John D. Lowry dies at 79; innovative film-restoration executive
John D. Lowry, an entertainment technology innovator who founded Lowry Digital Images, the renowned movie restoration company in Burbank that worked its magic by returning film classics such as “Casablanca” and “Star Wars” to their pristine state for DVD release, has died. He was 79.
Lowry died Jan. 21 at his home in Camarillo, said his son David. The cause of death is unknown.
“John Lowry’s passion for cinema and expertise in technology were essential in preserving the work of filmmakers for future generations to enjoy,” George Lucas told The Times in a statement.
“He has rescued many movies from irreparable decay, making it possible to enjoy them forever as the artists envisioned, without the damage of time,” Lucas said. “His legacy has ensured that filmmakers can preserve their legacies.”
A Canadian television pioneer who began his career in Toronto in 1952, Lowry became a pioneer of a different sort in 1971 when he launched Image Transform, a company that developed a system used by NASA for cleaning up the live images being transmitted from the moon during the Apollo missions.
After starting Lowry Digital Images with engineer Ian Cavén in 1998, Lowry was the guiding force behind the development of the Lowry Process: a system for reducing visual “noise” in motion pictures to make it possible to do other kinds of work on the movies, such as sharpening the images, removing dirt and scratches and reducing flicker.
The system has been used to restore more than 500 movies, including “Gone With the Wind,” “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Sunset Boulevard,” the James Bond series, the first three “Indiana Jones” movies, and Disney classics such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Bambi.”
The Lowry System also has been used to improve image quality in movies such as “Avatar” and “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” and for repairing episodes of TV series, including an episode of “The West Wing” that had been damaged by X-ray exposure.
In 2009, the company also restored footage sent back to Earth from Apollo 11 in 1969, including Neil Armstrong’s first step onto the lunar surface, as part of the 40th anniversary celebration of the historic mission.
“The biggest kick for me is to solve one of these absolutely unsolvable problems,” Lowry told Canada’s Globe and Mail in 2006. “This has been the most gratifying part of my entire career.”
Lowry’s death came less than two weeks after the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced that Lowry, Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston and Tim Connolly would be honored at the Scientific and Technical Awards ceremony Feb. 11 for the development of the Lowry System.
Mike Inchalik, a longtime collaborator and president of Lowry Digital Images, said Lowry “could see the path that the industry was going to take based on where technology was going and where storytellers were trying to take their art.”
“He always used to say, ‘I never invent for invention’s sake; I’m committed to solving people’s problems.’ However, being a pioneer, he was solving problems even before people had them.”
When Lowry Digital Images was sold to audio company DTS in 2005, it was renamed DTS Digital Images. The company was sold again in 2008 and is now part of Reliance MediaWorks.
Lowry, who continued to work with the company until 2010, also co-founded TrioScopics, a 3-D company, with Cavén, in 2007.
Born in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, on June 2, 1932, Lowry was 20 when he toured the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.’s TV station in Toronto just before it began broadcasting in 1952.
A few days later, he was working as a stagehand helping the weatherman. It was a low-tech era: Lowry later recalled that he would stand out of sight and squeeze a hot water bottle filled with a red dye solution until the weatherman’s prop thermometer showed the correct temperature.
Within a year, Lowry launched the CBC’s first special-effects department and created effects for shows such as “Space Command.” By age 23, he was a producer-director, primarily of commercials. He spent nine years at the CBC before starting a small production company to film commercials.
In 1988, Lowry, who was dyslexic, and his son founded Discis Inc., a company that developed multimedia programs to teach children to read.
Lowry is survived by his wife, Mary; his children from his first marriage, David and Julia; his stepchildren, Scott, Patrick and Allison; his brothers, George, Ed, Peter and Doug; and two grandchildren.
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