The American Society of Cinematographers

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Spider-Man 3
Sci-Tech Awards
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The Academy honors the industry’s top technical innovators at the annual Sc--Tech Awards ceremony.

photos courtesy of AMPAS
At this year’s Academy Awards for Scientific and Technical Achievement, three different awards were presented for the same achievement: the process of creating digital separation elements for the archiving of digitally mastered films. Engineers from Technicolor, EFilm and Pacific Title were all recognized for this achievement, which represents a major step forward in creating a viable archival pipeline for motion pictures that originate digitally or undergo the digital-intermediate process. 

Among the evening’s other honorees were six members of the ASC Technology Committee. Richard Edlund, ASC was awarded the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, and ASC associate member Ray Feeney was honored with the Gordon E. Sawyer Award. The Academy also recognized the achievements of Advanced Imaging Subcommittee Vice Chairman and ASC associate member Phil Feiner; ASC associate member Joshua Pines; and Advanced Imaging Committee members Bill Feightner and Florian Kainz.  

Commenting on the prominence of ASC members and associates at this year’s event, Pines cracks, “The technical community in Hollywood is incestuous, and I don’t mean that in a bad way. It should come as no surprise that people of the ASC Technology Committee are also members of the Academy Science and Technology Council. This is a good thing, because it ensures that all the different groups hear the concerns of the other groups and no one does anything in a vacuum. [The awards prove that] the ASC Technology Committee has done a good job of attracting the right people, people who are doing the work for the betterment of the motion-picture industry as a whole.” 

“These awards are for the unsung geniuses who are just as creative as the artists who receive the other, more prominent Oscars,” offers Edlund, who has sat on the Academy Sci-Tech Council for 25 years and chaired it for the last 11. “These are the people who are creating the technology that allows all the rest of the disciplines to do their work. Both the Academy and ASC committees are made up of technologists who keep a keen eye on the industry. There is a significant crossover between the two groups because both strive to corral the biggest brains in the technology community.” 

The Medal of Commendation has been handed out in various years since 1977, “in appreciation for outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences [AMPAS].” In 1997, the AMPAS Board of Governors voted to name the medal in honor of the late John A. Bonner, a sound engineer and director of special projects at Warner Hollywood Studios. Bonner was the last person to receive the award before it was named in his honor.  

The Bonner Award was presented to Edlund this year in recognition of his years of service to the Academy.  

Born in Fargo, North Dakota, Edlund became a photography enthusiast at an early age. Some of the photos he took for his high-school yearbook were published in the Los Angeles Examiner. After graduating from high school, he joined the U.S. Navy Photographic School and received an intensive education in photography and camera repair.  

While stationed in Japan, Edlund fell in love with the country and culture, and also developed a passion for motion pictures. Upon returning to the States, he enrolled in the University of Southern California film program. His first break in the industry came from the California Office of Human Resources in Hollywood. Lacking film experience but eager to work, Edlund created a résumé that was delivered to Joe Westheimer of Westheimer Studio, a highly respected film optical and titles company. Westheimer was impressed enough to hire the young Edlund. 

After working at the studio for four years, Edlund moved to San Francisco and dabbled in experimental filmmaking while making a living driving a tour bus. In 1974, he landed a job with commercial production house Robert Abel, where he met future ASC member John Dykstra. At the time, Dykstra was discussing a new project with producer Gary Kurtz, and when it finally came to fruition, Dykstra hired Edlund to be his visual-effects cinematographer. The project was Star Wars. 

Edlund won a shared Academy Award for his work on Star Wars and was instrumental in the formation of George Lucas’ visual-effects house Industrial Light & Magic (ILM). Edlund left ILM in 1983 to form his own visual-effects company, Boss Films, which got its start on Ghostbusters. Before closing in 1997, Boss Films produced effects for more than 30 feature films, including 2010, Die Hard, Batman Returns, Alien 3, Species, Multiplicity and Air Force One. 

Edlund won Academy Awards for his work on The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Return of the Jedi, and he has earned six additional Oscar nominations (for Poltergeist, 2010, Ghostbusters, Poltergeist II: The Other Side, Die Hard and Alien3). He also won an Emmy Award for his work on the original Battlestar Galactica television series. 

Edlund has been awarded three Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards. In 1982, he received two, one for the concept and engineering of a beam-splitter optical composite motion-picture printer, and one for the engineering of the Empire Motion Picture Camera System. In 1987, he received one for the design and development of the ZAP Zoom Aerial 65mm Optical Printer. 

An AMPAS member since 1979, Edlund served on the Academy’s Board of Governors from 1995-2006. He chaired the Visual-Effects Branch Executive Committee and the Sci-Tech Awards Committee from 2001-2006. He also serves on the Museum Committee. 

The Gordon E. Sawyer Award is not given every year. This year, visual-effects-software pioneer Ray Feeney became its 20th recipient. 

Sawyer was the head of the sound department at Samuel Goldwyn Studios and a member of the Sci-Tech Awards Committee from 1936-1977. In 1981, an award was established in his name to recognize “an individual in the motion- picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.” 

Feeney earned a B.S. in electrical engineering from the California Institute of Technology and began his career at Robert Abel & Associates, where he worked on visual effects for commercials and features. While there, he was instrumental in the design and engineering of the first motion-control camera, for which he received his first AMPAS Scientific and Engineering Award in 1988. A second Scientific and Engineering Award followed in 1991, for his work on the Solitaire Image Recorder, and Feeney received two more in 1994 for developing film input scanners and the Cinefusion software implementation of the Ultimatte Blue Screen Compositing Technology. 

In 1978, Feeney founded RFX Inc., which provided scientific and engineering solutions for the film industry, many of which are now in widespread use. He launched a second company in 1995, Silicon Grail, to facilitate software development for the motion-picture industry. One of the company’s star packages was the Rayz digital-compositing program, the technology for which was purchased by Apple Computer in 2002. 

A co-chair of the Academy’s Sci-Tech Council, Feeney also serves on the AMPAS Scientific and Engineering Awards Committee. He has been an active member of the ASC Advanced Imaging Technology Subcommittee since 2003.

A founding member and director of the Visual Effects Society, Feeney is also a fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. He was honored with the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation in 2001.


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