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February 2011

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special report Behind the Scenes: Sci-Tech Oscars L By DANIEL RESTUCCIO How they find the winners. OS ANGELES — On February 12 at a gala presentation at the Beverly Wilshire hotel, the Sci-Tech commit- tee of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences will award 10 scientific and technical achievements to 22 individuals carefully selected from over 60 entries sub- mitted from all over the world. “Fundamentally, these awards are given out to technologies that have already signifi- cantly changed the industry,” says main committee vice chairman Ray Feeney.They do not give awards to inventions that have “high potential” or that are just starting to have an impact. Feeney adds, “They are not awarding the technical products... they are recognizing and acknowledg- ing the individuals that make these contributions.” Scientific and technical achievement is awarded on three levels: Technical Achievement Award Certifi- cate, Scientific and Engineer- ing Award Bronze Tablet and Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette).“During the summer, the academy sends out a mass mailing to the people in the industry to submit a piece of their tech- nology,” explains digital imag- ing technology subcommit- tee and member Doug Roble. So in contrast to the regular Academy Awards, you are not nominated,“you nominate yourself.” “We received 52 initial entries this year,” be fair,we need to look at all facial animation software. Maybe there’s someone that went first, maybe someone did it better. “In fact,” continues Roble,“it has been the case where someone submitted a piece of technology for a tech award, the sub com- mittee looked at it, then they discovered sim- ilar technology that was not submitted, and the award went to the similar technology.” IT AIN’T EASY One of the trends with the awards is that in today’s moviemaking world it’s a lot harder to get a Sci-Tech award and more demanding technology was almost a three-year process. Initially it was started with one render cue submitting their technology. As we investi- gated the first render cue we talked to a lot of other people and because it went on to the next year a lot of other render cues submit- ted, saying,‘Oh you’re looking at render cues? Come look at mine.’Which is great.That’s ex- actly what we want to have happen. “It is a lot of work but there are so many benefits.The committees are great.They’re the leaders of technology and we have a very good time doing this.We have arguments, but because we meet so often we tend to come Ray Feeney: “In order for things to have an impact on the industry, they need to be extremely complex.” Doug Roble: “The committees are great. They’re the leaders of technology, and we have a very good time doing this.” notes awards administration director Rich Miller.“By rule,we then advertised for claims of similar, or prior, technology to those en- tries. In that canvas, we picked up an addi- tional 12 entries.” “We get a stack of submissions and then we have an initial cull,” explains Roble. “It’s kind of brutal but relatively straightforward. We will reject stuff if we think it’s premature. If you’ve invented something done on a sin- gle movie and used it on a single movie we’ll say, ‘Thanks for letting us know, but please resubmit in a couple of years when it’s been used on multiple movies.’ “We don’t just look at that piece of tech- nology that just opens the door. On facial an- imation software, for example,” he says,“one person submitted it, but lots of people are working on this.What this means is, for us to 12 Post • February 2011 on the sub-committee that studies it. Says Feeney,“In order for things to have an impact on the industry, they need to be extremely complex.” So the in-depth research the com- mittee does analyzing extremely complex systems is more, well... complicated.“When you try to peel away the onion to find the in- spirational parts that made that feasible, that’s really challenging on a big system that might have had 200 engineers working on it.” “I don’t know the number of pages the committee looked through,” says Miller,“but they received a three-ring binder containing nine pounds of paper along with a CD con- taining additional material that exceeded several thousand extra pages.” During bi-weekly four-hour meetings, the digital imaging subcommittee pours over this material.“We get a demo of the tech- nology that was submitted, ” explains Roble. They also have a group that makes in-per- son visits to the inventors. Roble notes, “Studying the render cue Rich Miller: “We received 52 initial entries this year. We then adver- tised claims of similar, or prior, technology to those entries.” to a consensus on this.” He explains,“If it’s not a unanimous deci- sion then that subcommittee recommends an award that gets pushed on to the main committee.” The main committee has 40 members and everything is done by vote.They also take the opportunity to make changes as well, and Roble has seen his committee’s recommendations get modified by the main committee. “It’s got this multi-tiered level of insurance that everything is going to work correctly.Then the board of governors ap- proves everything.” Roble recognizes that the people invent- ing the tech don’t often get as much recog- nition as the artists who use them and the Sci-Tech awards are a way to do that. He laughs, “It’s mostly geeks saying let’s give these guys an award because they’ve done something really cool.” A list of this year’s recipients can be found on RICHARD HARBAUGH/ ©A.M.P.A.S. RICHARD HARBAUGH/ ©A.M.P.A.S. GREG HARBAUGH / ©A.M.P.A.S.

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