Laser system designer gets sci-tech nod

Pixar Animation Studios last week said it has developed a next-generation laser recording system called PixarVision that converts digital computer data into images on motion picture film stock.

The Point Richmond, Calif.-based animation house tested PixarVision on “A Bug’s Life” and will use it to produce “Toy Story 2,” skedded for a Thanksgiving release.

David DiFrancesco, who developed the system for Pixar in 1996, will be presented with a scientific and technical Academy Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences on Feb. 27, for “pioneering efforts in the development of laser film recording technology.”

DiFrancesco helped develop the first laser recording device for George Eastman’s Kodak in the late 1970s. He also received an Oscar in 1994 for his work in digitizing film.

“I’m very proud of being part of the development of digital motion pictures,” DiFrancesco said. “This piece of apparatus is one the keys among many to help the process along.”

As opposed to traditional film recorders that use cathode ray tubes to create images that expose film stock, PixarVision uses solid state lasers to record on multiple film formats with more quality and speed than ever before. The device is not currently available to other production houses, Pixar said.

Laser recorders eliminate color “crosstalk” inherent in CRT-based recorders and expose smaller spots on film resulting in sharper images and faster recording times — eight seconds per frame, as opposed to the traditional 35 seconds per frame.

Pixar scientists pioneered laser film recording in the early 1980s. Kodak briefly sold a commercial laser film recorder in the mid-1990s but, because of its high cost, decided to offer the device’s services through post-production house Cinesite.

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