Martin Scorsese designed each year in the film to look just the way a color film from that time period would look. Achieved mainly through digitally enhanced post-production, Scorsese recreated the look of Cinecolor and two-strip Technicolor. Watch in particular for the scene where Howard Hughes (Leonardo DiCaprio) meets Errol Flynn (Jude Law) in the club. Hughes is served precisely placed peas on a plate, and they appear blue or turquoise, just as they'd have looked in the two-strip Technicolor process. As Hughes ages throughout the film, the color gets more sophisticated and full-bodied.
Leonardo DiCaprio spent a day with Jane Russell to hear her memories and impressions of Howard Hughes. She was very impressed with DiCaprio's visit, and told him that Hughes was a quiet, yet extremely stubborn man, who always got his way in the end.
Also in preparation for his role as Howard Hughes, Leonardo DiCaprio spent some time with an O.C.D. patient named Edward. He advised him on several different aspects of the condition, in particular, the tendency to repeat sentences over and over, as in the scene where Hughes repeatedly asks to see the blueprints for the Hercules.
Two scenes were filmed aboard the retired ocean liner R.M.S. Queen Mary, permanently berthed in Long Beach, California, to take advantage of the vessel's still-existant 1930s Art Deco interiors. The "Hell's Angels" wrap party was filmed in the ship's Observation Bar. The scene introducing the H-4 Hercules ("Spruce Goose") scale model to the military, was shot in the former First Class main lounge, now called the "Royal Salon". The real "Spruce Goose" was on display in a domed hangar adjacent to the Queen Mary from 1980-1992.
Cate Blanchett felt that accurately reproducing Katharine Hepburn's distinctive upper class New Englander accent was crucial to her portrayal of this Hollywood icon. She did daily voice exercises with the film's voice coach Tim Monich (with whom Blanchett had worked previously on The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999)), and also studied Hepburn's early films and documentaries about her to learn her mannerisms.
Alan Alda avoided watching newsreel footage of the real Senator Owen Brewster. Alda felt that public figures did not speak or behave naturally in front of the newsreel cameras and he wanted his performance to be more natural. However, Alda did make use of photographs of the real-life Senator and used Brewster's legendarily ugly appearance in crafting the role; because it wouldn't work to make Alda look that disgusting, Alda instead used Brewster's looks as an example of how his inner ugliness emerged, and made that the key to his interactions with Howard Hughes.
The hangar in which the real-life Howard Hughes partially built his famous "Spruce Goose" airplane was also used for the construction of many of the full-scale models used in Titanic (1997), in which Leonardo DiCaprio also starred.
The film's winning of the Best Cinematography Oscar has been attributed to the unique use of period color palette. The two and three-strip palette that is seen in the film was accomplished by the use of the LUT - 3D Look Up Table - graphics processor. It was designed by Joshua Pines, Research and Development Vice President of Technicolor Digital Intermediates. The processor was slipped into the digital projector, and thus allowed filtering and applying the two and three color look into the negative.
The two-engine flying boat, seen numerous times in the movie (including when Howard & Kate fly over Hollywood at night), is a Sikorsky S-38. Howard Hughes owned one at one point. The S-38 was popular in its time for private use and with airlines, including Pan American Airways.
Four of the miniature airplanes used in creating the effects for the film are now on display at the Evergreen Aviation Museum in McMinnville, Oregon, home of the real Howard Hughes HK-1 "Spruce Goose". Models on display include two of the biplanes from the Hell's Angels (1930) sequence, most of the XF-11 model, and the motion-control "Spruce Goose". The "Spruce Goose" model is remarkably detailed, and even includes scale puppets of Howard Hughes and Dr. Fritz.
The film's prints are coming from a digital intermediate. This digital master has been digitally grain reduced from start to finish. As a result, many moving textures (especially human skin) look smeared and very unnatural, like bad quality video watched on a slow L.C.D. monitor.
Released through Miramax films, whose parent company is Walt Disney Pictures. Before forming his own production company, Walt Disney's animated films and shorts were distributed by R.K.O. Pictures, which was later purchased by Howard Hughes.
The Hughes H-1 speed record breaking aircraft was expected to have been depicted in the film by a full size H-1 replica built by Jim Wright in Oregon. Tragically, the pilot and plane were lost when it crashed in Yellowstone National Park on August 4, 2003.
The trivia item below may give away important plot points.
The theme played after Katharine Hepburn tells Howard that she's leaving him, and after the scene in which Ava Gardner confronts Howard about bugging their house, is "Nightmare" by Artie Shaw, the man, with whom Ava says she's having an affair.