SciTech Awards honor 'DI' pioneers

Elizabeth Banks hosted AMPAS' salute to technology

Postproduction tools that helped launch the digital intermediate process figured prominently during the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual Scientific and Technical Awards presentation.

Held Saturday at The Beverly Wilshire, the Academy honored a total of 10 technologies with Scientific and Engineering Awards and five with Technical Achievement Awards.

The digital intermediate, or DI, process gives filmmakers extended creative flexibility by shifting color grading and other postproduction tasks from a chemical process to one that is digital. "The digital intermediate is taking over the postproduction field the way Avid took over the editing field," said SciTech Awards committee chair Richard Edlund. "Now there are very few movies that aren't finished in DI."

The phrase "digital intermediate" became the common term used to describe this process because at its start -- roughly a decade ago -- a movie was initially shot on film and then, after postproduction, was recorded back to film for theatrical release. The digital work was an "intermediate" step in the pipeline.

That is already changing. With the proliferation of digital cinematography cameras, movies increasingly begin in the digital realm -- and with digital cinema projection, they often end as files rather than film. For that reason, many believe that the still-young term will need to be retired.

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"The DI transition was a chapter of the history of filmmaking," said honoree Wolfgang Lempp, who co-founded Filmlight, a company that this year had four DI-related tools recognized with SciTech Awards. "We are now in a digitally dominated era where the emphasis is on creative tools."

Among the technologies recognized for enabling the DI process were scanners, which convert film into files for the post process; look up tables and color management tools, which allow filmmakers to create and maintain a consistent look; color grading tools, offering creative flexibility in adjusting color; and display, enabling accurate monitoring of the images.

Elizabeth Banks hosted the awards presentation, asking for patience "as I read, but don't fully understand, these awards."

Scientific and Engineering Awards, presented as an Academy Plaque, were bestowed on Per Christensen, Michael Bunnell and Christophe Hery for the development of point-based rendering for indirect illumination and ambient occlusion for realistic shadows; Dr. Richard Kirk for the Truelight look-up table device and color management system; Volker Massmann, Markus Hasenzahl, Dr. Klaus Anderle and Andreas Loew for the Spirit 4K/2K film scanner; Michael Cieslinski, Dr. Reimar Lenz and Bernd Brauner for the Arriscan film scanner; Wolfgang Lempp, Theo Brown, Tony Sedivy and Dr. John Quartel for the Northlight film scanner; Steve Chapman, Martin Tlaskal, Darrin Smart and Dr. James Logie for the Baselight color correction system; and Mark Jaszberenyi, Gyula Priskin and Tamas Perlaki for the Lustre color correction system.

Also receiving Academy Plaques were Brad Walker, D. Scott Dewald, Bill Werner and Greg Pettitt for the Texas Instruments DLP Projector technology; Fujifilm Corp., Ryoji Nishimura, Masaaki Miki and Youichi Hosoya for Fujicolor ETERNA-RDI digital intermediate film; and Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, John Monos and Mark Sagar for the Light Stage capture devices and the image-based facial rendering system.

Technical Achievement Awards were presented to Mark Wolforth and Tony Sedivy for their work on the Truelight look-up table system: to Dr. Klaus Anderle, Christian Baeker and Frank Billasch for the LUTher look-up table device and color management system; to Steve Sullivan, Kevin Wooley, Brett Allen and Colin Davidson for the Imocap on-set performance capture system; to Hayden Landis, Ken McGaugh and Hilmar Koch for advancing the technique of ambient occlusion rendering for CG lighting; and to Bjorn Heden for the Heden Lens Motors.

While this year the SciTech Awards honored various tools from the intermediate portion of the digital pipeline, to date no digital cinematography technology has been recognized. Edlund said: "I think the SciTech committee feels that unless the digital technology is able to rise to the bar that film has set, it's not worthy ... but it's getting very close."