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Academy Announces Sci-Tech Award Winners

Honors Go to Technology from PDI/DreamWorks, Sony Pictures Imageworks, Imagineer Systems, Cooke Optics, and More

Visual effects technology, camera support and power systems, and cinema lenses have all been singled out for kudos by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The various tools and techniques will be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation, scheduled to be held at The Beverly Hills Hotel on February 9.

The honors for nine achievements in total will go to 25 individual awards recipients. Among those to be given plaques and certificates are the personnel who created the proprietary Light system at PDI/DreamWorks and the Katana software at Sony Pictures Imageworks, the team that created the Mocha planar-tracking and rotoscoping software at Imagineer Systems, and the creators of Anton/Bauer's CINE VCLX portable power system. Lens-maker Cooke Optics Limited has been singled out to receive an Oscar statuette.

The Scientific and Technical Awards are not limited to the calendar year. Instead, the Academy says the achievements it honors "demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures."

The Academy's full list of Scientific and Technical honorees follows below. The text descriptions come from the Academy; we have augmented them with links leading to more information where appropriate.

Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate)

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.

More info: J.P. Lewis's homepage has links to the original paper presented at SIGGRAPH 2000 [PDF], plus additional implementation notes, code examples, and video [.mov]

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.

More info: Actually, as Light is a proprietary software implementation that's still being used, there is little to no information about how it works on the public Internet.

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.

More info: The Foundry bought Katana from Sony Pictures Imageworks back in 2009. These videos shot by FXGuide at NAB 2011 will help you get a sense of what it's all about.

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.

More info: Here is the Wavelet Turbulence for Fluid Simulation presentation that was given at SIGGRAPH 2008, including presentation slides and video downloads.

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.

More info: Gaffer Mark Vuille talks about the early history of the MAX at the Matthews Studio Equipment website. Key grip Richard Mall himself demonstrates the MAX Menace in two YouTube videos: Part 1 and Part 2.

Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy Plaque)

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.

More info: In Barabra Robertson's article for Computer Graphics World on the making of The Adventures of Tintin, she mentions that Tissue was developed as a simulation system for muscles, skin and fat for use on Avatar.

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.

More info: Imagineer's Mocha product page includes links to technical specs and video tutorials

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 CINE 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.

More info: The Anton/Bauer product page for its Cine Series shows the different battery and charger components of the CINE VCLX system.

Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette)

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.

More info: Check out the Cooke Optics website for everything you wanted to know about getting the "Cooke Look."


The host for this year's awards was not announced along with the nominees, but the Academy has been looking to popular actresses for that particular role — recent hosts have included Marisa Tomei, Elizabeth Banks, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Garner, and Jessica Alba.

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