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Top techs behind filmmaking get their Academy honors ‘Annual Winter Olympics for geeks’

BEVERLY HILLS, California, Feb 16, (Agencies): The scientists and inventors who make big-screen superheroes, spectacular explosions and other only-in-the-movies effects possible have their own Oscar ceremony. Kristen Bell and Michael B. Jordan hosted the film academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards Saturday at the Beverly Hills Hotel, recognizing more than 50 of the most creative scientists and engineers in the movie business. These are the men who developed the computer technology behind the bullet scene in “The Matrix” and the animation techniques in “Life of Pi.” They’re the visionaries who build the things the film industry needs that don’t yet exist, like advanced remote helicopter cameras and the Pneumatic Car Flipper (which does what it sounds like), for which they received certificates and plaques from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. One honoree, Joshua Pines, who helped develop image-processing mathematics to standardize color, called the evening “this year’s annual winter Olympics for geeks.” The two Oscar statuettes were presented among the night’s 21 awards: The Gordon E. Sawyer Award to Peter W. Anderson for his contributions to 3-D technology, and an Academy Award of Merit in honor of the countless owners and operators of film-processing labs over the past century.

 “The Dark Knight” writer-director Christopher Nolan accepted the film lab Oscar, which will be on permanent display at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in Los Angeles when it opens in 2017.
Nolan described film processors as alchemists who “(turn) silver and plastic into dreams — and not just any kind of dreams, but the kind of dreams you can unspool from a reel and hold in your hand, hold up to the light and see, frozen: magic.” He also contributed to the film-versus-digital debate that other honorees nudged at during the night. Film is “the technology that lies at the heart of filmmaking,” Nolan said, “and still represents the gold standard in imaging technology.”

Still, the majority of Saturday’s awards honored research and inventions related to digital filmmaking.
Eric Veach was recognized for his Stanford doctoral thesis that incorporates the physics of lighting into computer graphics. Dan Piponi, part of a team who created a system to simulate smoke and fire first used in films such as “Avatar” and “Puss In Boots,” joked about his unlikely road to Oscar recognition.
“Nobody told me if I wanted to get an Academy Award, I should study mathematics,” he said. “But that’s what I did, and here I am.” Bell said she learned new scientific concepts and vocabulary as she prepared for the show, adding she was happy to help honor the artists deep behind the scenes. Joshua Pines, who got his award for color correction technology, called it “the Winter Olympics for geeks”.

One of the first awards of the night went to the men behind the pneumatic car flipper used in films including “Independence Day” and “Total Recall”. As films moved off movie sets and into real places such as downtown Los Angeles, they had to develop a method to safely and reliably launch cars.
“We had to know exactly where cars were going to land when we launched them,” said prize winner John Frazier. Awards were also given for the flying camera that can be programmed to whizz through a house with exact precision and for the Helicam miniature helicopter camera system.

Hosted by actors Michael B. Jordan and Kristen Bell, star of mystery drama “Veronica Mars”, the ceremony saw many awards for digital filmmaking software, such as deep compositing, which allows image layering and gives depth to the final film. Another winner, Eric Veach, earned a scientific and engineering award for his research years ago that has helped transform computer graphics lighting used in films including “Gravity”. Veach said he was amazed that “some people had read my thesis and are using it to make movies”. Honorees also came from places beyond Hollywood, including Silicon Valley and New Zealand, the home of “Hobbit” director Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital visual effects company, the employer of several of the night’s winners.

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