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SciTech Awards and banquet

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By Dan Bolton
Host Jennifer Garner turned out to be the master of the multi-syllable at the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards which in 2003 honored several revolutionary advances in digital effects.
“You have created tools so extraordinary and powerful that there is nothing filmmakers can possibly conceive that they cannot take the audience through,” Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science President Frank Pierson told the gathering at the Ritz Carlton Huntington Hotel in Pasadena.
The advances are so great during the past few years that the technical side is ahead of the storytellers, he added.
Richard Edlund, chairman of the Sci-Tech Awards Committee, lauded “this distinguished and hard-working group whose papers could be printed in any MIT journal.” In praising them, he said, “pardon me for using the term ‘supernerds.’”
Garner admitted to a strong personal interest in technology, but in her elegant designer dress and expensive brooch she clearly didn’t appear the nerd. She drew praise for her precise pronunciation of multi-syllable advances throughout the evening, with Pierson finally declaring her the best host and presenter in memory.
The 2003 awards recognized digital audio achievements with an Oscar statuette for computer-based digital audio production systems to Digidesign, one of very few awarded for audio advances in the 76-year history of the awards.
“In 1992 Digidesign’s Pro Tools introduced economical and revolutionary audio and have since spawned more than 100 third party plug-ins to become the worldwide standard,” said Garner.
A second statuette went to Bill Tondreau of Kuper Controls for development of “robotic camera systems, which resulted in motion control becoming an integral part of the field of visual effects.”
In reviewing advances leading to Digidesign’s breakthrough, the committee decided to honor three firms for their “respective pioneering efforts.” The collective achievements of AMS AudioFile, WaveFrame and Fairlight, “contributed significantly to the development and realization of digital audio workstations.”
Dimitra Alfred of Sydney, Australia, attended the banquet with her husband Christopher, who received a Scientific and Engineering Award. Her pride in his contribution was visible at a festive table that included his coworkers of several nationalities.
“They run on adrenaline at times,” observed his wife of six years. “Their passion for the work they do leads to 15-hour days, but when it works they get such a rush. I’ve seen him spring awake at 4 a.m. with an idea that leaves him so excited.”
On the podium after receiving the plaque, Alfred thanked his family and mentors, “people I consider my idols.” Joining him were Andrew Cannon and Michael Carlos of Fairlight, Mark Crabtree of AMS and Chuck Grindstaff and John Melanson of WaveForm.
Stephen Regelous, winner of an Engineering plaque, was recognized for the design and development of Massive, an autonomous agent animation system used for the battle sequences in the The Lord of the Rings trilogy. He explained that each figure has a primitive software brain allowing it to interact with other agents. It was a dream from age 11 that came true when Peter Jackson asked me to put together a crowd system, he said.
Eastman Kodak Company engineers Kenneth L. Tingler, Charles C. Anderson, Diane E. Kestner and Brian A. Schell were recognized for reducing static in negative films during high-speed printing. And Kinoton GmbH was awarded an engineering plaque for development of its FP 30/38 EC II Studio Projector.
The Gordon E. Sawyer Award for lifetime contribution went to Peter D. Parks, whose wildlife images and 3-D firm Imagequest resulted in stunning documentary and microphotography.
Douglas Greenfield was given this year’s John A. Bonner medal of commendation for service to the Academy. Greenfield, who paid his respects to Bonner, helped design and oversee the construction of the Academy’s new Pickford Center.
Certificates for technical achievement went to Kish Sadhvani for the concept and to Carl Pernicone for mechanical design and Paul Duclos for the practical engineering of the Ultimate Director’s Finder, a portable cine viewfinder system. Certificates also went to Henrik Wann Jensen, Stephen R. Marschner and Pat Hahrahan who were recognized for a mathematical model for scattering light while another went to Christophe Hery, Ken McGaugh and Joe Letteri for rendering techniques that make artificial skin look real.

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