Sci-Tech Awards 2013 award-winners

Posted By Daniel Restuccio on January 29, 2013 12:35 pm | Permalink
By Daniel Restuccio

BEVERLY HILLS - In early January, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the winners of the 2012 Scientific and Technical Achievement awards, which will be presented at the Beverly Hills Hotel on February 9. The nine awards, culled from over 70 submissions, include five software applications, one algorithm, one mechanical device, one computer controlled battery and an Oscar for Cook lenses.

The Sci-Tech awards, first presented at the Fourth Academy Awards (1930-31), are given for significant inventions used to make motion pictures. "In its way," says Richard Edlund, chairman of the Sci-Tech committee, "this is as creative as the other wing." Referring to the Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements.

Over 800 requests for entries went out in May of last year. "Rich Miller, the awards administrator, mails letters to the studios, companies and individuals within the United States and all over the world requesting information on technical achievements," says Edlund (pictured, below).

The deadline was July 13. All the submissions are collected and published as an online version that's index-able, a tablet device version and a printed version that's "issued in this big, thick bible that's like about two and a half, three inches thick," notes Edlund.  Two weeks later these applications are evaluated by a 10- to 12-member steering committee. They cull the entries down to the substantial inventions and forward their recommendations to the main committee.  

The main scientific and technical awards committee is comprised of 45 engineers and scientists. Just about every walk of engineering and science is represented there, says Edlund.  "We have software people, sound people, camera people, lab people, projection, all the different areas of technology that make up the means to make movies."

The main committee meets and reviews each entry one by one. Sometimes either the main committee or the steering committee will say, "We think that maybe this one is like on the teetering on the edge of rejection." Sometimes this is because the entry not a "mature technology". "It hasn't seen enough weather."

From the main committee surrogate committees of six or seven are assigned to investigate a particular item in more depth. Each surrogate committee has a chair that writes up the surrogate report and then submits that to the main committee.

Another call goes out in August to identify technology similar to the applications that are being considered for awards. These "challenges" were accepted from August 17- 28, 2012.

The surrogate reports are due in November 8. Then on November 29, the steering committee meets and reviews those reports. That segues into the main committee meeting where the winners are finalized. On December 4, the awards recommendations are presented for approval to to the Board of Governors. Award winners are notified by phone soon after that.

"It's hard to calculate," says Edlund, all the hundreds of hours of volunteer time that gets put into this process." Just the DITs (Digital Information Technology) subcommittee alone "they spend months, hour and hours and hours. They research where it came from, what it leaned on its way to existence." Everyone on the committee, he says, puts in that kind of time.

Edlund notes the trend with the Sci-Tech Awards over the past few years is that more digital technology is being recognized.  With analog moviemaking, "There was a different ingenuity required: high-speed photography, miniatures, those kinds of things were necessary in order to trick the audience into believing what you wanted them to believe and seeing.  However things "got to the point where we kept bucking our head against the same wall and there were certain things that we just didn't even approach."

"In the digital world now, not only can you break time down into 24 still frames a second, but we can also break each frame into millions of addressable pixels which gives us an almost God-like capability.  Truly, virtually everything is possible nowadays."
The nine Academy Awards for scientific and technical achievements will be bestowed on the following 25 recipients:

- To J.P. Lewis, Matt Cordner and Nickson Fong for the invention and publication of the Pose Space Deformation technique.

Pose Space Deformation (PSD) introduced the use of novel sparse data interpolation techniques to the task of shape interpolation. The controllability and ease of achieving artistic intent have led to PSD being a foundational technique in the creation of computer-generated characters.
- To Lawrence Kesteloot, Drew Olbrich and Daniel Wexler for the creation of the Light system for computer graphics lighting at PDI/DreamWorks.

Virtually unchanged from its original incarnation over 15 years ago, Light is still in continuous use due to its emphasis on interactive responsiveness, final-quality interactive render preview, scalable architecture and powerful user-configurable spreadsheet interface.

- To Steve LaVietes, Brian Hall and Jeremy Selan for the creation of the Katana computer graphics scene management and lighting software at Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Katana's unique design, featuring a deferred evaluation procedural node-graph, provides a highly efficient lighting and rendering workflow. It allows artists to non-destructively edit scenes too complex to fit into computer memory, at scales ranging from a single object up to an entire detailed city.

- To Theodore Kim, Nils Thuerey, Markus Gross and Doug James for the invention, publication and dissemination of Wavelet Turbulence software.
This technique allowed for fast, art-directable creation of highly detailed gas simulation, making it easier for the artist to control the appearance these effects in the final image.

- To Richard Mall for the design and development of the Matthews Max Menace Arm.

Highly sophisticated and well-engineered, the Max Menace Arm is a safe and adjustable device that allows rapid, precise positioning of lighting fixtures, cameras or accessories. On-set or on location, this compact and highly portable structure is often used where access is limited due to restrictions on attaching equipment to existing surfaces.

- To Simon Clutterbuck, James Jacobs and Dr. Richard Dorling for the development of the Tissue Physically-Based Character Simulation Framework.
This framework faithfully and robustly simulates the effects of anatomical structures underlying a character's skin. The resulting dynamic and secondary motions provide a new level of realism to computer-generated creatures.

- To Dr. Philip McLauchlan, Allan Jaenicke, John-Paul Smith and Ross Shain for the creation of the Mocha planar tracking and rotoscoping software at Imagineer Systems Ltd.

Mocha provides robust planar-tracking even when there are no clearly defined points in the image. Its effectiveness, ease of use, and ability to exchange rotoscoping data with other image processing tools have resulted in widespread adoption of the software in the visual effects industry.
To Joe Murtha, William Frederick and Jim Markland of Anton/Bauer, Inc. for the design and creation of the CINE VCLX Portable Power System.

The Cince VCLX provides extended run-times and flexibility, allowing users to power cameras and other supplementary equipment required for production. This high-capacity battery system is also matched to the high-demand, always-on digital cinema cameras.

- To Cooke Optics Limited for their continuing innovation in the design, development and manufacture of advanced camera lenses that have helped define the look of motion pictures over the last century.

Since their first series of motion picture lenses, Cooke Optics has continued to create optical innovations decade after decade. Producing what is commonly referred to as the "Cooke Look," these lenses have often been the lens of choice for creative cinematographers worldwide.

Visual effects supervisor Bill Taylor will be awarded the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation. Taylor's visual effects credits include such films as "Lawless," "Public Enemies," "Milk" and "Bruce Almighty."

The John A. Bonner Medal is named in honor of the late director of special projects at Warner Hollywood Studios. It's awarded for outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the motion picture academy.

Portions of the Scientific and Technical Awards presentations will be included in the Academy Awards broadcast on Feb. 24.