Douglas Trumbull: It’s Time to Get Back to Why People Go to the Movies

Douglass Trumbull Panavision Camera - H 2012
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Douglass Trumbull Panavision Camera - H 2012

Inspiring acceptance speeches from pioneering filmmaker and inventor Douglas Trumbull, who received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar Statuette; and visual effects technologist Jonathan Erland, who was awarded the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation for service to the Academy capped AMPAS' Scientific and Technical Awards presentation.

PHOTOS: Academy Awards 2012 Nominees

Also Saturday at the Beverly Wilshire, Arri received an Academy Award of Merit—an Oscar Statuette—for its Arrilaser Film Recorder. In addition, six scientific and technical achievements were recognized with Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques) and one received a Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate).

“It is time for us to get back to why people go to the movies,” asserted Trumbull, whose visual effects credits include 2001: A Space Odyssey and whose inventions include ShowScan, a large format system that incorporated 65mm film, shooting at 60 frames per second (fps). “How can we produce a motion picture that is so spectacular on giant movie screens, at high brightness, with high frame rates if that is necessary … all the things we need to work together with the movies that we are making.”

Trumbull continues to innovate, with current initiatives including Show Scan Digital, a patent-pending process that uses 24 frames per second but allows the filmmaker to embed 60 frames per second sequences as desired for creative use.

Erland emphasized the Academy’s mission. “The (Academy Awards) show exists to support the awards, and the awards exist to support the Academy’s mission and to foster the pursuit of excellence in our art form,” he said. “And we should be ever cognizant of that. If our Academy stands for excellence in motion pictures—and it must—then the real task before us is to manage the trends such that motion pictures stay relevant to the Academy’s mission and the ideal we espouse.”

Erland additionally cited an effort to introduce an institute for motion picture studies that would collaborate with Hollywood organizations including AMPAS.

Milla Jovovich hosted the ceremony and presented awards including the Academy Award of Merit to Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel for the Arrilaser Film Recorder. “We are very pleased that we receive the Oscar in particular for this product because it is the first digital system Arri ever built,” Kraus explained. “The Arrilaser has been a success in itself, but it was really the foundation to further digital projects: the Arriscan (film scanner) and the Arriflex D-20 (digital camera). Without those products there would not have been the in-house engineering competence and the customer confidence for the successful design and marketing of the Alexa camera.”

The Arrilaser had been awarded an Academy Plaque in 2001 and was upgraded this year to a Statuette as it has become ubiquitous in the industry.

Radu Corlan, Andy Jantzen, Petru Pop and Richard Toftness accepted Scientific and Engineering Awards for the Phantom high-speed camera, which incidentally became the first digital camera to be honored by the Academy.

“It enables you to shoot over 1000 frames per second to slow things down incredibly,” said SciTech Awards committee chair Richard Edlund of the significance of the Phantom technology.

“It is a specialized camera,” he said of the Phantom, adding that “very soon” a “digital production camera” might additionally be honored.

“Sony is coming out with a 4K camera that is starting to deliver now,” he added. “A 4K origination format will compete successfully with film. Not only on a sharpness basis, but no scratches, no dust, no film grain fading … those photochemical artifacts are going away. But new artifacts will appear. You are always trading one thing for another.”

On improvements to digital imagery, Edlund cited the “Lowry Process,” offered by Reliance MediaWorks, which uses  GPU-accelerated, motion estimation-based image processing tools to enhance image quality. The technology received a Scientific and Engineering Award during the evening and Edlund said “if used in a production, it can make a 2K camera compete with film.”

The Lowry process has been used on digitally lensed features, such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, as well for restoration and remastering on classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston and Tim Connolly were honored for the development of the Lowry process.

John Lowry died just a few weeks ago, on Jan. 21. “I hope he has left a lasting legacy with his spirit of innovation,” honoree Thurston told The Hollywood Reporter. “He taught me that nothing is impossible.”

Colleagues also remembered Dr. Jürgen Noffke, who passed away in 2011. Noffke and Uwe Weber were honored with Scientific and Engineering Awards for the Arri Zeiss Master Prime lenses.

Scientific and Engineering Awards were additionally presented to Michael Lewis, Greg Marsden, Raigo Alas and Michael Vellekoop for the Pictorvision Eclipse electronically stabilized aerial camera platform; to E.F. “Bob” Nettmann, Michael Sayovitz, Brad Fritzel, and Fred Miller for the Stab-C Classic, Super-G and Stab-C Compact stabilizing heads; and to Fufifilm, Hideyuki Shirai, Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki and Hiroshi Hirano for the Fujifilm black and white recording film Eterna-RDS 4791, for archival use.

A technical achievement award was presented to Andrew Clinton and Mark Elendt for micro-voxels in Mantra software.

Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova opened the evening with a performance that included their Oscar-winning song Falling Slowly.