J. Arthur Widmer

Special effects pioneer

J. Arthur Widmer, who pioneered several advances in film special effects, died May 28 in Hollywood. He was 91.

Widmer received a special award of commendation from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences at the 2005 Scientific and Technical Awards. He was honored for his achievements in the science and technology of motion pictures, in particular his significant contributions to the development of the Ultra Violet and blue-screen compositing processes.

“Art’s pioneering work has had a profound impact on the film industry,” said Richard Edlund, chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. “In fact, many of the films we hold dear would not have been possible without his contributions to image compositing technology.”

Born in Washington, D.C., Widmer entered the U. of Michigan at 16, and after graduation, started work at Kodak’s research labs in Rochester, N.Y. During World War II he relocated to Oakridge, Tenn. and the Clinton Laboratories, later to be called the Oak Ridge National Laboratory which was established in 1943 to produce and separate plutonium for the World War II Manhattan Project.

After the war Kodak sent him to Hollywood, where he lived for more than 50 years.

While at Kodak, he researched a variety of new methods of color photography, including Kodachrome. In the late 1940s, he was involved with the introduction of Eastman Color Negative and Color Positive to the motion picture industry.

Widmer began his work with the Ultra Violet Traveling Matte process while at Warner Bros., where he also developed and refined technologies for other motion picture processes including 3-D and wide screen.

In 1964 he was hired by Universal to design and build an optical department, where he researched blue-screen technology and optical printing and made improvements to the Color Difference System.  He retired in 1979.

He is survived by a sister and three nieces.

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