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Behind-The-Scenes Movie Makers Honored in Hollywood

On March 23, Hollywood will honor its best at the Oscars - the annual awards for excellence in movie-making. But some who work behind the scenes have already earned their plaudits, with presentation of the scientific and technical Oscars. Many awards this year went to the new technologies that are changing the movie business.

One Oscar went to developers of a software program called Maya. Now widely used in the industry, it created the three-dimensional animation for such recent films as Spider-Man, where images of actor Tobey Maguire were interspersed with those of a superhero created on a computer.

"Maya is the tool set that's used by the artists to create the eye-popping visual effects and computer-generated characters in the movies," explained Doug Walker, who heads the Toronto-based company that developed the software. "Just think about how you felt the first time you saw a dinosaur in Jurassic Park. That's what Maya will allow artists to do."

The software was used in the fantasy The Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers and Star Wars: Episode 2, the most recent installment of George Lucas's science fiction franchise.

Frank Pierson, president of the motion picture academy, says filmmakers now recognize how important technology is to their craft.

"Over the years, we began to realize, wait a second, we are the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and in fact, motion picture was invented by a scientist," he said.

That was inventor Thomas Edison, who was responsible for the kinetoscope, an early movie system, as well as the phonograph and electric light. In 1893, Edison built a studio that produced hundreds of short films.

Today, digital technology is used extensively to add effects in post-production, after filming is finished. And digital cameras are starting to change motion picture production.

Richard Edlund, chairman of the academy's scientific committee, says two old-line companies that make professional movie cameras, Arri and Panavision, are being honored just as digital systems are changing the business. The two received technical Oscars for their continuing advancements in camera design.

"It's kind of an interesting moment because I think it's the last time you'll ever see an award going to a film camera," Mr. Edlund said. "I think the next award, the next Oscar in the camera category, is going to go to a digital camera because we're in the moment of change."

But filmaking with film is far from finished, insist some winners from Kodak, a photo industry pioneer that was honored with a special plaque for a new kind of movie film. Called Premier Vision, it offered rich, intense colors in the Roman epic Gladiator and Martin Scorsese's historical drama Gangs of New York.

Kodak's David Niklewicz says film still offers the best resolution and remains the safest medium for archiving motion pictures. He says modern film retains a stable image for many years. Digital images, on the other hand, are stored on hard drives or disks, which are not yet proven durable over the decades.

"I think we see film being around a long time," he said. "It is a medium that's been here, it offers great advantages. But at the same time, we're also pursuing digital. We're working on digital cinemas. We're at the forefront of digital technology for special effects. We see both things coexisting for quite a long time."

People in the movie business say digital projectors will soon offer better images in local theaters.

Digital recording has brought a revolution in sound, and the Academy honored a new remote recording device. Glenn Sanders said his Deva sound recorder combines digital quality with reliability, which is important to directors.

"When you're spending something like $10,000 to $50,000 a day on a motion picture production, you really need to know that at the end of the day, you've got the audio," Mr. Sanders said.

He says the recorder's backup systems ensure the director has it.

The academy's Frank Pierson has written scripts for television and movies for more than 40 years. He wrote the classic screenplay Dog Day Afternoon and co-wrote another classic, Cool Hand Luke. As a director, his credits include A Star is Born with Barbra Streisand.

He likes the new technologies, but worries that the science may have gotten ahead of the art of movie-making. Too often, he says, the dazzling new techniques are the centerpiece of a movie.

That criticism aside, he says directors have better tools available each year, and are doing their best to learn how to use them.