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Oscars' Sci-Tech Awards hint at movies' future

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Michael Yada/©A.M.P.A.S.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Awards is an annual event that recognizes, as you might infer from its name, scientific and technical contributions to filmmaking. It’s typically held two weeks prior to the Oscars, and though the average moviegoer probably wouldn’t recognize many of the award winners, they’re just as integral to the filmmaking process as their front-of-camera counterparts.

This year’s ceremony, hosted by Whiplash’s Miles Teller and The Wolf of Wall Street’s Margot Robbie, was held at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel on Saturday night. Awards were given on three levels: Technical Achievement Award (certificate), Scientific and Engineering Award (bronze table), and Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette). In total, 21 awards were handed out to 58 recipients total. 

The big ones went to Dr. Larry Hornbeck and David Winchester Gray. Hornbeck was awarded with the Academy Award of Merit for the invention of a digital micromirror technology, the Digital Micromirror Device (DMD), used in DLP Cinema projection. Gray was the recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer award for his contributions to cinema sound technologies. He worked on stereo optical soundtracks, digital sound on film, and Dolby Atmos. (For a full list of awardees, click here.)

The event proved colorful, with hosts Teller and Robbie starting a drinking game: Every time someone on stage said the word voxel, guests had to drink. They did so happily, raising their glasses every single time it was uttered, which was a lot. What’s more, guests weren’t shy about showing their support, clapping and hollering for honorees they supported. Colette Mullehnhoff, for instance, was noticeably the only woman to accept an award. When she took to the stage, she was met with a standing ovation and loud, prolonged applause.  

Ultimately, the ceremony told a story of technological innovation. At a shared dinner table, Jeff Budsberg—the recipient of a technical achievement award, alongside Scott Peterson and Jonathan Gibbs, for the design and implementation of the DreamWorks Animation Foliage System—shared his thoughts on the progress thus far:

“There’s so much possible with animation and visual effects today that filmmakers aren’t limited as they were before,” Budsberg said. “You can kind of make anything you want. I think what’s exciting is we’ve opened the door to filmmakers conceiving anything in their imagination, and that’s what’s really fascinating. Movies like Inception or Gravity, they’re able to achieve things that were inconceivable just a few years ago and that’s incredible.”

Peterson agreed, and offered a theory of his own for what’s ahead. “I think what’s great about technology is you’re always surprised with what’s next,” he said. “There’s definitely a lot of people, very smart people, thinking about virtual reality, which is not really consumer friendly yet, but it might be next, who knows.”

Whether virtual reality is “the next big thing” or not, filmmaking technology will, inevitably, continue to develop. All things considered, we look forward to finding out how.

Portions of the Scientific and Technical Awards will air during during the 87th annual Academy Awards on February 22, 2015. 

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