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2016 Oscar Shines Like a NASA Mirror

Photonics Spectra
Mar 2016
MICHAEL D. WHEELER, michael.wheeler@photonics.com

The Academy Awards always have a lot of star power, but this year the statuettes themselves shone like NASA space optics, thanks to a new highly reflective finish.

The same gold-plating technique used on the Hubble Telescope and sophisticated weaponry systems brought extra glitter to this year’s awards.

For reasons related to aesthetics and tradition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences determined it wanted to return to the original process of wax castings in bronze for the statuettes. Small changes had crept in over time, notably a softening of the statuette’s features. The awards had also lost a bit of their original brilliance.

Finished gold-plated Oscars (left), gold plating the Oscar (center) and the scans of the classic, modern and new Oscar (right).
Finished gold-plated Oscars (left), gold plating the Oscar (center) and the scans of the classic, modern and new Oscar (right). Courtesy of Chris Roque, Polich Tallix Inc.

“The Oscars had been using thin castings for years and they didn’t have the luster of pure 24-karat gold,” said David Epner, president of Epner Technology, whose Brooklyn, NY-based firm did the gold plating.

The Academy selected Polich Tallix Inc., an artist’s foundry in Rock Tavern, N.Y., to start anew. Polich Tallix scanned an original Oscar from 1928, and one from 2015. The two scans were blended, bringing the new design closer to George Stanley’s original art deco sculpture.

This new design was then 3D printed in wax. A mold of the wax print was made and then dipped in a ceramic shell slurry for 10 coats. Once the shell was cured it was fired in an oven. Molten bronze was then poured into the hot ceramic shell and allowed to cool overnight. The next day, the bronze castings were broken free of the ceramic shell. The castings were then sanded to a mirror polish finish.

For the final step, Epner Technology

applied its proprietary 24-karat “Laser Gold” plating technique—so named for its use in plating YAG laser pump cavity reflectors. The plating is a pure, hard, electrochemically deposited gold coating that combines the high reflectivity and emissivity of gold with a surface that can be physically cleaned. The application boasts a 99.4 % reflectivity, which is why it’s been used to coat IR mirrors on Hawaii’s Keck Observatory and the optics for numerous NASA missions.

Epner said Polich Tallix had reached out to him as the firm’s choice for doing the plating, but with the first call coming around New Year’s, he had to work quickly to complete all 62 trophies. Each Oscar took about three hours to plate.

How about that — Hollywood gets a little glow from the photonics industry!


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