Feeney jazzed about the future

Tech legend nabs Sawyer Award

Ray Feeney has seen his niche in the film business — digital technology and visual effects — grow from an arcane backwater into a major portion of the filmmaking process.

But the 20th recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Oscar, for technological contributions that have brought credit to the industry, says you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

“Every time there’s new technology that enables creative storytelling, they do what was done before, but then they learn to do new stuff,” he observes.

Feeney adds that while digital post-production is now well accepted, digital production is still in its infancy and promises to deliver revolutionary change.

“The technology changes about to come into the motion picture industry are as important as when sound came in or when we transitioned from black-and-white to color.

“I think (digital post) will be a great dress rehearsal for what happens when these technologies empower the next round of production.”

Feeney has helped shepherd the evolution of digital filmmaking from its infancy.

He began his career in the 1970s at the legendary early computer-graphics house Robert Abel & Associates. In 1978, he launched his own company, RFX, to provide the movie biz with state-of-the-art scientific and technical solutions. Many of his innovations have been widely adopted by the industry. In 1995, he founded software company Silicon Grail.

Of the many achievements over his long career, the one Feeney is most proud of may be the least tangible: keeping the team approach to filmmaking, which could have been threatened by digital technology, to the detriment of the creative process.

“The thing I’m happy about in the evolution of digital effects is that the collaborative-medium aspect stayed. It’s not two guys off doing everything,” he says. “My contributions went a significant way toward (preserving the team approach).”

He says there’s still important science to be done on digital production so that it’s at least as good as current methods, but he’s excited about what’s coming next.

“I don’t think anyone should sit around saying, ‘I wish I was around in the golden age.’ These are the good old days.”

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