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The Scientific and Technical Awards and Hugo’s Oscars

What is Fame?

This year no one paid any attention to the cast off Cinderella of Hollywood, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Awards. The death of Whitney Houston certainly didn’t help give these awards any press. Held this year on Feb. 11 in Beverly Hills at the Beverly Wilshire in Los Angeles and hosted by Milla Jovovich, these awards honored many of the technical innovators in filmmaking. The George Méliès of our time. 8 Oscars were given out to almost 30 participants. These awards are given out two weeks before the official Oscars ceremony on February 26th.

The Scientific and Technical Awards Honor FUJIFILM

Ironically, the Scientific and Technical Awards this year honored FUJIFILM Corporation for the development of ETERNA-RDS 4791 (PET), a movie film that is substantially responsible for advancing the archival preservation of film and digital images- the same topic of the Oscar nominated film Hugo that is nominated for 11 Academy Awards. The Academy Award honored in particular the work of Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki, Hiroshi Hirano and Hideyuki Shirai for the creation of the high-resolution recording film ETERNA-RDS 4791 designed for film and digital image preservation.

Introduced in 2010 ETERNA 4791 has several advancements that set it apart including the Polyester base (PET) that is common in many of the ETERNA series films. This particular film allows for recording digital separation (RDS) of the black and whites from the color digital masters. The development means that 50 years from now you will be able to play today’s movies on your 3D LED wall mount television. The film also allows for increased image quality, reduced flare and greater latitude and linearity. It is designed to be used with Kodak D96 and D97.

How is it that the story of a great film innovator from the past is respected so highly by the Academy and yet the innovators that are responsible for the preservation of film itself are relegated to the Beverly Wilshire two weeks prior to the Academy Awards?

The History of the Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards

The Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards themselves were added very early in the Academy’s history. They were introduced into the awards ceremony in three classes in 1930-31 honoring basic achievements (class 1), high technical or engineering merit (class II) and accomplishments that provide valuable progress to the industry (class III). These awards continued to be given out along with the other Academy Awards until 1974 with the exception of 1959 when the awards were presented at the Governor’s Ball held after the ceremonies. In 1974 (the 47th) awards the Scientific and Technical Awards were moved to a 4 pm press call at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. In 1977 the Scientific and Technical Awards were finally given their own dinner. The practice has continued ever since.

Back in 1974 when the scientific awards were separated from the main event the United States was battle weary with the Vietnam War. The Watergate Scandal was at its height and it consumed the nation. Throughout American culture there were rifts between young vs. old, avant-garde vs. establishment and also artist vs. scientist. Perhaps it made sense to separate the Awards out at this point to emphasize the artistic merits of leading actors, screenwriters, and musicians from the engineers who designed the film, processes and cameras that made Hollywood possible.

Is Science Art?

However, today, not unlike during the time of George Méliès, the lines between technical and artistic achievements are blurring. For example, on February 11th, Ian Cavén, John Lowry, Ian Godin, Tim Connolly and Kimball Thurston received an award “for the development of a unique and efficient system for the reduction of noise and other artifacts, thereby providing high-quality images required by the filmmaking process”. The system was used on both 3D Avatar, and Journey to the Center of the Earth. Similarly, E.F. Nettmann, Fred Miller Michael Sayovitz and Brad Fritzel were honored for compact stabilizing heads that have made it possible to effectively shoot action footage in an open structure. Without these contributions and many more, film as we know would be substantially different.

Everyone is a Star

Interestingly, just as changes are happening in film because of technical achievements the people that design these types of industry advancements might become increasingly famous. Perhaps like Music, TV and Modeling, the complete democratization of film is right around the corner. What exactly constitutes fame and celebrity in today’s world? Is Streep any more of a draw than Zuckerberg and all that he embraces and stands for? The mystique that has always made the Academy Awards and in turn Hollywood so special has been protected since Méliès time by limited access and barriers to entry.

Technical advancements including cameras and software are removing the walls. Almost anyone can make a fairly decent film today. Distribution is available on Youtube and marketing is free for the liking on Facebook. College students throughout the country are making brilliant films in their dorm rooms.

Martin Scorsese, who seems to have always possessed an uncanny ability to understand our country’s interests, has another hit with Hugo. Box office sales to date are at $62,080,174. This is a current subject matter that strikes a cord with viewers who see themselves as film makers. It is not a simple historical recount of the life of George Méliès.

At the very end of movie Hugo we, the audience, see Méliès receiving an achievement award. Removed finally from the total obscurity of a normal life he stands tall to the clapping hands of adoring fans. His art is recognized as valuable and he achieves stardom. When the Scientific and Technical Awards were presented on the 11th it was hard not to compare the presentations to the movie Hugo as these “ordinary” people stood up to be honored.

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