Sci-Tech Awards marked by remembrance

Academy's Saturday event honors Trumbull, Lowry, Noffke

Saturday night’s Academy Scientific and Technical Awards banquet was marked by emotional remembrances of departed friends, a passionate defense of the Academy’s mission to encourage excellence, and a call for the entire movie industry to rediscover the spectacle and showmanship that makes watching movies in theaters irresistible.

The evening included the presentation of Oscar statuettes to Douglas Trumbull, who received the Sawyer Award for a career that includes groundbreaking visual effects, directing, and pioneering technology; and to the team that built the ARRI laser scanner, which had received an Academy Plaque in 2001 but was “upgraded,” as the Acad sometimes does when an innovation stands the test of time.

Because honorees are announced in advance and their families are present, the Sci-Techs are always among the most intimate of kudofests. Saturday’s presentation was more emotional than most because two men were being honored posthumously: Dr. Jurgen Noffke, honored for the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses, died last year; and John Lowry, honored for the digital image restoration process that bears his name, died suddenly 21 days before the presentation. Noffke and Lowry were remembered at the podium by the teams that shared their awards. Lowry’s widow took to the stage with his fellow winners to collect his Plaque. Trumbull, in his remarks, spoke of his future plans and said sadly “I was counting on John. That’s a tough one.”

Trumbull’s plans include making a movie with his Showscan Digital process and combining high frame rates, laser projection, high-gain screens to upgrade the movie experience. “I am trying to find a way to make a movie you are in, rather than looking at,” he said.

He called on the industry to rethink its next steps so it makes and presents movies that demand to be seen on the bigscreen, not on mobile devices, laptops and tablets. “I think we can make movies … so people will (say) ‘I want to go out to the movies tonight, because it’s so big, it’s so grand, it’s so spectacular, and there’s so much showmanship that I want to go out to the movies.'”

Jonathan Erland, winner of the Bonner medal for service to the Academy, talked at length about the historical mission of the Academy to encourage excellence. He recalled the founders of the Academy itself, the previous winners of the Bonner medal and the tech pioneers he’d known and worked with, many now dead, including Doug Trumbull’s father, Don Trumbull

Erland called on the Acad to remember the how important its mission is amidst the rapid technological and business change swirling around the movie industry. “There’s an ancient Chinese curse: May you life in interesting times,” said Bonner. “We’re past interesting. We’re all the way to white-knuckle fascinating.”

He reminded the gathering the main Oscarcast is supposed to support the Academy’s mission and rejected the idea that entire org needs a new vision.

“If our Academy still stands for excellence in motion pictures, and it must,” he said, “then the real task before us is to manage the trends, such that motion pictures stay relevant to the Academy’s mission and the ideals we espouse, not the other way about. When all motion pictures are excellent, then we can talk about a new vision for this Academy.”

Erland noted that he and other founding members of the Acad’s revived Science and Technology Council are soon to term out. He said he and others are in the process of setting up an institute for motion picture studies that will cooperate with other orgs, including the Acad.

The Sci-Tech banquet was once notorious for its gleefully cheesy entertainment, but those days are gone. Saturday night Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova performed three songs, including their Oscar-winning “Falling Slowly.” With the main Oscarcast now planning to eschew song performances, that made the Sci-Techs the only Academy Award presentation this season to feature a live performance of a Best Song winner. Onstage, Hansard dedicated part of a song to the late Whitney Houston, and also saluted the late Ronnie Chasen, whom he said “was also very very good to us.”

Milla Jovovich was the presenter and host for the evening. She struggled at times with the jargon on her teleprompter, as all Sci-Tech presenters do, but won over the attendees with her warmth and enthusiasm. With no TV clock demanding they hustle offstage, every winner got his moment at the microphone to hail their fellow “nerds,” and “geeks” and apologize to wives and children for the long hours they’d put in. More than one honoree said he hoped this would inspire his children. Andy Jantzen of Vision Research, collecting a Plaque for the Phantom high-speed camera, said to his children “The work your grandparents started in 1950 is not done. The work continues.”

Acad prexy Tom Sherak, at his final Sci-Tech banquet before his term ends, said he’d had time to ponder the oft-repeated idea that Academy President is the best unpaid job in the industry. He said that this Awards season, he realized why it was so: “I got to meet (Honorary Oscar winner) Richard Smith, and I got to meet Doug Trumbull.”