Magazine article American Cinematographer

The 1994 Sci-Tech Awards: In Praise of Innovation

Magazine article American Cinematographer

The 1994 Sci-Tech Awards: In Praise of Innovation

Article excerpt

Where fame is concerned in the movie industry, those who harvest the grain rarely get in on the feast. But on one night every year, the legions of technical innovators who quietly draw the blueprints for motion picture magic garner some rightful kudos at the Academy Awards for Scientific and Technical Achievements. The 1994 Awards were presented during a ceremony in late February hosted by actress Laura Dern at the Beverly Hilton hotel.

Scientific and Technical Awards are given for devices, methods, formulas, discoveries or inventions of special and outstanding value to the arts and sciences of motion pictures and which have a proven history of use in the motion picture industry.

Awards may be granted in any of three classifications: Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette), for basic achievements which have a definite influence upon the advancement of the industry; Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy plaque), for those achievements which exhibit a high level of engineering and are important to the progress of the industry; and Technical Achievement Award (Academy certificate), for those accomplishments which contribute to the progress of the industry.

Past honorees of the Academy Award of Merit include the development of the modern motion picture camera; the introduction of CinemaScope, Vista Vision and Todd-AO; the development of the Dolby sound systems; and the fluid-damped camera head for motion picture photography.

Also receiving an Oscar statuette each year is the recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, which recognizes a lifetime of achievement by an individual "whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry." The award was established in 1980 in memory of Sawyer, who was head of the sound department at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios for many years. The last recipient was Erich Kaestner, who oversaw all Arriflex camera and optical development.

This year's recipients were as follows:

Gordon E. Sawyer Award

Petro Vlahos, the 11th recipient of the award, has served the motion picture industry as a design, field and systems engineer and as the chief scientist for the Association of Motion Picture and Television Producers. Since receiving his engineering degree from the University of California at Berkeley in 1941, Vlahos has established more than 35 U.S. and foreign patents, the most notable of which concern the Color Difference Traveling Matte System and the Sodium Traveling Matte System.

He was awarded an Oscar in 1964 for his development of traveling matte systems, and was also presented a Medal of Commendation in 1992 for his outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

Vlahos has also been recognized by the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) with a Life Fellowship and the Herbert T. Kalmus Gold Medal Award (1987). Vlahos was the recipient of an Emmy Award in 1978 for his electronic compositing system, which is used throughout the television industry.

Vlahos, who received his award to a standing ovation, showed a wry sense of humor by announcing that he was going to give three speeches - of five-second, 10-second and 30-second duration - to accommodate the editors of the Academy Awards show.

"Does a lifetime achievement award mean I've finished achieving?" he pondered during his remarks. "Or consider that it means I might expire."

Technical Achievement Awards

(Academy Certificates)

Wally Mills (concept) and Gary Stadler and Gustave Parada (design) for the Cinemills Lamp Protection System, which provides a process that prevents the early failure of 20 Kilowatt lamps by maintaining an essentially uniform current flow to the lamp filament as it heats and changes resistance. …

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