Catmull's honor computes

Pixar boss is center of attention with lifetime nod at SciTech Awards

Pixar president Ed Catmull received two standing ovations as he received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Technical Awards.

The award, in the form of an Oscar statuette, recognized his lifetime of technical contributions to the motion picture industry.

"It's been a great adventure, discovering new tools that have helped filmmaking and inspiring creativity with all the invention," said Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios, president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios and a respected computer scientist. "We don't just make a movie look good; we make each other look good."

The Academy handed out five other awards during the SciTech ceremony Saturday at the Beverly Wilshire: three Scientific and Engineering Awards, a Technical Achievement Award and the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, to computer scientist and motion picture technologist Mark Kimball for his service and dedication to AMPAS.

Accepting the Sawyer honor from host Jessica Biel, Catmull saluted colleagues past and present, including George Lucas, saying, "He had the foresight to reach out and use technology at a time when it wasn't obvious to do that; he helped invigorate filmmaking." He also praised Apple CEO and Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs for his "loyalty and intelligence, and the belief that something good was going to happen" and Pixar's John Lasseter for his "larger-than-life creativity and generosity."

He called Pixar "a family of technical and creative production people who are open and very smart" and Disney his "original inspiration, where the inventive spirit is still strong."

Catmull founded three leading computer-graphics research centers — Pixar, the computer division of Lucasfilm and the computer-graphics laboratory at the New York Institute of Technology — and is one of the architects of Pixar's RenderMan, a groundbreaking rendering software that helped usher in the age of computer graphics in filmmaking.

RenderMan has contributed to all of Pixar's CG feature titles and countless animated and VFX-driven films, including "The Abyss," "Jurassic Park" and "Titanic."

In 2000, Catmull, Rob Cook and Loren Carpenter received an Academy Award of Merit — an Oscar statuette — for its development.

Kimball also thanked his mentors and colleagues after receiving his award Saturday.

"There can be no greater proof of why our Academy prospers than that it is filled with role models who are enthused about our industry and dedicated to its ideals," he said.

Kimball spent nearly two decades at Walt Disney Feature Animation, serving as the CAPS (Computer Animation Production System) logistics system lead, a senior software systems specialist, a consulting engineer and finally as chief technologist. In 1991, he shared a Scientific and Engineering Award for CAPS, the first digital ink-and-paint system used in animated features.

An Academy member since 1996, Kimball has served on the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee for 13 years. He joined the Science and Technology Council in 2006.

Scientific and Engineering Awards were presented to Erwin Melzner, Volker Schumacher and Timo Müller for the Arrimax 18/12 lighting fixture with innovative cooling system; Jacques Delacoux and Alexandre Leuchter for the Transvideo-video assist monitors; and to Bruno Coumert, Jacques Debize, Dominique Chervin and Christophe Reboulet for the lightweight Angenieux 15-40 and 28-76 zoom lenses for handheld cinematography.

Steve Hylen received a Technical Achievement Award for the Hylen Lens System for motion picture effects photography.

For manufacturer Arri, the lighting fixture brought the company its 15th SciTech Award, though its first for lighting. Arri's previous honors principally have recognized camera or lens technology.

There were fewer SciTech honorees than usual this year. Although digital techniques played notable roles in Oscar-nominated titles like "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button," none were singled out.

"The Digital Intermediate is big now, and 'Benjamin Button' was the first time that I've seen a digitally created human that was believable — that is one of the last of the holy grails. That's really what happened this year in technology," said Richard Edlund, who chairs the SciTech Awards Committee. "We gave only a few awards primarily because the people who put new digital technologies up for awards had put them up prematurely or we didn't have enough time to really get the magnifying glass under them. Next year will be very exciting."

Edlund opened the ceremony by thanking Academy president Sid Ganis, who is entering the final year of his term, for making the organization about "arts and sciences."

Ganis emphasized that "the Academy's interest in technology is still going very strong," saying the SciTech Council's landmark report, "The Digital Dilemma: Strategic Issues in Archiving and Accessing Digital Motion Picture Materials," which was released a little more than a year ago, already has been translated into Japanese and next will be released in Spanish and Portuguese.