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US Movie Academy Honors Scientific, Technical Achievements


The U.S. Academy Awards for actors and others in the film industry will be presented in Hollywood February 25, but the motion picture academy has already honored technical innovators who work behind the scenes. From Los Angeles, Mike O'Sullivan has more on Hollywood's annual scientific and technical awards.

The Oscars are presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and each year the academy presents scientific and technical awards to those who make the art of movies possible. It is a smaller ceremony, but just as exciting for the winners.

Engineer Ray Feeney received an Oscar statuette, the first of the season, for technological contributions to the industry. He developed special-effects software used in such films as Titanic and Men in Black.

"Most of us who work behind the camera on inventions and advancing the tools that are used by the filmmakers, we are relatively anonymous. So tonight being able to be in a room amongst our peers being recognized with an honor like this, it is really very special," he said.

The Academy's so-called Sci-Tech awards are given for new devices used on the film set, or for techniques and software used in post-production.

Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal, the hostess for the evening, is sometimes surprised by what she sees on the screen, even in films she has worked on.

"Oh yeah, definitely. Yeah. World Trade Center was that way. Monster House certainly was that way, " she said.

World Trade Center, a film in which Gyllenhaal costarred, relies on special effects to re-create the terror attacks of September, 2001, and Monster House used motion-capture technology that blended the work of actors like Gyllenhaal with computer images.

Some Sci-Tech awards are for highly technical processes. Mary Ann Anderson shared a commendation with 11 other people for a new approach to putting sound on film. It uses cyan dye, which is environmentally friendly, to create the audio track. The process saves 300 kiloliters of water for each film print.

"In addition, there is an archival benefit because there is a process called silver nitrate in old film. That silver nitrate is highly flammable. It can explode. And so if you can eliminate silver nitrate in the film processing, you don't have to worry when it sits in a film vault that it might explode or catch on fire," she said.

Visual effects artist Richard Edlund has won four Oscars, for his work on Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi. This year, he won a medal of commendation for contributions to the academy and the movie industry. He says engineers and technicians are important in Hollywood.

"These are artists in their own way, and they are just as creative in their way as the people who make movies. And they are basically creating the means to make movies better and more interesting and more visually spectacular," he said.

Sid Ganis, president of the motion picture academy, says new digital media are changing the movie business, and Hollywood is making a transition.

"What we are now doing very successfully on film, we had better know how to do and understand when it comes to the new media as well. And a big part of what the academy is doing is figuring that out. And what we are doing is, we are figuring that out for the whole industry," he said.

The academy's scientific and technical council is explaining the new technology to the studios, and helping set new standards.

Oscar recipient Ray Feeney says Hollywood is undergoing a change as profound as the shift from silent to sound films, or from black-and-white to color. He says that movie-making is still storytelling, but engineers like him are spurring a transformation.

"We are the ones building the tools that the storytellers use, and the stories that they are able to tell change as the tools become more powerful," he said.

He says with new techniques and tools, moviemakers can tell more complex, richer stories.