Jim Houston, a senior engineer who was a pioneer in motion imaging standards, computer animation, and digital restoration, died at age 61 Thursday in Pasadena from a heart attack. His death was announced by the Hollywood Section of Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE),
Houston worked for 34 years for Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pacific Title & Art, Walt Disney Feature Animation and, since February of this year, Samsung Research America. He won two Academy Awards for Scientific and Engineering Achievement.
“Jim made a profound impact on SMPTE and the industry in general,” said SMPTE Hollywood Section Chair Brian Gaffney. “He was a founding member of the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) committee. He wrote influential papers on topics ranging from the color fidelity of High Dynamic Range images to design considerations for cinemas using laser projection. He attended every industry technical and social event and was a constant presence in the community. He will be missed, and his legacy will last forever in Hollywood.”
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Houston was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Cornell University. He began his career with Gould Computer Systems and worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center before getting his start in Hollywood as a technical director with Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1986.
In 1992, he won an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Scientific and Engineering Award as part of the team that developed the CAPS production system for film animation. His second such honor came in 2007 for his contributions to the Rosetta process used in digital restoration.
In 2014, he was awarded SMPTE’s Technicolor/Herbert T. Kalmus Award for “leadership and contributions in the application of digital technologies to motion picture production processes.” He served as co-chair of AMPAS’s ACES Project Committee and was a member of its Science and Technology Council.
He is survived by his mother, Margaret Houston, and his siblings John, Michael, Martin, Kevin and Cathy, and their families. Funeral services will be held in Philadelphia. A memorial service will be scheduled for later this year in Los Angeles.
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