Lowry Process' win of a Sci-Tech Award is bittersweet
BEVERLY HILLS — Receiving a 2012 Scientific and Engineering Award (an Academy Plaque) on Saturday was the late John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston and Tim Connolly for the development of GPU-accelerated, motion estimation-based image processing tools that reduce noise and other artifacts in digital images. Of course, the award was tinged with sadness. John Lowry, who spearheaded the development of the "Lowry Process," passed away on January 21, three weeks before being honored for the technology that bears his name.
"John had one of the first patents on temporal noise reduction," says Kimball Thurston, lead scientist at Reliance MediaWorks the company that now owns Lowry Digital. One if it's first uses was during the NASA Apollo 16 and Apollo 17 missions for improving the quality of images being sent back from the moon.
In the late 1990's Lowery and Kodak worked together on creating a process for digital film restoration. That led to the formation of Lowry Digital Images in 1998.
The basic premise, explains Thurston, is that you fix an individual frame by using pieces from surrounding frames. Just as importantly, if you carefully line up a set of frames together you can improve the detail in a single image. It is important to note says Thurston that the Lowry process is not just about film restoration, it's about improving the digital image. Digitally captured images have just as many issues as scanned old movies. Focusing on image quality the Lowry Process is more flexible than a system devoted exclusively to restoration.
The Lowry process has been used on hundreds of films including Citizen Kane, Singin' In The Rain, Casablanca, Sunset Boulevard, the Indiana Jones trilogy, the early Star Wars films, 20 James Bond films, The Social Network, The A-Team, Eat, Pray, Love, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and recently was involved in the 3D conversion of Titanic in 4K.
"Being selected for this award is a very rigorous process,” continues Thurston, “which proves that the technology that started well over 10 years ago has become a powerful tool in the movie making space, and that our peers and customers in Hollywood respect the technology as a unique offering. I am extremely proud to have helped create this technology and be honored with an award, and also proud of the rest of the team at Reliance Media Works Burbank who continue to move the bar forward."
"We found out (that they won the award) in January with the press release," reflects Thurston. (John) was very happy of course. Even two days before he died he was running up the stairs saying this opens up tons of possibilities because this validates his thinking. He had a super entrepreneurial spirit that was rather infectious.
"He taught me nothing is impossible; some things are just more difficult."