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Awards: Sci-Tech Awards Coverage

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By Dan BoltonThe ability to insert a camera directly into a scene was a major step forward in the art of cinematic storytelling. This advance earned inventors of the camera crane golden Oscar statuettes on February 12 at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards dinner.Horst Burbulla, who developed Panavision’s Technocrane telescoping camera crane, and Jean-Marie Lavalou, Alain Masseron and David Samuelson who engineered the Louma Camera Crane and remote operating system each received the Academy Award of Merit.The idea of putting a camera on the end of a pole didn’t seem revolutionary at the time, recalled the inventor of the Louma camera crane. “It was like a baby but it took a 25-year period of gestation to perfect,” said Lavalou. He thanked Steven Spielberg, the first to experiment with his system in America, and praised directors for placing the camera inside scenes “where it had never been before.”Scarlett Johansson, dressed in a satin black pant suit, with a radiant smile, presented 15 awards at the black-tie dinner. She struggled at times with technical descriptions, but was poised and quickly recovered from any miss-steps.Motion-capture technology has advanced dramatically in the past 10 years and teams from three of the major innovators were recognized for technical achievement. Scenes from Catwoman, Spider-Man, The Matrix trilogy, The Lord of the Rings, I, Robot and The Polar Express attest to its impact on filmmaking. Twelve inventors at these firms were recognized for their groundbreaking contributions.Volumetric effects such as the billions of gallons of seawater surging through the streets of New York in the movie The Day After Tomorrow represent another breakthrough. Storm software inventor Alan Kapler of Digital Domain praised the firm for “fostering an atmosphere of complete panic that has kept me motivated all these years.”Holding a camera steady at sea in a small boat posed so many problems that few even attempted the shot prior to the late 1970s invention that helped make Jaws a success. Nelson Tyler has worked to perfect the Gyroplatform boat mount stabilizing device since those days and was rewarded for his efforts with a Technical Achievement Award.Seventy years ago Arthur Widmer began experimenting with the ultraviolet and bluescreen compositing process. The 90-year-old perfected his system projecting the rolling sea in the 1958 Spencer Tracy movie Old Man and the Sea. He received one of the Technical Committee’s rare Awards of Commendation for his work.“Digitally adept in my day meant that you could play the piccolo,” he told the crowd in a heartfelt acceptance. The recognition for this “analog achievement in an era devoid of acronyms is doubly significant, doubly poignant and doubly appreciated,” he said. His comment drew the crowd to its feet.“When I took the job at Panavision in 1951 I didn’t expect it to last,” said Gordon E. Sawyer Award recipient Takuo Miyagishima. “I was told film would be dead in five years. I’ve heard the same prediction repeated every five years for the past 50 years, he joked. “Here’s to 10 more glorious endings in just five years!”

Written by Dan Bolton

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