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Motion Picture Academy Honors Scientists, Engineers

Sunday March 5, the film industry will honor actors and moviemakers with the Academy Awards, or Oscars. But the industry has already recognized some of the people behind the camera with scientific Oscars and other technical awards. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, scientists and engineers from around the world were honored for their achievements.

This year's winners included the German engineers who developed a cinema lens and a Ukrainian group that developed a gyroscopic-stabilized crane and camera holder.

David Grober won an award for a device called the Perfect Horizon stabilization system for cameras on moving boats and vehicles. It was used in the opening surfing sequence of the James Bond film Die Another Day, and the manic chase scene aboard a three-decker bus in the third film in the Harry Potter series. The bus was equipped with beds and a crystal chandelier.

"We kept the horizon stable so when the beds slid from side to side and the chandelier went back and forth, it made sense because you could actually see the bus and the sides of the bus moving," he said.

It was all an illusion, of course, and new technical tools help moviemakers create more convincing illusions.

Sid Ganis is the president of the movie academy, which presents the annual Oscars. A movie producer himself, he says technologists are an important part of the business, and of the professional academy that he heads in Hollywood.

"It's the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and without these guys, without the science part of it, I don't think there'd be a motion picture art part of it," Ganis said. "So it's a mutual admiration society between the arts and sciences, and for us at the academy, we honor the scientists, of course."

Actress Rachel McAdams, who starred in last year's films Family Stone and Wedding Crashers, hosted this year's scientific Oscars, and said the experience helped her appreciate the technical side of the business.

"It's just making leaps and bounds, and I think it's so exciting," she said. "It's so exciting for films, the things they can do. And it's just growing every day. It's great."

Oscar recipient Gary Demos, called "the Einstein of the business" by one of his industry colleagues, was honored for his many insights over the years in computer technology and special effects. He says those effects today are subtler than in the past.

"You can't really tell, was this done by a computer or not or maybe it was partly done by a computer? So I think that's great," he said. "I think it's fine for it to meld into the infrastructure and be a normal tool. To me, a tool is what it's supposed to be."

Richard Edlund, who heads the academy's scientific and technical committee, loves the new technology, but says it creates a problem for younger moviegoers.

"Perfection is what everybody's going after, and the young filmgoer today sees shots that have been nuanced to the point where they look real," he said.

He says many young viewers cannot suspend belief and appreciate the story behind the crude effects of the original King Kong, released in 1933. But modern special effects add a new dimension to a classic Hollywood story, retold in Peter Jackson's 2005 remake of the film.