The brains behind the bronze

It takes three days to create a 16-inch-tall work of art at American Fine Arts Foundry in Burbank that weighs as much as a bowling ball — albeit one that Hollywood stars would covet onstage.

In anticipation of the 17th annual Screen Actors Guild awards on Sunday, 75 actor statuettes covered in black clothes await transportation to Shrine Exposition Center in Los Angeles for presentation.

The unassuming white façade of the foundry hides the workspace where the statues come to life, beginning first as red wax in one of two molds used to make the figurines.

This year, Ken Hanke was called in to cast new molds to replace their 16-year-old predecessors.

Hanke, a former employee of the foundry and 41-year industry veteran, tediously created the two molds from platinum-based silicone to reduce shrinkage and ensure the longevity of the casts.

“If a mold maker does his job right, he doesn’t get any credit,” he said. “You shouldn’t even be able to tell I was there.”

The last molds cast 660 actor statuettes, each individually numbered and weighing in at more than 12 pounds each.

The solid bronze statues are unlike any others presented during celebrity awards season, according to production manager Randy Buck.

“To be honest, if one of these things falls, it’s going to break what it hits and is very unlikely to break itself,” Buck said. “They are just so much more permanent than a lot of the other awards given out.”

The bronze used for the statuettes was originally developed for shell casings and ship propellers for the U.S. Navy during World War II.

After the cast is made, the statue must undergo six additional steps, including sand blasting, detailing and patina — the process that gives each statuette its distinctive green-black finish.

“What means the most to me is not necessarily the statue itself, but what it means to the recipient,” said Screen Actors Guild Awards Committee member Daryl Anderson. “The winners are voted on by the full membership of the guild.”

The statue was originally commissioned as a work of art, a practice mirrored by other guilds, such as the writers and directors guilds, Anderson said.

The number of statuettes needed will not be known until the award presenters unfold their envelopes on Sunday, but any remainders will be locked in a vault for the following season.