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Sci-Tech’s Night of Digits and Horse Hair

February 14, 2017 | By

 

Sci-Tech Award winners* credit: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S

Sci-Tech Award winners* credit: Todd Wawrychuk / ©A.M.P.A.S

“If you ask me,” John Cho quipped during the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards, “you can’t make a movie without a camera.”

His co-host Leslie Mann recounted that she made a camera-less movie once, on Broadway, and because nothing was ever recorded, had to say the words “over and over” every night, to a different audience.

Recording it once, she insisted, would have been much easier.

But would it have been art? Well, the Sci Tech Awards exists in that overlap of gear-headedness and artistry that comes up with the gadgets — and more recently, software suites and packages — that makes “recording” those plays (and adapting those books and comics and the occasional original script) that much easier.

And this particular evening went down pretty easily as well, as Cho and Mann made a fairly delightful duo that played well off each other, and which the Academy might do well to keep around for a few more installments.

As for this year’s edition, cameras were very much in evidence, as a chunk of the evening was given over to the sudden realization that a lot of really great digital cameras have revolutionized filmmaking: The quartet honored were Panavision and Sony’s Genesis, the Red, Sony’s F65, and Arri’s ubiquitous Alexa. It was pointed out that Arri has existed and evolved almost as long as the film biz itself — “since 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution,” which was evidently not a reference to the current White House staff.

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Leslie Mann & John Cho

It’s actually even a “quintet,” if you include the evening’s earlier citation for Thomson Grass Valley Viper FilmStream, which allowed uncompressed digital output into existing workflow set-ups.

Among the other honorees was the rather astonishing animatronic horse puppet from Creature Effects, which combines motion analysis, drive-train mechanisms, and faux hair — actually made and not rendered — for a device which showed this correspondent, via film clips, that he had already been successfully duped by this achievement in equine (and rider) safety in several westerns to date.

And along with the slew of digital camera acknowledgements and other awards came recognition that facial capture is now a whole thing, too.

A very gracious Parag Havaldar at Sony Imageworks was one of the honorees in this area, as were Luca Fascione, J.P. Lewis and Ian Matthews for Weta’s FACETS, which allows “accurate facial tracking from an actor-mounted camera.” Or a “Serkis-mounted camera,” as is so often the case.

Afterwards, Fascione chatted with us, calling Weta’s staff “the best,” while acknowledging the strides that have been made in “face-cap:” “These are systems that now work, capturing the brightest quality of picture.”

Elaborating, he said that “in the past, mo-cap was digital make up.” Now it’s much more about the performance, which he allowed was “not documentary.” The “cap,” as it were, is part of a workflow, in partnership with editing, which “can merge two different takes, and adjust the timing,” so that the ultimately digital character becomes its own unique creation.

Fascione said that despite all the advances, there is still “more to be understood” about the process itself, and the interplay between how the live and captured performance results in something wholly new.

But then, that’s what subsequent Sci-Tech Awards will be for. Though who knows? Once the Academy finally figures out a way to honor digital performances — a day that will come eventually — perhaps the Sci-Tech section won’t have to be held on an earlier separate night.

 

*Front Row: Jereon Rotte, Mark Chiolis, Bob Harvey, Marcos Fajardo, Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs, Chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee Jay Feeney, Vice Chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee Barbara Ford Grant and Jeff Cruts.
 Second Row: Robert Nolty, Steve Rosenbluth, Paige Warner, Thiago Ize, Mark Rappaport, Todd Koma Minobe, Toshihiko Ohnshi, Kim Snyder and Geoff Wedig Third Row: Glenn Sanders, Vladimir Koylazov, Brian Cantwell, Michael Koperwas, Kiran Bhat, Christopher Kulla, David B Thomas, Bob Harvey, Fumihiko Sudo, Scott Y Oshita, Franz Kraus and an ARRI Representative.

 Fourth Row: Joshua Barratt, Archie Te, Luca Fascione, Nicholas Apostoloff, Iain Matthews, David W Bundy, Clifford Stein, Larry Gritz, Alan King and an ARRI Representative.
Fifth Row: J.P. Lewis, Brian Whited, Karl Winkler, Carl Ludwig, Maurice van Swaaij and Michael Keegan.

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