13 February 2009
This year's Academy Awards, or Oscars, will be presented in Hollywood February 22, but the first Oscar of the season has already been given awarded, along with other honors for the science and technology of filmmaking. We have more on the motion picture academy's scientific and technical awards.
Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizes actors, directors and writers and other key people in the movie industry. It also honors technical wizards like Ed Catmull. He helped create RenderMan, a computer software program from Pixar Animation Studios that is widely used for animation and special effects.
Catmull was the first person to get an Oscar this year, presented at the motion picture academy's recent Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony.
Catmull says technology is central to the movie industry, which was born in a technological revolution.
"And we forget that because it happened a while ago, and so we don't think of it as technology," said Ed Catmull. "But the creation of film and then of color, sound, each one of them opened the doors to new things. And we don't leave them behind. We add them to our tools. But the fact that we bring in something new inspires directors and writers and creators to be able to make new kinds of stories."
Engineers from the French-based company Angenieux were honored with a scientific and engineering award for two compact zoom lenses. They are widely used in the industry and let filmmakers get fluid, intimate shots with handheld cameras.
Dominique Rouchon of Angenieux explains why the lenses are special.
"This type of products allow the cameraman to make a new style of shooting with very lightweight equipment, of course, and still very high quality," said Dominique Rouchon.
Two other honorees from France, Jacques Delacoux and his design partner, Alexandre Leuchter, were honored for their video monitors that filmmakers use on the set to see exactly what they are shooting. Director Clint Eastwood used the system on his 2004 film Million Dollar Baby and last year's Gran Torino.
Delacoux is thankful for the reception his product has gotten in Hollywood.
"Oh, it's great, first because we feel deeply welcome," said Jacques Delacoux. "And for me, America is a country where nothing is impossible. It was the first thing I learned because when I started to work in the film industry in Europe, it was not so easy. And here, people just say, OK, let's just do it. Try. You have some good ideas. We will use your product."
The Scientific and Technical honors have a touch a glamour, which came this year in the person of Hollywood actress Jessica Biel, the hostess for the evening. Biel has starred in the thriller The Illusionist, the romantic tale Elizabethtown and the science fiction action film thriller Next.
Like many performers, she often gives little thought to the technology of the business, but promises that will change.
"After tonight, it's going to be a different story because now I'm understanding what that piece on the lens in between the camera is actually doing and how much more amazing it's going to make our film, and how different it's going to make it look," said Jessica Biel.
Producer Sid Ganis, president of the motion picture academy, says lenses designed with computers, digital production techniques and newly developed software all give filmmakers added tools to work with. He says computers are now a key part of the business.
"Who would have thought? I've been in this business for many, many, many years, long before computer technology took hold, and sure enough, today it's as essential as actors or animators or sound guys," said Sid Ganis. "It's absolutely a big, important part of the business."
Oscar recipient Ed Catmull says future technology will keep adding to the filmmaker's toolbox.