The ABC Broadcast of the Oscars may not be until two weeks from today, but for all intents and purposes the show started last night at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel where, in an elegant and, yes, actually fun ceremony the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences handed out their annual nerd, er, Scientific and Technical Awards. Taped to be shown in edited form on the BIG show February 28th, these awards have been an Academy staple since the Oscar’s fourth year in 1931, when the Scientific and/or Technical category was introduced with awards going to the likes of noise reduction recording equipment and super sensitive panchromatic film. Remember film? At any rate this long standing tradition of the Academy Awards continued last night, with President Cheryl Boone Isaacs welcoming the Black Tie crowd and turning it over to hosts Jason Segel and Olivia Munn who deftly, and with great style, managed to guide us through several presentations (winners were previously announced) for such innovations as the Image Shaker, “an optical system that convincingly creates the illusion of the camera shaking in a variable and repeatable manner,” but then of course you knew that already. Segel and Munn turned that presentation into their own kind of rap – Image Shaker, Image Shaker, Image Shaker!
Other big Technical Achievement Award winners included the Aircover Inflatables Airwall, the Tweak Software RV System, the Geometry Tracker (from Industrial Light And Magic), Sony Pictures Imageworks ltview, and Dolby Labs PRM Series Reference Color Monitors to which one of the recipients joked, “I know there is just one thing we can all agree on in this room and that’s color,” getting a lot of laughs. I knew this was supposed to be humorous because Duncan Hopkins, one of the winning design engineers of the Mari 3D texture painting system explained that the actual joke part had something to do with the fact that nobody likes black or white monitors – or something like that. I confess that though there was accompanying visuals on the big screens in the room for these awards, and explanations of the many films in which these sci-tech achievements have been used, I still have no idea of what any of it really does, except that often in interviewing filmmakers you hear the phrase, “I could never have made this movie even five years ago” and it is clear that these directors have the people in that Beverly Wilshire ballroom to thank for helping move the art and science of moviemaking forward.
Dreamworks Animation may not have an animated feature nominee this year, but they did win a Technical Achievement Award for their Media Review System. And as one the recipients mentioned upon receiving their award for Rhythm & Hues Global DDR System, the company actually went under three years ago but, hey, their legacy lives on thanks to the Academy. In addition to the aforementioned Mari 3D texture painting system, the other Scientific and Engineering Award of the evening went to Oregon-based animation house Laika, for pioneering the use of rapid prototyping for character animation in stop-motion film production. The final presentation of the night was a Special Award to the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers for their centennial. Unlike many past years no actual Oscar statuettes were presented last night. Instead a beautifully designed plaque with the Oscar symbol on the side was presented to the winners.
During the dinner break Segel told me he was thrilled to be part of this and, considering he and Munn ran through the complicated presentations like they actually knew what they were talking about, he didn’t have to spend days cramming for the gig in advance. “We just came in this afternoon and did one rehearsal, that’s all,” he said. He’s nominated for an Independent Spirit Award this year as lead actor for his work in The End Of The Tour. A24 had been campaigning him this season in the Supporting Actor categories, even though the film really offers him and co-star Jesse Eisenberg both leading roles.
“I agree with the Spirits. I really do think it is a lead,” he told me. He’s terrific in the film so it’s nice to see he got some awards recognition for it, and is looking forward to attending the Indie Spirits in the big tent in Santa Monica on Febraury 27th, the day before the Oscars. When not on stage, he and Munn were at a table with Academy CEO Dawn Hudson, Oscar show producers Reginald Hudlin and David Hill, and Oscar talent producer Taryn Hurd. I told Hill the three Academy press releases detailing presenters really do point to a diverse show on the Dolby Theatre stage, if not among the actual nominees. “This was always our plan, even before the nominations and controversy, ” he told me. “We decided that we wanted to do the most diverse Oscar show ever and that’s what we are doing.” Of course that includes host Chris Rock, also announced long before the #OscarsSoWhite issues started to steal the spotlight. I asked Hill and Hurd, returning for her third go round as talent producer, if they had someone lined up to present Best Picture yet. They both smiled. “Indeed we do, Taryn really scored with that,” Hill said without spilling the beans on who gets to present what is turning out to be a very suspenseful category that appears too close to call at this point. “We have a couple of nice surprises lined up for the show,” Hurd added. Can’t wait. Hill said he’s also grateful that the actual Oscar contest this year has turned into a real horse race.