Takuo “Tak” Miyagishima, a pioneering lens designer for Panavision who became one of Hollywood’s most esteemed technologists, died Thursday after a short illness. He was 83.
“Tak Miyagishima is probably the person most responsible for the birth of successful anamorphic cinematography, in other words, cinemascope,” said Rob Hummel of Legend3D, who worked closely with Miyagishima for years. “He’s one of the unsung heroes behind the scenes responsible for much of the incredible entertainment people experience around the world.”
Among his many innovations, he built a custom telephoto lens for “Lawrence of Arabia” that made possible the pic’s famous shot of Omar Sharif emerging from the desert.
“Tak’s technical and professional accomplishments are well documented, but equally important was his quiet and thoughtful leadership. The knowledge and instruction he shared with his colleagues will be a lasting legacy, and Tak will always be remembered and admired within Panavision,” said Panavision president and CEO John Suh.
Miyagishima won numerous awards over his long career, including a Fuji Gold Medal, an Emmy, the Academy’s Bonner Medal and the Acad’s Sawyer Award (an Oscar statuette).
Earlier this year he was named one of the first three Academy Science Fellows, a new class of membership for technologists who had passed retirement age but still have knowledge and experience to share with the industry.
As a boy he went to a school on Southern California’s Terminal Island where almost all the students were children of immigrants. In the early 1950s he had difficulty finding a job, because he was Japanese-American. Panavision’s Robert Gottschalk hired him off their first meeting and Miyagishima became one of the company’s first employees, and the company remained his professional home for the rest of his life. He was still working as a consultant and coming in to the office daily until he took ill.
He designed projector lenses for “scope” projection, which up to then had been known for distortion. “He did lenses that were flawless,” said Hummel. He improved them so much he was shifted to designing camera lenses.
In accepting his Oscar , Miyagishima looked back on his early life and reflected “For me to be standing before you, only in the United States could that happen,” he said.
He also quipped, “I hope they didn’t give this to me just to get rid of me.”
The Acad had scheduled an Aug. 16 salute to Miyagishima’s work. Typically shy and self-effacing, he asked not to be onstage, but to watch from the audience. The Acad has not cancelled the event pending consultation with the family.