SciTech Awards: "The Motion Picture Innovation Train Never Stops" Says James Cameron

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The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences presented its Scientific and Technical Awards on Saturday during a virtual ceremony that recognized 17 technologies representing 55 individuals—including three women, a first in a single season.

“The motion picture innovation train never stops. Its progress is in fact vital to the art form," said James Cameron during the presentation. "Technical advancement is disrupting the creative process at a breakneck pace. Filmmaking shouldn't merely keep up, it has the power to lead.” He also paid tribute to the year's honorees, highlighted the work of the Academy Software Foundation, as well as noted that the Academy's first innovation summit is on the way.

Following a welcome from Academy President David Rubin--who noted that during this unique year members continue to '"make movie magic a reality"--host Nia DaCosta opened the presentation by saluting the Scitech community as "unique artists from behind the camera [that] empower their fellow dreamers and creators to tell stories never seen, to lift up voices never heard, and to enthrall audience like never before.”

Each recognized technology was explained by its honored developers, who also shared what the award means to them. These segments included behind the scenes clips on the making of movies including Cameron's Avatar, Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book and recent Planet of the Apes and Star Wars franchise movies.

The inclusion of three women honorees — Hayley Iben of Pixar Animation Studios and Kelly Ward Hammel and Maryann Simmons representing Walt Disney Animation Studios — is notable as filmmaking is an area still largely dominated by men. In fact, since 1961, only  20 women had previously received Scientific and Technical Awards.

During the ceremony, Kathleen Kennedy lead a segment that highlighted the achievements of women working in technical roles and included a clips of the women who won SciTech Awards in earlier years. Kennedy said, "Is there work to done? More barriers to break? More progress to be made? Yes, of course. By the story of women innovators making movie magic, their story isn’t ready to fade out. Not even close. Today more than ever, cinema storytelling is science. Cinema storytelling is technology, and women are helping to redefine science and technology in the movies."

Today's Technical Achievement Awards (Academy Certificates) recipients included developers of several hair simulation systems, meaning a way to use math and physics to control computer-animated hair. They included aforementioned Iben alongside Mark Meyer, John Anderson and Andrew Witkin for Pixar's Taz hair simulation system, which was developed to create Merida’s "previously unattainable" long curls in Brave, Iben explained.

Aforementioned Ward Hammel and Simmons, alongside Aleka McAdams, Toby Jones and Andy Milne received Technical Achievement Awards for the Walt Disney Animation Studios' Hair Simulation System. "We knew that we had to look at how we did hair," said Ward Hammel of how the challenge of creating Rapunzel's ultra long waves for Tangled prompted development of the system. Simmons added that the impact happens when artists and technology come together.

A pair of Avatar innovations were also recognized with Technical Achievement Awards. Alejandro Arango, Gary Martinez, Robert Derry and Glenn Derry were honored for the head-mounted camera system developed for use on Avatar and adopted by Technoprops. As the team share recollections of developing the system, Martinez quipped, "you don't tell Jim Cameron 'no.'" Also honored were Ian Kelly and Dejan Momcilovic, for the Standard Deviation head-mounted camera system also used on Avatar.

Technical Achievement Awards were also bestowed on Stephen Bowline, for Industrial Light + Magic’s HairCraft dynamics system, initially developed for the Warcraft feature film and more recently used to create underwater hair in Aquaman; and Niall Ryan, Christoph Sprenger and Gilles Daviet for Weta’s Synapse hair simulation system used on movies such as Jon Favreau's The Jungle Book for digital characters and digital stunt doubles.

Technical Achievement recipients included Sven Woop, Carsten Benthin, Attila T. Áfra, Manfred Ernst and Ingo Wald for the Intel Embree Ray Tracing Library; Jens-Jorn Stokholm and Ole Moesmann for the DPA lavalier microphones; Chris Countryman and Omer T. Inan for Countryman Associates lavalier microphones; Fredrik Limsäter, Björn Rydahl and Mattias Lagergren for Ftrack Studio tracking software; and Don Parker, Matt Daw, Isaac Reuben, Colin Withers and Neil Brandt for the Shotgun tracking system.

This group of honorees also included Masato Nakashima, Koichi Ueno, Junji Sakuda and Junro Yonemitsu for the EIZO auto-calibrating SDR monitors; and Babak Beheshti and Scott Robitille for the development of a genlock synchronization and recording module.

Scientific and Engineering Awards, which are Academy plaques, were presented to Alexey Lukin and iZotope team for iZotope’s RX audio processing system; Jeff Bloom, Guy McNally and Nick Rose for the Wordfit System for automatic ADR synchronization; John Ellwood and Jonathan Newland for VocALign and Revoice Pro sound editing software; and Sanken Microphone Company for its COS-11 series of miniature lavalier microphones.

Academy Plaques were also awarded to Zvi Reznic, Meir Feder, Guy Dorman and Ron Yogev for the Amimon wireless chipset that has found application in digital video monitoring and to Nicolaas Verheem, Greg Smokler and Ilya Issenin for the Teradek Bolt wireless video transmission system for on-set remote monitoring.

This was the first SciTech presentation in two years, as when the Academy revised its awards season schedule for 2020, this presentation, which was typically held in February, was scheduled for June 20, 2020. It was subsequently canceled due to the pandemic.