SciTech Awards: Academy Celebrates Theatrical Exhibition Advancements

Some influential developments in theatrical exhibition—including a trio of digital laser projectors from Barco, Christie/Dolby and IMAX and Dolby Atmos sound–are among the 16 achievements that were honored this year with the Academy of Motion Picture Awards and Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Awards for contributions to motion pictures. 

Natasha Lyonne hosted the lively presentation on Friday in the David Geffen Theater of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. Video clips featuring the likes of Chris Pratt, Michelle Rodriguez and costume designer Ruth E. Carter helped explain the honored technologies and their use to the uninitiated in the audience.  

The developers of three laser projectors—digital cinema projectors that use laser light to boost brightness and contrast compared with earlier xenon lamp technology—were recognized, with Michael Mann saying in a video clip that this helps to present a filmmaker’s intent on the screen. Academy Plaques were presented to Michael Perkins, Gerwin Damberg, Trevor Davies and Martin J. Richards for the Christie E3LH Dolby Vision HDR cinema projection system, which is a collaboration between Dolby and Christie’s engineering teams; Steve Read and Barry Silverstein, for the IMAX Prismless laser projector; and Peter Janssens, Goran Stojmenovik and Wouter D’Oosterlinck, for the Barco RGB laser projector. 

Accepting his award, Trevor Davies of Dolby saluted the studios, saying, “With our technology, we create the palette but the studios make the sunflowers.” 

Technical Achievement Awards—presented as Academy Certificates—were given to several honorees for tech that contributed to the shift toward laser projection. That included Bill Beck for the use of semiconductor lasers; Gregory T. Niven for laser diodes; and Yoshitaka Nakatsu, Yoji Nagao, Tsuyoshi Hirao, Tomonori Morizumi and Kazuma Kozuru for laser diodes. 

Scientific and Engineering Awards (Academy Plaques) were also presented to Charles Q. Robinson, Nicolas Tsingos, Christophe Chabanne, Mark Vinton and the Cinema Audio Group team at Dolby for its object-based Dolby Atmos immersive cinema sound system that launched in 2012 at the then newly-named Dolby Theatre in Hollywood. Director Alfonso Cuaron, who used Atmos in films such as “Gravity,” called Dolby Atmos the “Holy Grail” in the video clip introducing the award. 

Developers involved in open-source software tools were also recognized during the evening. Among them were Scientific and Engineering Award recipients Ken Museth, Peter Cucka and Mihai Aldén for the OpenVDB VFX software that started as a project at Dreamworks Animation; and F. Sebastian Grassia, Alex Mohr, Sunya Boonyatera, Brett Levin and Jeremy Cowles for Pixar’s Universal Scene Description open-source framework.  

Rounding out the Scientific and Engineering Award recipients was Jaden Oh, who accepted this honor for the Marvelous Designer digital clothing creation system used in movies such as “Encanto.” 

Technical Achievement Award recipients included Jeff Lait, Dan Bailey and Nick Avramoussis for their contributions to OpenVDB; Lucas Miller, Christopher Jon Horvath, Steve LaVietes and Joe Ardent for the open-source Alembic CG interchange system, a project that began as a collaboration between Sony Pictures Imageworks and Industrial Light + Magic; Oliver Castle, Marcus Schoo and Keith Lackey for their work on Weta’s Atlas scene description framework; and James Eggleton and Delwyn Holroyd for the High-Density Encoding (HDE) lossless compression algorithm within the Codex recording system used with uncompressed digital cameras. 

Technical Achievement Awards were also bestowed on developers of tools that have been used for decades to safely advance production. Arnold Peterson, Elia P. Popov and John Frazier were honored for the Blind Driver Roof Pod widely used in stunt driving on films such as “Gran Turismo” to “The Fate of the Furious;” and Jon G. Belyeu, for the Movie Works pyrotechnic-operated cable cutter devices used, for instance, to drop large vehicles such as the truck in “The Dark Knight” and van in “Inception.” 

Academy board president Janet Yang kicked off the evening, saluting the sci-tech community that ”creates the magic that audiences experience at the movies.” Honorees posed for the customary group photo following the ceremony, and then enjoyed a dinner and reception. 

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