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Academy Honors Techies

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As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences gathers to honor the top films in the craft categories, there’s also a moment set aside to honor scientific and technical achievements, with a series of plaques and certificates, as well as a medallion and an Oscar statuette.

The Scientific and Technical Awards will be presented at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Feb. 7, and portions of the ceremony will be incorporated into the live broadcast of the Academy Awards on Feb. 22.

Unlike other Academy Awards, achievements receiving Scientific and Technical Awards need not have been developed and introduced during 2008. In fact, many of them took years to develop, and their full potential wasn’t realized until long after their introduction.

The main requirement is that they must demonstrate “a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.”

This year, the Academy has selected four honorees.

Steve Hylén will receive a Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate) for the development of the Hylén Lens System for motion picture effects photography.

Available from Panavision, the unique Hylén System gives cinematographers the ability to manipulate the intermediate image (the image between the lens and the film plane or image sensor) in real time with a wide range of optical effect plug-ins prior to image capture. In-camera effects, such as regional focus control, graphical overlays, and filter mosaics can save production money, while allowing complete on-set artistic control.

In addition, the Academy will give out three Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques).

Erwin Melzner, Volker Schumacher and Timo Müller will be recognized for development of the Arrimax 18/12 lighting fixture.

With its choice of vari-focus and specular reflectors, the optical and mechanical design of this lighting fixture allows it to operate at 18,000 watts, producing unsurpassed light quality while its innovative cooling system keeps the housing safe to touch.

Jacques Delacoux and Alexandre Leuchter will be honored for the development of Transvideo video assist monitors for the motion picture industry. Using color LCD screens, Transvideo monitors provide flicker-free video assist bright enough for use in sunlight and have become a ubiquitous tool in both spherical and anamorphic cinematography.

And finally, Bruno Coumert, Jacques Debize, Dominique Chervin and Christophe Reboulet will receive an Academy Plaque for the design of the compact and lightweight Angenieux 15-40 and 28-76 zoom lenses for handheld motion picture photography.

With focus and zoom functions that can be easily controlled by either the operator or focus puller while filming handheld, these lightweight zoom lenses demonstrate a high degree of engineering.

In addition, two Scientific and Technical Special Award recipients will be recognized at the black-tie awards dinner: Ed Catmull, who will receive the Gordon E. Sawyer Award (an Oscar statuette), and Mark Kimball, who will receive the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation (a medallion). Catmull, a computer scientist, co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, and president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, will be recognized for his lifetime of technical contributions and leadership in the field of computer graphics for the motion picture industry.

“Ed is one of the rare individuals who can bridge the space between science and art,” said Academy president Sid Ganis. “His vision, ingenuity and groundbreaking designs have made the impossible possible—for filmmakers and movie audiences around the world.”

Catmull founded three of the leading centers of computer graphics research: the computer graphics laboratory at the New York Institute of Technology, the computer division of Lucasfilm, and Pixar Animation Studios. In 2000 Catmull, Rob Cook and Loren Carpenter received an Academy Award of Merit for their significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar’s RenderMan software. The rendering software, which produces images used in motion pictures from 3D computer descriptions of shape and appearance, has been used in 45 of the last 50 films nominated for an Academy Award in the Visual Effects category.

Catmull had previously received two Scientific and Engineering Awards—in 1992 as part of a team for the development of RenderMan software, and in 1995 as part of a team responsible for pioneering inventions in digital image compositing. He also shared a Technical Achievement Award in 2005.

Meanwhile, Kimball (recipient of the Bonner Medal), is a computer scientist and motion picture technologist with more than 28 years experience in the movie industry.

“For three decades, Mark has been at the forefront of technological advancements in motion pictures,” said Academy president Ganis. “His dedication to his craft and service to the Academy are both highly regarded in the industry.”

Kimball shared a Scientific and Engineering Award in 1991 for the design and development of the CAPS production system for feature film animation.

Kimball’s career began in 1978 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory as a system engineer with the Deep Space Network. In 1980 he moved to Walt Disney Productions, transferring in 1985 to Walt Disney Feature Animation, where he spent nearly two decades as the CAPS logistics system lead, a senior software systems specialist, a consulting engineer and finally as chief technologist. From 2004 through 2007, Kimball was director of digital production for The Walt Disney Company. Currently Kimball works as an independent media technology systems expert.

Kimball’s feature credits include Tron, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, The Lion King, Pocahontas, Dinosaur and Atlantis: The Lost Empire.

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