February 16, 2014 / 9:00 AM / 5 years ago

Top techs behind moviemaking get their star turn from Academy

BEVERLY HILLS, California (Reuters) - From the inventors of the pneumatic car flipper to the software developers who replaced clay modeling with digital sculpture, dozens of behind-the-scenes cinematic innovators turned out on Saturday to receive recognition from the film industry.

Actor Chris Hemsworth (L) and Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences President Cheryl Boone Isaacs announce the nominees for Best Animated Feature at the 86th Academy Awards nominee announcements in Beverly Hills, California January 16, 2014. REUTERS/Phil McCarten

Two weeks before the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out its Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards for the visual effects behind groundbreaking films such as “Avatar”, “Life of Pi” and “Gravity”.

While the Academy Awards on March 2 will reward films released in 2013, the yearly scientific and technical awards honor contributions to filmmaking for innovations that developed over years and even decades.

This year, the Academy gave certificates or plaques to 52 individuals for 19 scientific and technical achievements, and two golden Oscar statuettes as well as a medal of commendation.

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.

Technology innovators from Dreamworks Animation, Pixar Animation Studios, Walt Disney Co and Warner Bros also won awards, and most everyone thanked their spouses for putting up with incredibly long working days.

One of the golden Oscar statuettes went to visual effects supervisor and director of photography Peter Anderson, a 3-D expert, for his technological contributions to the industry.

“Without the science, what would the art be? And without the art, what would the science be?,” he said.

The other statuette went to a collective of “all those who built and operated film laboratories, for over a century of service to the motion picture industry”.

In a room full of digital supremos, the nod to the tradition of making movies on film was received with cheers.

Editing by Louise Ireland

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