James Cameron and Douglas Trumbull Honored at SMPTE Centennial Gala

Celebrating 100 years of setting technical standards for film and TV, the Society of Motion Pictures and Television Engineers gave itself a rousing birthday bash Friday night at the Dolby Ballroom at the Hollywood and Highland Center.

Actor, presenter, and Broadway star John O’Hurley, perhaps best known for playing J. Peterman on “Seinfeld,” energetically hosted the evening. Visuals displaying TV color bars and lyrics laced with phrases like “CGI” and “high frame rates” brought down the house – a feat possible only with an audience of scientists and engineers.

Douglas Trumbull, the visual effects artist who pioneered the look of Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968) and Ridley Scott’s “Blade Runner” (1982), received the Progress Medal, SMPTE’s highest honor, acknowledging his work in effects, stereoscopic 3D, and high-frame-rate cinema, including his current work to enable stereoscopic 3D with his 120-frames-per-second Magi system.

Actor Billy Zane and multiple Oscar winning vfx expert Richard Edlund introduced Trumbull, who said he remains most proud of his contribution to “2001”; expressed deep disappointment over the industry’s non-acceptance in the 1990s of his Showscan system, which projected 70mm film at 60 frames per second; and encouraged the technical community to continue on the path of developing better images.

Visual effects guru Joe Letteri flew in from New Zealand, where’s he’s in pre-production on three “Avatar” sequels, to introduce director and deep-sea-diving pioneer James Cameron. The “virtual production” systems that Cameron developed with “Avatar” underpin the way many films are made today, Letteri said.

“This is a pinch-me moment,” said Cameron in accepting SMPTE’s honorary membership. Only half-joking, he added, “I’m doing the movies to pay for the diving… Once you’ve made your film and you put your name on it as a director, after that you’re just negotiating your price.”

And acknowledging his inner geekdom, he told the assembled engineers that amidst all the glamour of Hollywood, “the connecting bond is engineering. You guys are my peeps – by the way there are too many guys and not enough gals – [and] there there would be no art in this highly technical art form of ours without engineers.”

Cameron pushed for higher resolution, higher frame rates, brighter 3D projection, and, ultimately, glasses-free 3D. “When you see how far we’ve come, it’s dazzling, it’s magic.”

(Pictured above: James Cameron)

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