Drawing The 92nd Academy Awards

Celebrating storytelling, sharing our humanity

Liza Donnelly
Feb 11 · 8 min read
There were a few more Oscar Statuettes than last year, but nowhere near as many as in the first few years I was here. I love having the stature as part of my drawings.

It’s always an enormous treat to go to Los Angeles and draw the Academy Awards red carpet and show. This year was no different; my fifth time in attendance drawing. I never take my luck for granted.

I arrived two days in advance of the Sunday broadcast so that I could draw behind the scenes and walk around the neighborhood.

After arriving on site, I get my credentials and head down to the red carpet area to see what’s going on. There were the usual suspects: journalists dressed up and practicing on camera, and men in dark suits seeming to be guarding things. The carpet was still covered in plastic.

These two men were rocking their moustaches.
This woman is one of the many wonderful Press Guides who are assigned areas, to help, and to correct behavior. These Oscar letters and little statue were a favorite for selfies and photos, but it was forbdded from sitting on the red riser.

The next day, I went directly to where all the action usualy is, and the carpet was red in all it’s glory, sans plastic covering. I tried to capture the red that they chose for the carpet (its the same every year), but I never sure I get it right. It’s a bit more crimson than what I could create. But you get the idea.

Saturday you can really feel the buzz. People are arriving and artistis are touching up things and fixing lights. Jourrnalists are sharing what they see with their audiences; I heard many foreign languages.

I loved watching these two set designers below work on different spots of the red carpet over the course of the days leading up to the event day.


Again this year, I was given access to the theater during dress rehearsal, something I love to draw since I am not allowed in the theater during the broadcast on Sunday.

I am escorted to these behind-the-scenes places by a trusty “Press Guide.” The Academy has many wonderful, helpful people working as Press Guides each year, and I have gotten to know many of them. They are great.

Some celebreties showed up to deliver their presenter lines. I was fortunate to see Tom Hanks, Signorney Weaver, Gal Gado, Bri Larson, Mindy Kaling and Spike Lee!
Outside in the theater lobby, drinks will be served.
In the balcony, I get full view of the beautiful set.

Also a really fun tradition for me is to visit the kitchen and draw the chefs and cooks, prepping for the weekend’s parties.

Wolfgang Puck
So many chefs, so much detail for a dinner for 600 on Saturday night. Below right is the scene I saw of waiters , dressed in black, waiting to pick up food from the chefs, in white, to take out for the cocktail party. They are reading the menus.
This guy had yet to be uncovered.

On Sunday at noon, with my black dress and red shoes on, I grabbed a tripple shot coffee and went to the carpet for the big day. Media were instructed to be on the carpet, “locked in,” by 1:00pm. Otherwise we would not be allowed in.

Academy Awards Show production directors Matt Spill and Lauren Selman
Man in a hat in a hurry
The expandable cart was brought in!

About an hour into the red carpet — while it was still relatively quiet and no nominees had shown up yet— it started to pour. The area is covered by a plastic roof , and pockets of rain began to gather in spots near where I was standing. Getting heavier and fuller by the minute, the Oscar red carpet team quickly began to push up the plastic and allow the water to find its exit off the plastic. It was kind of exciting!

Lauren Selman, one of the Oscar event managing directors, instructing a group of tuxedo clad men in their work to release the water.

I saw dresses galore. This year, they seemed big and bold and very often red.

And then nominees and stars began to slowly show up.

Leonardo wisked by.
Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson were among the last minute arrivals

Then just before the show was to begin, we quickly walked up to the Media Interview room, where all the international media had designated spots to watch the show on monitors. And then when the winners were announced, the came into the room to be asked questions.

No photos are allowed, but I grabbed imagery — drawings — of some of the winners.

Creators of Hair Love, winner of best animated short.

Here are drawings of some of the singers, presenters and some of the winners.

Best actor, Joaquin Phoenix, best supporting actor, Brad Pitt, best supporting actess Laura Dern and best actress Renee Zellweger.

The show’s script and choice of presenters was clearly an effort to be open, and acknowlege the gender and diversity issues that have plagued the Academy Awards nominations. What I witnessed was a more diverse and cohesive day. And an historic one at that, with Parasite winning Best Picture, the first non-American film to do so.

I love visually chronicalling the Oscars, and sharing what I see in real time on social media. Through my drawings, I hope to express our shared joy of film. I hope to convey what I believe it’s about: telling others’ stories — which so often are also our own — and realizing our common humanity.


Liza Donnelly

Written by

Cartoonist/writer for New Yorker, CBS News, CNN, Author, performer, TED and SXSW speaker, Barnard Fellow. Looking to change world w humor. lizadonnelly.com

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