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Geeks grab a share of Oscars spotlight

The scientists behind the movies receive their Academy Awards for technologies ranging from gee-whiz visual effects to environmentally friendly soundtracks and film preservation.
AMPAS Scientific And Technical Awards Ceremony
Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal is surrounded by the winners of the scientific and technical Academy Awards during Saturday night's ceremony in Beverly Hills.Michael Buckner / Getty Images
/ Source: msnbc.com staff and news service reports

Technology to preserve digital movies on black-and-white film and environmentally friendly soundtracks got awards at the Oscars ceremony for scientific achievement on Saturday night, but the favorite technical accomplishment was a juggler performing to Beatles music.

Comedian Chris Bliss's juggling, which sped up and slowed with the music, had researchers whooping with approval, while ceremony hostess and movie star Maggie Gyllenhaal won the second-biggest round of applause for correctly pronouncing the word "densitometer."

The 2006 Scientific and Technical Awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is the year's premiere ceremony for the movie industry's scientists and takes place a few weeks before the Academy's Oscars ceremony.

This year, preserving the fruits of rapidly changing technology was a theme, with three teams who aim to save digital movies for centuries receiving recognition.

"You have any floppy disks?" Technicolor Digital Intermediates' Joshua Pines asked over dinner to illustrate how the pace of advancement means a technology that is fresh one day may be unusable in few decades. The once-ubiquitous personal computer disks are tough to find — and the drives to read them are becoming scarce. The same is true for professional systems.

Pines and Chris Kutcka won an award for a process to separate color digital images into three primary-color streams, each of which is stored on archival black-and-white film that lasts for centuries and can be scanned and recombined even if the digital system that created the original is lost. Groups from E-Film and Pacific Title and Art Studio also got awards for preservation science.

Others were honored for devising a better densitometer, which measures the quality of soundtracks; for helping the movie industry make the transition to a nontoxic method to put soundtracks on film; for developing wireless remote controls that can focus cameras without interfering with the shot or other electronic devices; and for the high-powered visual effects software to create scenes such as a sea monster plucking a sailor off a ship in "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest."

Academy Award statues will be handed out to movie stars before hundreds of millions of television viewers on Feb. 25, but some recipients said that their own scientific "geeky" community's praise was more meaningful — to them, at least.

As one recipient put it, "An award like this is a rare and beautiful thing. An award like this to a geek is the square of that."

Here is the full list of honorees, beginning with the Technical Achievement Awards:

  • Joshua Pines and Chris Kutcka of Technicolor Digital Intermediates, for the design and development of the TDI process for creating archival separations from digital image data.
  • William Feightner and Chris Edwards of E-Film, for the design and development of the E-Film process for creating archival separations from digital image data.
  • Albert Ridilla, Papken Shahbazian, Ronald Belknap and Jay McGarrigle, for the design and development of the Hollywood Film Company Brumagic MPST Densitometer.
  • Klemens Kehrer, Josef Handler, Thomas Smidek and Marc Shipman Mueller, for the design and development of the Arriflex 235 Camera System.
  • Florian Kainz, for the design and engineering of OpenEXR, a software package implementing 16-bit, floating-point, high dynamic range image files.
  • Walter Trauninger and Ernst Tschida, for the design and engineering of the Arri WRC wireless remote lens control system.
  • Christian Tschida and Martin Waitz of cmotion, for the design and engineering of the cmotion Wireless Remote System.
  • Peter Litwinowicz and Pierre Jasmin, for the design and development of the RE: Vision Effects family of software tools for optical flow-based image manipulation.

Scientific and Engineering Awards:

  • Phillip J. Feiner, Jim Houston, Denis Leconte and Chris Bushman of Pacific Title and Art Studio, for the design and development of the Rosetta process for creating digital YCM archival masters for digital film restoration.
  • Steve Sullivan, Colin Davidson, Max Chen and Francesco Callari, for the design and development of the ILM Image-based Modeling System.
  • Bill Collis, Simon Robinson, Ben Kent and Anil Kokaram, for the design and development of the Furnace integrated suite of software tools that robustly utilizes temporal coherence for enhancing visual effects in motion picture sequences.
  • Howard Preston and Mirko Kovacevic, for the design and engineering of the Preston Cinema Systems FI+Z wireless remote system.

Award of Commendation:

  • Ioan Allen, J. Wayne Anderson, Mary Ann Anderson, Ted Costas, Paul R. Goldberg, Shawn Jones, Thomas Kuhn, Dr. Alan Masson, Colin Mossman, Martin Richards, Frank Ricotta and Richard C. Sehlin, for their contributions to the environmentally responsible industry conversion from silver-based to cyan dye analog soundtracks.

This report includes information from Reuters and MSNBC.com.