The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences held its Scientific & Technical Achievement Awards gala Saturday night, making history by awarding the first Oscar ever to the makers of a computer software program.

Pixar Animation Studios’ Ed Catmull, Rob Cook and Loren Carpenter received kudos for their work in developing the Renderman software program, which enables filmmakers to easily composite multiple computer-generated scenes with filmed footage.

Used by most f/x houses, Renderman has helped create visuals for “Jurassic Park,” “The Abyss,” “Forrest Gump,” “X-Men,” “The Matrix” and “Gladiator,” as well as Pixar’s own “Toy Story,” “Toy Story 2” and “A Bug’s Life.” The system had previously won recognition from the Sci-Tech committee in 1992. This Oscar is its developers’ first.

Pixar prexy Catmull — who thanked Apple and Pixar topper Steve Jobs, as well as George Lucas for helping support his team’s efforts “when no one else would” — added that winning the award “means so much to me after so much time.”

Cook said his computer program “is a tool for artists. This is just a brush. It still needs an artist. I’m proud of putting this brush in your hands.”

Zellweger host

Actress Renee Zellweger hosted the black-tie event at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel, describing each winner’s technology for the 17 awards handed out. Event was taped for inclusion in the March 25 Academy Awards kudocast, where Zellweger, who will soon star in “Bridget Jones’ Diary,” will introduce an abbreviated segment.

“Last year, we were worried about the Y2K bug,” Sci-Tech Awards Committee chairman Richard Edlund quipped in beginning the ceremony. “This year, we’re worried about not having enough power.”

Seventeen awards were presented at the ceremony.

Irwin W. Young received the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for helping to bring numerous independent films to the screen through Du Art Labs. Young, who also received an Oscar as well as a standing ovation from the audience, is chairman of Du Art Film Laboratories and Du Art Video. He has produced the pics “Whatever,” “Caught” and “American Me.”

Groups help

“In this world of technology, you need a group to make things work,” Allen said. “There’s no better relationship than between the scientist and the artist.”

Dolby’s Ioan Allen and Robin Bransbury and Disney’s Mark Harrah accepted the Academy’s fifth ever award of commendation for the concept, design and implementation of the Trailer Audio Standards Assn.’s loudness standard, which monitors the sound levels of trailers shown in theaters.

N. Paul Kenworthy Jr. was presented with the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation. Named after the late helmer of special projects at Warner Hollywood Studios, the Bonner Medal is awarded to tech professionals for career service and dedication to the Academy. Kenworthy was the cinematographer of Disney’s 1953 nature docu “The Living Desert” and developed the miniature snorkel camera, allowing the filming of situations to which larger cameras would not have access.

F/x emphasis

While lenses, sound boards and microphone covers dominated the award categories in previous years, this year’s Sci-Tech ceremony opted to shed more light upon the f/x community than ever before.

For example, Manex Visual Effects’ George Borshukov, Kim Libreri and Dan Piponi received an Academy certificate for technical achievement for their work in developing a now frequently used f/x system, made popular by its use in “The Matrix” and musicvids, that allows camera movements to be choreographed through computer- and photo-reconstructed sets.

Paraform, which digitally scans humans for use in a film’s f/x sequences, was awarded a certificate. Its 3D technology has been used recently in “Hollow Man” and “X-Men.” Paraform software engineer Venkat Krishnamurthy accepted.

Vic Armstrong took home a certificate for the refinement of the Fan Descender, which controls the freefall of stuntmen. Armstrong has worked as a stunt coordinator on the “Indiana Jones” trilogy and pics in the James Bond franchise. He is currently assisting with stunts on “Gangs of New York.”

Philip Greenstreet of Rosco Laboratories also received a certificate for the development of the Roscolight Day/Night Backdrop, which provides day or night cityscapes for film or television shoots.

Four win

In the scientific and engineering category, four companies won Academy plaques for the design and development of digital audio dubbers specifically for the motion picture industry: AKAI Digital (the DD8 Plus dubber), Fairlight (DaD), Advanced Digital Systems Group (Sony DADR 5000) and Timeline Inc. (MMR 8).

Joe Wary, Gerald Painter and Colin F. Mossman won a plaque for the design and development of the Deluxe Laboratories Multi Roller Film Transport System.

Lynx Robotics’ Alvah J. Miller and Paul Johnson received two nods: an Academy certificate for technical achievement for the development of data capture systems that enable the creation of composite imagery, and an Academy plaque for scientific and engineering for the design of the Lynx C-50 Camera Motor System.

Awards are determined by the Academy board of governors, based on recommendations from the Sci-Tech awards committee. There were 44 innovations under consideration “for devices, methods, formulas, discoveries or inventions of special and outstanding value to the arts and sciences of motion pictures and that have a proven history of use in the motion picture industry.”

All awards had been previously announced (Daily Variety, Jan. 8). Winners were selected in December.