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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Science

Technology behind ‘Avatar,’ ‘Incredible Hulk’ honored by academy

January 5, 2012 |  1:19 pm


Some recent innovators of equipment that made films such as “Avatar” and “The Incredible Hulk” possible will be honored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences next month. Six Scientific and Engineering Awards were announced Thursday:

John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston and Tim Connolly will receive the award for the development of a unique and efficient system for the reduction of noise and other artifacts, thereby providing high-quality images required by the filmmaking process. (The system was used on “Avatar,” “U2 3D,” “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3-D.”)

E.F. “Bob” Nettmann will be recognized for the concept and system architecture, Michael Sayovitz for the electronic packaging and integration, Brad Fritzel for the electronic engineering, and Fred Miller for the mechanical engineering of the Stab-C Classic, Super-G and Stab-C Compact stabilizing heads. (Used on “The Incredible Hulk,” “Gamer,” “My Bloody Valentine 3-D.”)

Radu Corlan, Andy Jantzen, Petru Pop and Richard Toftness will be recognized for the design and engineering of the Phantom family of high-speed cameras for motion picture production. Phantom HD Gold was used in Bud Light, Sunbeam and Samsonite commercials.

Jürgen Noffke will be recognized for the optical design and Uwe Weber for the mechanical design of the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for motion picture photography.

Michael Lewis, Greg Marsden, Raigo Alas and Michael Vellekoop will receive an award for the concept, design and implementation of the Pictorvision Eclipse, an electronically stabilized aerial camera platform. (Used in the 2011CBS Sports’ Masters Golf Tournament telecast.)

Fujifilm Corp., Hideyuki Shirai, Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki and Hiroshi Hirano will receive an award for the design and development of the Fujifilm black and white recording film Eterna-RDS 4791 for use in the archival preservation of film and digital images.

In addition, a Technical Achievement Award will go to Andrew Clinton and Mark Elendt for inventing mico-voxels in the Mantra software, which improved rendering of volumetric effects such as smoke and clouds, the academy said. The creators of the Arrilaser Film Recorder, Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel, will also be honored with an Academy Award of Merit.

The awards will be presented at the academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards event at the Beverly Wilshire on Feb. 11.


James Cameron, scientist-in-chief?

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'Hugo,' 'Tree of Life' among shortlisted films for visual effects Oscar

-– Emily Rome

 Photo: John D. Lowry will be among the honorees for the "Lowry Process," which was used to enhance images in James Cameron's 2009 blockbuster, "Avatar." Credit: WETA / 20th Century Fox.

'Avatar': A pandora's box of brain confusion, headaches?

January 8, 2010 |  5:05 pm


"Avatar" may be dazzling people with its immersive technology, but if you’re one of those people who gets  a headache after seeing it or any other 3-D film, there’s hope —  or, at least, an explanation.

According to Steven Nusinowitz, associate professor at UCLA's Jules Stein Eye Institute, roughly 20% of the population can get eye strain or headaches from watching movies in 3-D. That's because the new 3-D technology can't completely simulate the complex visual system in our brains.

Here’s the basic breakdown: The new 3-D technology works by presenting a different image to each eye  and rapidly switching between the two, as frequently as 140 times per second. "The two eyes are getting separate images,which are then integrated in the brain into three-dimensions," Nusinowitz says.

The problem with that is that in real life, he says, "you're also getting information about depth from the way your eyes converge on a point, how your eyes are pointed at the target. In the movie theater, while they're simulating 3-D, they're not compensating for that by modifying the convergence of the eye. If you don't have that information, your brain gets confused on what it's looking at, and in some cases, that can produce discomfort."

Director James Cameron did try to mitigate the eyestrain factor when making "Avatar"  by working with the new Fusion Camera System, which controls for convergence. "If you're looking at Neyteri [the blue alien inhabited by Zoe Saldana], our convergence will be set on Neyteri. If our focus is on the tree behind Neyteri, our convergence will be on the tree behind Neyteri," says producer Jon Landau, adding that their approach to 3-D was different than the traditional approach. "We didn't want gags coming off the screen. We wanted to create a window into the world for the audience." 

But it only goes so far, as the unfortunate few who wander out of Pandora's visually stunning world with fatigue or headache soon learn. So while Cameron might be king of the world, he's not an ophthalmological pioneer — at least not yet.

"It's not perfect," acknowledges Landau, noting that there are also "limitations in exhibition. And not everybody sees 3-D. It's above 5% of the population that does not. It's a little bit like when people go to a concert. One person wants it louder, and one thinks it's too loud. It's a little subjective."

— Rachel Abramowitz


Beyond Pandora? Jim Cameron talks about an 'Avatar' sequel

James Cameron on 'Avatar': Like 'Matrix,' it opens doorways

LAT REVIEW: 'Avatar' restores a sense of wonder to moviegoing

Photo of Jake Sully's avatar in "Avatar" from WETA/20th Century Fox.


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