George Lucas Accepts Engineering Recognition: “We Pushed the Envelope”

George Lucas

George Lucas, looking to slow down at age 67, is adamant he will not make any more "Star Wars" films.

Noting that “like everyone else here, I’m the dreamer,” George Lucas accepted the rare distinction of honorary membership in the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers at the society's annual awards ceremony Thursday night.

The filmmaker has been a pioneer of both filmmaking and cinema technology, including visual effects, digital editing, cameras and sound — and his ties with the engineering community were evident during the event. “I owe it to a lot of engineers and talent, who said it was impossible and came through for me every time,” he said at the podium, thanking the SMPTE membership. “We pushed the envelope. Art is technology, and all art and artists bump up against that technology ceiling. I needed it to go [further] for my stories.”

The typically low-key dinner, held at Loews Hollywood Hotel, was busier than usual due to Lucas’ appearance as well as the gridlock caused by the evening’s Taylor Swift performance for Jimmy Kimmel.

“I’d like to apologize for shutting down Hollywood Boulevard,” joked Vincent Roberts, executive vp at Disney/ABC Television Group, as he accepted a society fellowship during the ceremony.

Meanwhile a SMPTE member from the UK headed straight for the bar after working with hotel security to fight off a mob of fans while escorting Lucas to his car at the end of the evening.

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Speaking on the red carpet, Lucas said he's "very happy" with how cinema has evolved, adding that "movies are bigger and better than ever before with all kinds of things that you could never do before." On what lies ahead, he added, "I'm sure people we bump into more technological ceilings, but I'm sure they'll overcome them, too."

Also during the ceremony, Dolby senior vp and Scientific and Technical Oscar winner Ioan Allen received SMPTE's highest medal award, the Progress Medal. In 1988, Allen received an Oscar statuette along with company founder Ray Dolby.

Accepting his medal, Allen saluted Lucas. "It was close to 40 years ago that I was invited to lunch in London with George Lucas (and others from his team) who asked me how the sound should be recorded for Star Wars,” Allen recalled, saying he recommended an advanced boom mic instead of a lavier “Eighteen months later Star Wars was released and it was the one of the earliest  to use that technology. … in commercial movie theaters [it sounded] as if the person was there with you. That was helping art and technology work together. Thank you, Mr. Lucas."

To conclude, he thanked his friend and colleague Dolby, who passed away a little more than a year ago. “He was the visionary that made all of this happen. And we miss him,” Allen said.

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Receiving the Technicolor/Herbert T.Kalmus Medal was Hollywood vet Jim Houston, whose work involves contributions to the development of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Academy Color Encoding System (ACES). He noted that all of the contributors to the ACES effort are "trying to make color management work as we move on to high dynamic range and other new developments.”

Leonardo Chiariglione, who is credited as a key force behind the development of the MPEG standards that underpin many digital moving pictures applications, additionally received honorary membership in SMPTE.

Honorees also included Clyde D. Smith Jr., senior vp new technologies at Fox Network Engineering and Operations, who was awarded the David Sarnoff Medal for TV technology development; Neil Beagrie, who established the Digital Preservation Coalition, with the Archival Technology Medal; Barry Haskell, who has contributed to developments with MPEG and H.264 standards, with the Digital Processing Medal; and Eric R. Fossum, the Camera Origination and Imaging Medal. Ville Pulkki received the Samuel L. Warner Memorial Medal, and Philip Tudor was awarded the Workflow Systems Medal.

Twitter: @CGinLA