Size is everything. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences seems to prove that at every turn and this year’s Academy Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards dinner was no exception.
For much of the past decade, the Sci-Tech Awards have been handed out at the Beverly Regent Hotel on Wilshire Blvd. This weekend’s festivities were offered up at the Beverly Hills Hotel – a considerably smaller venue. This reporter’s completely unofficial survey revealed most, if not all, of those questioned loved the more intimate surroundings and likened it to a small get-together of friends and colleagues to celebrate each other’s fantastic work. My guess is the room holds about 350 guests. All of whom seemed to express the same enthusiasm about the new venue.
One Academy employee who, in the parlance of The New York Times, would rather stay anonymous considering he, (or maybe she), was not authorized to comment for the entire Academy, explained that “the Academy has been trying for years to find a way to make it work at this hotel and were very interested in continuing the relationship given the night’s success.”
The intimacy was a welcome relief and added an overall feeling of connectedness to the night’s event.
My biggest complaint was the food and wine. I felt producer David Friendly should try to tone down the quality. Seriously, the amount of perfectly cooked medium-rare steak and delightful Sterling wine was way too much for my pedestrian pallet. I had to put some of the left over steak in my tux pocket so I didn’t stand out from everybody else at the table when they cleared the plates.
I’ve attended this event for the past decade without fail. Every year the committee that oversees the ceremony focuses on a theme that deserves recognition and reward for outstanding achievement in the scientific and technical arena of our industry.
The evening kicked off with another astonishing montage highlighting many of the talents of the night’s award recipients, as well as historic reference to the work of those who came before them. The evening’s primary theme was the technical work of software engineers who have greatly enhanced realistic computer-generated characters, most of which is now being developed at the skeletal level to produce more and more realistic movement and interplay with other characters.
The evening’s presenters were Chris Pine and Zoe Saldana of the re-launched Star Trek fame.
While a presenting duo hasn’t been done since 1990, (I’m guessing the secret of past technical gaffs at the mic is out), this talented pair seems to have actually practiced their intros and only made the smallest of missteps outlining the recipients’ considerable achievements.
Swag is an assumption at most of these events, something along the lines of a package of last year’s films on DVD from the studios. Don’t get me wrong, as one of the lowly plebe, I love it. Tiffen knows its audience and did something rather different. Each attendee received only one parting gift – a Steadicam Smoothee – an incredible gift that the camera/video buff in us all will take full advantage of. I think I admire a sponsor that understands ¾ of the attendees are members of the Academy, who already have all those movies on DVD.
The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards have always been a retrospective recognition. True to its mission, it has once again struck a balance, recognizing the lightning speed of digital technological achievements, with an eye to recognizing past ground-breaking work that is often overlooked.
Richard Mall designed a light stand in his garage – the Max Menace Arm – which is now utilized by gaffers throughout the industry in situations where access is limited. As in past ceremonies, emphasis was placed on technologies that are used day-to-day on set or in studios.
Les Zellan accepted the evening’s only statuette on behalf of Cooke Optics. We at Below the Line have watched Cooke for years and marveled at its tenacity to both stay in the lens game and innovate at every turn. Zellen’s acceptance speech, which was the second to last, seemed to sum up the tireless path of the entertainment entrepreneur – innovate or die.
Young and old, garage or sophisticated research lab – congratulations to all.
Academy Awards for Scientific and Technical Achievements were presented to:
Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette)
Cooke Optics for its innovation in the design, development and manufacture of advanced camera lenses that have helped define the look of motion pictures for the last century.
Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques)
Simon Clutterbuck, James Jacobs and Dr. Richard Dorling for the development of the Tissue Physically–Based Character Simulation Framework.
Dr. Philip McLauchlan, Allan Jaenicke, John–Paul Smith and Ross Shain for the creation of the Mocha planar tracking and rotoscoping software at Imagineer Systems.
Joe Murtha, William Frederick and Jim Markland of Anton/Bauer for the design and creation of the CINE VCLX Portable Power System.
Technical Achievement Awards (Academy Certificates)
J.P. Lewis, Matt Cordner and Nickson Fong for the invention and publication of the Pose Space Deformation technique.
Lawrence Kesteloot, Drew Olbrich and Daniel Wexler for the creation of the Light system for computer graphics lighting at PDI/DreamWorks.
Steve LaVietes, Brian Hall and Jeremy Selan for the creation of the Katana computer graphics scene management and lighting software at Sony Pictures Imageworks.
Theodore Kim, Nils Thuerey, Markus Gross and Doug James for the invention, publication and dissemination of Wavelet Turbulence software.
Richard Mall for the design and development of the Matthews Max Menace Arm.