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Illumination & Displays

Optics, photonics achievements recognized in scientific/technical Academy Awards

3 March 2010
SPIE Newsroom

On Sunday, March 7, the biggest stars in Hollywood will turn out for a glamorous presentation of the Academy Awards. However, awards for the work that goes on behind and even inside the camera were handed out last month, at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in a more low-key awards ceremony. The Scientific and Technical Academy Awards honor the men, women and companies who have contributed important discoveries and innovations to motion pictures.

Academy President Tom Sherak says the winners of these Sci-Tech awards, the engineers, inventors and software designers behind the camera, are just as important as the stars on the screen. "You never hear their names," he said. "But they are so important to movie making." 

First presented at the 4th Academy Awards ceremony in November 1931, Scientific & Technical Awards are conferred in recognition of original developments that result in significant improvements in motion picture production and exhibition.

This year, 13 recipients received certificates for five different accomplishments, while another 33 received plaques for 10 different innovations. Among the awards handed out in 2009, several honored achievements in 3D filmmaking, a hot topic in the wake of James Cameron's "Avatar." Many of these technologies were first introduced at SPIE conferences.

Paul E. Debevec of University of Southern California , Weta Digital's Mark Sagar, Tim Hawkins of Lighstage and John Monos of Sony Pictures Imageworks received a team award for their work on digital facial-rendering technology, used in "Avatar" and "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button." The technology maps the faces of live actors onto digital puppets. (Debevec presented his work on the Parthenon with SPIE in 2005; doi:10.1117/12.617810).

Richard Kirk received a nod for the design and development of "Truelight," a system to enable accurate color presentation in digital film previews.

Swedish engineer Bjorn Heden finally received a technical Oscar for a silent focusing motor for cameras he invented nearly 40 years ago. "I was nominated in 1972. But at that time, I failed," he said.

Industrial Light and Magic received an award for their Imocap on-set performance capture system, used in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest." Other awards included nods for achievements in motion-capture, computer graphics, lighting, camera technology and a plethora of other processes used in post-production.

Full list of winners from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

And the Academy Award Goes to ... a Computer Scientist (Chronicle of Higher Education)

Iain Neil: lens design for Hollywood 
Eleven-time award-winning SPIE Member Iain Neil discusses lens design, working with cinematographers, and the future directions of movie-making. (SPIE Newsroom)