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Oscars: Digital Comes Of Age At Motion Picture Academy’s Scientific And Technical Awards

Deadline logo Deadline 2/12/2017 Pete Hammond
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I love tradition and so every year that I can make it I try to attend the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences  Scientific And Technical Awards. The winners, which this year included several digital innovations, were no surprise as they had been previously announced, and the Beverly Wilshire Hotel dinner wasn’t exactly star studded with only Leslie Mann and John Cho enlisted to serve as hosts. This whole elegant  Saturday night

evening will actually  be lucky to get 30 seconds of air time on the February 26th Oscar show (it was being taped to show highlights), but it is  indeed a tradition , and a much needed one for the Academy which has been recognizing Scientific and Technical achievements officially since the fourth year of the Oscars  for 1930-31.  These are the awards given to what Cho called “the film scientists. Tonight is about you and your experiments and your robots”.  He also compared the evening to the last episode of Lost since it doesn’t make any sense to a lot of people but they do it anyway.

“Do you know that everybody in this room has already won,”  said Cho in one of the few political references of the evening. “This isn’t like the other Oscars . We should

call those the Donalds where the other 80% of the people in the room are losers. You guys are tremendous. Those guys are sad,”  he said adding that the Academy cares so much about them that they get “their own private evening. People say ‘ where are the celebrities?’. Well , we didn’t invite them”.   Mann added: “This is your special secret night that no one will ever hear about”.  Actually they should . These innovations, difficult as they are for the layman to comprehend, are constantly evolving the industry and taking it several steps further.

In introducing the evening Academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs , presiding over her final Sci Tech ceremony after serving the maximum of four years in the position, noted the meaning of the ceremony. “There’s a reason it’s called the Academy of Arts and Sciences, ”  she said while opining that this particular evening is getting more and more “entertaining”.   During the course of it several jokes were in reference to Cho’s role as Sulu in the current incarnation of the big screen Star Trek franchise. He marveled at the technical innovations  and kept asking

himself if they really did  go into space. “I have to keep reminding myself that we really did not go to space,”  he cracked as part of a very funny script provided to the pair to make this evening full of technical jargon, mostly alien to human ears, highly entertaining. But the point of the night , as it has been for well over 80 years is to  honor this continuing innovation. Unlike other years no Oscar statuette was presented this time around but there were plenty of Academy Certificates and Academy Plaques handed out. Among the highlights were several digital awards including to Arri  for the “pioneering design and engineering of the Super 35 format Alexa digital camera  system”. Another plaque went to the Red Digital Camera, while still another went to Sony’s  development  of the F65 CineAlta camera, as well as Sony teaming with Panavision for the development and conception of the Genesis  digital motion picture camera.   One of the most interesting presentations went to  Marcos  Fajardo for the “Arnold Renderer”  from Sony Imageworks for a device Cho said was named after Arnold Schwarzenegger and used in many  contemporary blockbusters such as Iron Man 3, Dr. Strange , and Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them. Another plaque went to  a quartet of visionaries who came up with  the Concept Overdrive, a device that controls interactions  of real and virtual motion in hard real time. It has recently been employed in the production of Deadpool,  The Martian and The Jungle Book.  In fact most of these technical innovations are aimed squarely at blockbuster type tentpole movies. There were many more awards, some 18 in

all,  handed out in the smartly designed and paced ceremony, even if some of the jargon such as a long stretch discussing “Rig. Based. Solving”  wasn’t always easy to follow. Nevertheless a good time was had by all and you will be able to see parts of it, however brief, on the Oscars which seems always aware that the technical side of the movie business is something they can not only never ignore, it is something to be celebrated.

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