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Scientists and Engineers Get the Oscar for Improving Film Production


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Image courtesy of Industrial Light and Magic (LM)

 “Wyvern” in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest
Each year, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences awards its Scientific and Technical Achievement awards to the scientists and engineers that have designed and developed technologies that contribute to the progress of the film industry. These technical innovations have been successfully used in movies and have become the gold standard by which new technologies are judged.

This year’s 15 awards include praise for film production and preservation. The awards were presented on Saturday February 10, 2007. Here is a sampling of some of this year’s winners.

Film Production

ILM Image-Based Model System. Steve Sullivan, the Director of Research and Development at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM), worked with a team of electrical and computer engineers to design and develop the ILM Image-based Model System.

This system starts with one or more images of an object or scene, such as a landscape, prop, or humane face. Then, a combination of computer algorithms and artist tools are applied to create a 3D model. “The resulting model is often comparable to a laser scan of the object,” said Sullivan. “The system can help visual effects artists create detailed models directly from a few photographs, even for subjects such as babies or large-scale landscapes which are impossible to scan using traditional techniques.”

The software behind the making of this creepy face (right) from Pirates of the Caribbean won an Oscar this year.

OpenEXR Software System. Florian Kainz, the computer graphics principal engineer with the Research and Development group at ILM, designed and engineered the Open EXR software system. OpenEXR is a set of software libraries and a file format for storing digital images with very high fidelity, which is required for creating visual effects in movies as well as scientific visualizations. One feature of this system is the ability to store more than just the color information with each pixel. “For example, in computer graphics, when you want to simulate motion blur that results from photographic moving objects,” said Kainz, “You need to know how fast and in which direction the objects in an image are meant to move.”

FI+Z. Howard Preston, President of Preston Cinema, using his experimental and theoretical physics background, has designed the Preston Cinema Systems FI+Z wireless remote system. Up until the early 1990s, wireless devices used to remotely control camera and lenses were unpredictable on a movie set because they interfered with the many communication devices such as high-powered walkie-talkies commonly found on movie sets.

Film Preservation and Archiving

E-Film. Bill Feightner, the Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer at E-Film, designed and developed the E-Film process. When preserving film, the colors of the film would break down over time. This made trying to keep a film perfectly intact very difficult. With E-Film, each negative is separated digitally into 4 different negatives: one that is in black and white, yellow, cyan (blue), and magenta (red).

Using E-Film, these digital negatives and additional information about the colored digital negatives could be recombined at a later date to produce the same vibrant colors they had during the very first time the movie played.

Rosetta Process. Phil Feiner, Jim Houston, Denis Leconte, and Chris Bushman of Pacific Title and Art Studio designed and developed the Rosetta process to create film master positives, which is an exact color copy of the film for archiving from the original digital master files. This process is unique because the digital YCM (yellow, cyan, and magenta) positives are created directly from the film and not from a digital version.

The black-and-white separations from this process have a potential shelf life of more than 1,500 years when properly stored.

Courtesy of Inside Science News Service

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