Digital Cinematography Camera Makers Honored at SciTech Awards

Leslie Mann and John Cho hosted Saturday's ceremony.
Christopher Polk/Getty Images

Arri managing director Franz Kraus thanked "everybody who supported us over this long and wonderful journey" as he accepted a Scientific and Engineering Award for Arri's Super 35 format Alexa digital camera at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Sci-Tech Awards at the Beverly Wilshire. Camera maker Arri — which is celebrating its centennial this year — has received previous SciTech Awards for its film cameras, but the Alexa was one of the first five pioneering digital cinematography cameras to be honored on Saturday.

During the awards ceremony, the film tech community celebrated the cameras that helped usher in the digital age of filmmaking and a total of 18 scientific and technical achievements. Hosts John Cho and Leslie Mann kicked off the lively dinner and presentation, explaining that technology played important roles in making this year’s films. Cho joked that his Star Trek Beyond co-star Chris Pine is "actually ugly — it took millions of dollars in visual effects to make him look handsome. … And Manchester by the Sea was originally shot as a comedy. Casey Affleck was superimposed over the original actor, Kevin Hart.” (Both hosts and the show's writing — led by Patrick Doody — received high marks from the crowd. Incidentally, the well-received, humorous banter included some input from Mann’s husband, Judd Apatow.)

Mann got laughs as she completed the monologue by explaining that “now John and I will explain technically important information that we don’t understand to you,” as the pair embarked upon describing honored developments in areas such as ray tracing and rendering.

For camera technology, Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques) went to: Red Digital Cinema, for its Red Epic digital cinema cameras (first used on The Hobbit); Sony, for its F65 CineAlta camera (recently used on Cafe Society); and Panavision and Sony, for the Genesis digital motion picture camera (early uses included Superman Returns). A Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate) was presented to the formerly named Thomson Grass Valley, for the early Viper FilmStream digital camera system (among its earliest uses was for large parts of Michael Mann's Collateral).

Accepting for the Genesis, Panavision's Bob Harvey saluted the "developers and dreamers." Each honoree thanked their development teams and the filmmakers that embraced their cameras.

For Arri (whose Alexa was used on most of the cinematography Oscar nominees this year, including Arrival and Moonlight), the honor was its 19th SciTech Award from the Academy. Roughly 25 engineers from its Munich headquarters traveled to Los Angeles for the ceremony.

Also during the evening, Scientific and Engineering Awards went to: Marcos Fajardo, for the Arnold renderer; Chris Kulla, Alan King, Thiago Ize and Clifford Stein, for their geometry engine and ray-tracing algorithms as developed at Sony Pictures Imageworks and Solid Angle; Vladimir Koylazov, for the V-Ray rendering system from Chaos Group; Luca Fascione, J.P. Lewis and Iain Matthews, for the Facets facial performance capture and solving system at Weta Digital; and Steven Rosenbluth, Joshua Barratt, Robert Nolty and Archie Te, for the Concept Overdrive motion control system.

Technical Achievement Awards were presented to: Larry Gritz, for Open Shading Language; Carl Ludwig, Eugene Troubetzkoy and Maurice van Swaaij, for the CGI Studio renderer at Blue Sky Studios; Brian Whited, for the Meander drawing system at Walt Disney Animation Studios; Mark Rappaport, Scott Oshita, Jeff Cruts and Todd Minobe, for the Creature Effects Animatronic Horse Puppet; Glenn Sanders and Howard Stark, for the Zaxcom digital wireless microphone system; and David Thomas, Lawrence E. Fisher and David Bundy, for the Lectrosonics digital hybrid wireless microphone system.

Technical Achievement Awards also went to: Kiran Bhat, Michael Koperwas, Brian Cantwell and Paige Warner, for ILM's facial-performance-capture solving system; Parag Havaldar, for the facial-performance-capture technology at Sony Pictures Imageworks; and Nicholas Apostoloff and Geoff Wedig, for the facial-performance-capture systems at ImageMovers Digital and Digital Domain.