SciTech Awards Fete Sound and Digital Cinema Pioneers

Miles Teller Margot Robbie 2015 -- H
AP Images

"It doesn't get much better than meatloaf and engineering," said sound engineer and Dolby exec David W. Gray, recalling frequent lunches with the late Ray Dolby as he accepted the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette for his industry contributions, at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences annual Scientific and Technical Awards presentation."

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Saturday at the Beverly Wilshire, the Academy also presented a Technical Achievement Award, which is an Oscar statuette, to Larry Hornbeck, the key inventor behind Texas Instruments' DLP Cinema digital cinema projection technology; and honored teams behind four developments with Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques) and 15 developments with Technical Achievement Awards (Academy Certificates). An Academy Award of Commendation (Special Plaque) was given to The Tiffen Company's Steven TiffenJeff Cohen and Michael Fecik for dye-based filters that reduce IR contamination.

Presenting the award to Gray, Academy president Cheryl Boone Isaacs noted that "few people have had as much impact on sound."

In addition to Ray Dolby, Gray thanked numerous colleagues, friends and mentors including Dolby's Ioan Allen, SciTech Council member Don Hall and friends from the music industry such as Frank Zappa. He concluded that he is "amazed every day" by the union of art and science and added "I will probably never be more proud than I am tonight.”

Hornbeck was honored for developing the chip used in the majority of digital cinema projectors installed around the world. On stage, he thanks the TI team, saying "we wouldn't be here if it wasn't for the resources provided by TI and all the brilliant engineers that participated in this one of a kind thing.”

During the evening, Hornbeck told The Hollywood Reporter that few days ago, he received an email with congratulations from James Cameron, who of course relied on digital cinema—which in turn enables digital 3D—for Avatar.

Talking with THR, Hornbeck also recalled the development of the chip, which actually started in 1977 when “the original application was unrelated to cinema. It was for optical computing.” In 1987 they started to develop the core technology when they switched gears with an eye toward display. The technology was initially used to launch conference room projectors in 1996, but 1997 saw the first prototype digital cinema projector using the technology.

Horbeck related that at that point, "George Lucas took an interest and thought it was good enough for displaying motion pictures. ... he took some heat early on when he said digital end-to-end was the way to go." The earliest digital releases, including Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, were shown digitally in a handful of theaters to paying audiences in 1999, starting the digital cinema transition.

SciTech Awards hosts Margo Robbie and Miles Teller got high marks from guests for keeping the show moving and for  laughs as they joked their way through some of the more challenging technical explanations. “I have all the hard things to say,” chuckled Robbie at one point, as Teller joked back, “I’m the eye candy?”

Presenters also brought laughs. "Mr. Fantastic gave me my award," enthused Ron Fedkiw,  accepting an award for the ILM PhysBAM destruction system while referring to Teller's upcoming role in the Fantastic Four reboot.

It’s been rare to see a woman honored here, and Colette Mullenhoff—the only female award recipient this year—was clearly surprised when she received an enthusiastic standing ovation as she was recognized for her work on the ILM Shape Sculpting System.

During the evening, Technical Achievement Awards were presented to Peter Braun for the concept and development of the MAT-Towercam Twin Peek, a portable, remote-controlled, telescoping column; to Robert Nagle and Allan Padelford for The Biscuit Jr. drivable camera and vehicle platform; to Harold MilliganSteven Krycho and Reiner Doetzkies for implementation engineering of DLP Cinema technology; and to Cary PhillipsNico PopravkaPhilip Peterson and Mullenhoff for the ILM Shape Sculpting System.

Additionally, they were awarded to Dan PiponiKim Libreri and George Borshukov for Universal Capture at ESC Entertainment; to Marco Revelant, Alasdair Coull and Shane Cooper for the Barbershop hair grooming system at Weta Digital; to Michael Sechrest, Chris King and Greg Croft for SpeedTree Cinema software; and to Scott PetersonJeff Budsberg and Jonathan Gibbs for DreamWorks Animation Foliage system.

Technical Achievement Award honorees also included Erwin Coumans, Nafees Bin Zafar and Stephen Marshall destruction simulation systems based on Bullet; Brice Criswell and Fedkiw for the ILM PhysBAM destruction system; Ben Cole for the Kali destruction system, Eric Parker for the Digital Molecular Matter toolkit, and James O’Brien for research that served as a foundation for these tools. Rounding out the list were Magnus Wrenninge for Field3D; to Robert Bridson for work involving sparse-tiled voxel data structures; and Ken MusethPeter Cucka and Mihai Alden for the creation of OpenVDB.

Scientific and Engineering Awards went to lain Neil and Andre de Winter for the Leica Summilux-C series of lenses; Brad WalkerD. Scott DewaldBill WernerGreg Pettitt and Frank Poradish for their contributions to DLP Cinema projection technology; Ichiro TsutsuiMasahiro TakeMitsuyasu Tamura and Mitsuru Asano for the Sony BVM-E series OLED master monitor; and to John FrederickBob MyersKarl Rasche and Tom Lianza for the HPDreamColor LP2480zx display.

Technical Achievement Awards were also presented to Tim CotterRoger van der LaanKen Pearce and Greg LaSalle for the MOVA facial performance capture system. This past week, the CEO of Rearden Mova, Steve Perlmanchallenged the results, arguing that he and John Speck were key members of the development team and were denied Academy Awards.

Twitter: @CGinLA