Sci Tech nods salute saviors


New processes for the preservation and archiving of motion pictures figured prominently at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Scientific and Technology Awards. The Academy also recognized developments in areas including digital image manipulation tools and wireless remote camera systems.

On Saturday at the Beverly Wilshire, host Maggie Gyllenhaal presented eight Technical Achievement Awards, four Scientific and Engineering Awards, a special Award of Commendation and the Gordon E. Sawyer Award to visual effects software pioneer Ray Feeney. Also, Sci-Tech Council member Bill Taylor presented the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation to Richard Edlund.

"We are going through the digital revolution," Edlund said. "To me, what is happening right now is the same kind of incredible amplification of cinematic capabilities that sound brought when sound came in to movies. The people being awarded tonight are the artists in the technical realm who are creating the means to produce unbelievably fantastic movies for the future."

Said Joshua Pines, who with Chris Kutcka was recognized for Technicolor Digital Intermediates' process for creating archival separations from digital image data: "Right now we are entering into a world where movies are being mastered digitally and may be very ephemeral, and we may not be able to keep (the master). The Academy has correctly recognized the efforts by those in the industry who have come up with systems for the archiving and preservation of digitally mastered material. I think that is great."

The TDI process is based on the production of digital separation negatives creating archival elements that can be scanned and digitally recombined in the future. Engineering teams from EFILM and Pacific Title and Art Studio also were recognized for the development of archiving processes that shared the same goal.

On the recognition of multiple digital image manipulation tools, Simon Robinson -- a member of the team that was honored for the Foundry's Furnace suite of software applications -- said that the tools in this area are essentially becoming more ubiquitous. "The improvements in the science mean that this is available to the mainstream and doable," he said.

Howard Preston, who was honored with Mirko Kovacevic for the Preston Cinema System FI-Z wireless remote system, pointed out the added flexibility remote systems have brought to cinematography. "When we brought this out," he said, "the camera assistant was really tethered to the camera, and it really prohibited the freewheeling style that has evolved."

A special Award of Commendation was presented to a large multicompany team for their contribution to the environmentally responsible industry conversion from silver-based to cyan-dye analog soundtracks. Speaking on behalf of the group, Ioan Allen said: "Studios and theaters have worked together to achieve something significant for the Earth. Be proud."

Edlund received a standing ovation when he was awarded his medallion. He served on the Academy's Board of Governors from 1995-2006 but could not run last year because of term limits. During his acceptance speech, he admitted that he was "going through Academy withdrawal" and added that he would like to run again next year when he is eligible.

Feeney, accepting the final award of the evening, an Oscar statuette, received standing ovations and emphasized the importance of the Sci-Tech Council. "Today, virtually all postproduction is digital, and digital technologies hold great promise for production," he said. "With the Sci-Tech Council, the Academy is pioneering a collaborative research model that is fostering a renaissance of innovation that we believe will enable unprecedented artistic creativity."

Feeney chairs the advanced technology programs committee. One of the latest efforts involves the creation of standards for digital mastering and archiving. "The Academy is known for its archive and cares about preserving the cultural heritage of our craft," he said. "We want to be sure movies being made and finished today are going to be around 50 years from now."

Highlights of the Scientific and Technical Awards are scheduled to air Feb. 25 during the 79th Annual Academy Awards telecast.