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Robert Francis Boyle

Robert Francis Boyle (October 10, 1909 – August 1, 2010) was an American film art director and production designer.

Born in Los Angeles, Boyle trained as an architect, graduating from the University of Southern California (USC). When he lost his job in that field during the Great Depression, Boyle found work in films as an extra. In 1933 he was hired as a draftsman in the Paramount Pictures art department, headed by supervising art director Hans Dreier. Beginning with Cecil B. DeMille’s The Plainsman, Boyle went on to work on a variety of pictures as a sketch artist, draftsman and assistant art director before becoming an art director at Universal Studios in the early 1940s.

Boyle collaborated several times with Alfred Hitchcock, first as an associate art director for Saboteur (1942) and later as a full-fledged production designer for North by Northwest (1959), The Birds (1963), and Marnie (1964). Denied permission to shoot footage on Mount Rushmore, Hitchcock turned to Boyle to create realistic replicas of the stone heads. Boyle abseiled down the monument, photographing its contours in detail, before constructing “just enough to put the actors on so we could get down shots, up shots, side shots, whatever we needed.” Almost two decades earlier, Boyle had delivered the Statue of Liberty reproduction that was used in the climactic scene of Saboteur.

For The Birds, Boyle was put in charge of the title characters. He later recalled, “We needed to find out which birds we could use best, and finally settled on two types: sea gulls, which were very greedy beasts that would always fly toward the camera if there was a piece of meat, and crows, which had a strange sort of intelligence.” Boyle described his relationship with Hitchcock: “It was a meeting of equals: the director who knew exactly what he wanted, and the art director who knew how to get it done.”

When director Norman Jewison failed in his attempts to get the necessary submarine that was at the centre of his The Russians Are Coming, the Russians Are Coming storyline, Boyle built a working model from styrofoam and fiberglass.

Boyle’s other credits include It Came from Outer Space, Cape fear , In Cold Blood, Fiddler on the Roof, Winter Kills, W.C. Fields and Me, The Shootist, Private Benjamin and Stayin’ Alive. 

During the course of his career, Boyle was nominated four times for the Academy Award for Best Art Direction but never won. In 1997 he received the Art Directors Guild’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and he was voted an Honorary Academy Award by the Board of Governors, “in recognition of one of cinema’s great careers in art direction,” which he received during the 80th Academy Awards ceremony on February 24, 2008. At the age of 98, Boyle became the oldest winner ever of an Honorary Award in the history of the Academy Awards. Despite being in ill health and arriving to the ceremony in a wheelchair, Boyle insisted on walking onstage, alongside Nicole Kidman, to receive the honour.

Boyle was the subject of the Academy Award-nominated documentary short the Man on Lincoln’s Nose (2000).

Boyle died on August 1, 2010 in Los Angeles from natural causes.

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