The beautiful people hog most of the headlines during Oscars season, but on Saturday evening it was the geeks who inherited the Earth, as the motion picture academy handed out its annual Scientific and Technical Awards.
The Sci-Tech Awards ceremony at the Beverly Wilshire hotel was, as always, distinctly lacking in many of the hallmarks of the Oscars.
There was zero suspense. (The winners were announced weeks before.) There was minimal star power. (Aside from hosts Leslie Mann and John Cho, a lay observer would have been hard pressed to recognize a single face in the ballroom full of scientists and engineers.) There was no televised audience of millions. (Only a minute or so out of the three-hour, tech-jargon-heavy ceremony will be edited into the Feb. 26 Oscars telecast.)
“The academy cares so much about you that you get your own private evening,” Cho joked. “People say, ‘Where are the celebrities?’ We didn’t invite them! They wanted to come and the academy said no.”
Mann reassured the crowd: “This is your special night that no one will ever hear about,” she said, adding, “You guys are all way cooler than Ryan Gosling.”
Still, for the 34 individuals and five companies that received awards from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, none of that did anything to dampen the thrill of being honored for the kinds of behind-the-scenes innovations that rarely get the spotlight but that make much of the spectacle and visual-effects razzle-dazzle of cinema possible.
“Simply put, the movies we love would not exist if not for your talent, your knowledge and your creativity,” academy President Cheryl Boone Isaacs said in her opening remarks. “There’s a reason it’s called the Academy of Arts and Sciences.”
That said, for anyone lacking an engineering or computer-science degree, simply understanding what exactly was being honored was difficult at times. (The Sci-Tech award winners are chosen by the academy’s Board of Governors on the recommendation of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee.)
“Now let’s get started with John and I explaining technical information we don’t understand to you, the few people in the world who don’t need it explained,” Mann quipped at the outset.
Larry Gritz, for example, received an award for the design, implementation and dissemination of Open Shading Language, “a highly optimized runtime architecture and language for programmable shading and texture.” Carl Ludwig, Eugene Troubetzkoy and Maurice van Swaaij were recognized for the development of “groundbreaking ray-tracing and adaptive sampling techniques [that], coupled with streamlined artist controls, demonstrated the feasibility of ray-traced rendering for feature film production.”
Several awards went to companies that have been pioneers in the development of digital cameras, which have almost entirely overtaken the formerly celluloid-based film industry in recent years.
The German firm Arri was recognized for its Alexa digital camera system, and other awards went to the Red Digital Camera, Sony’s F65 CineAlta camera and Sony and Panavision’s Genesis camera.
Mark Rappaport, Scott Oshita, Jeff Cruts and Todd Minobe were awarded for the Creature Effects Animatronic Horse Puppet, an innovation in highly realistic robotic-horse design that has been used in films like “The Lone Ranger” and “The Revenant.”
A few awards went to recognize advances in motion-capture technology, such as Weta Digital’s FACETS facial capture system that helped actor Andy Serkis create CGI characters like Gollum from the “Lord of the Rings” franchise and Caesar from the “Planet of the Apes” films. Others went to innovators in wireless digital sound recording used on film sets.
(The full list of Sci-Tech winners can be found online at the official Oscars website.)
In contrast to virtually every other awards ceremony this Oscars season, the Sci-Tech Awards were almost entirely lacking in politics. Though the winners represented a range of nationalities — and many in attendance undoubtedly chatted about politics over their dinner of filet mignon and Chilean sea bass — there were no references on stage to the Trump administration’s moves on immigration.
Still, Cho did manage to sneak in one jab at President Trump.
“Everybody in this room has already won,” he said. “This isn’t like the other Oscars — or as I like to call them, ‘the Donalds’ — where by the end of the night, 80% of the people in the room are losers. You guys are tremendous. Those guys are sad.”