anyone or represent anything that it’s not supposed to,” he told The Times inside the Dolby Theatre. “Symbols are important, and we didn’t want it to evoke or lean into anything, other than what we were hoping to achieve.”

Sherwood’s design for this year’s Oscars stage is an ethereal, sculpture-like set of spirals — custom-made, movable canvases for lighting effects and projected video clips of each category’s nominees. It’s outfitted with 40,000 Swarovski crystals and a distinct “winner’s circle” at the apron of the stage.

The newly reconfigured Oscars setting is one of numerous tweaks that the telecasts’ creatives vaguely but enthusiastically teased at a press conference on Wednesday.

Oscars show production designer Jason Sherwood shows a rendering of his design for the stage.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

“We’ve prepared a really interesting and different show, which is really exciting for me, having been through this rodeo once or twice before,” director Glenn Weiss told a group of journalists at the Loews Hollywood Hotel. “We’re also taking a little bit of a different take on how we present some things. And I think that’s going to be really appealing.”

While the group didn’t divulge any real details about what to expect — besides replacing bottled water with recyclable canned water — producer Lynette Howell Taylor explained that the pressure to put on an entertaining live event has never been higher. That’s not really because of this year’s shortened voting period but more because of evolving TV-watching behaviors.

“It is easy now for someone to, the next day, just go and YouTube the stuff they want,” Howell Taylor said. “Early on, there’ll be some unexpected things that we’re doing that will keep audiences wanting to be there in the moment, and not miss it.

“But the one thing that the Academy Awards has always had, much like a sporting event, is that there’s that anticipation of who’s going to win, and no matter how many times people predict the winners, inevitably every year, there are always surprises,” she added. “It’s not as much fun to read about it on Twitter [as] it is to sit at home and experience it in the moment.”

One thing the producers would reveal: Beyond winners’ speeches, Sunday’s no-host show will not lean into politics, even in an election year. “Who knows what anyone else is gonna say when they accept their award,” said Howell Taylor. “But from our standpoint, we’re making an entertainment show about celebrating our movies of the year.”

Andee Allen of the art department does touch-ups on the red carpet as preparations continue for the 92nd Oscars ceremony at the Dolby Theatre.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Regarding the event’s musical moments, no further information was shared about the announced performances from Billie Eilish and Janelle Monáe, in addition to the five original song nominees (from “Toy Story 4,” “Rocketman,” “Breakthrough,” “Frozen II” and “Harriet”).

But the group did take a moment to mention Eímear Noone, who makes history as the Oscars’ first female conductor. She will lead the 42-piece orchestra in a segment showcasing excerpts from the five nominated original scores (one of which was composed by a woman: Hildur Gudnadottir for “Joker”). Quipped musical director Rickey Minor, “I just found out that we’re actually wearing the same dress, so I don’t know how that’s gonna work out!”

Throughout the press conference, multiple reporters asked if there would be a standout tribute to Kobe Bryant, an Oscar winner for his animated short film “Dear Basketball.”

“The In Memoriam section has always been an important part of the show, and this year is no different in that we’re honoring all of our community that we’ve lost,” said producer Stephanie Allain. “I think what’s really appropriate is that Kobe was part of the film community, and as such, he will be embraced within the In Memoriam section.”