2009 Academy Sci & Tech Awards

Oops – I forgot to include Christophe Hery in the point-based color bleeding award below.  This has now been fixed; apologies and congratulations to Christophe.  Many thanks to Margarita Bratkova for pointing out the error!

Last week, the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (most known for its annual Academy Awards, or “Oscars”) announced the winners of it’s 2009 Scientific & Technical Awards.  No Awards of Merit (the highest award level) were given this year – those are the ones that come with an “Oscar” statuette and are shown in the Academy Awards telecast (Renderman and Maya have won Awards of Merit in previous years).

Two computer graphics-related Scientific and Engineering Awards were given this year; these are the second-highest award level and come with a bronze tablet:

  • Per Christensen, Michael Bunnell and Christophe Hery for point-based indirect illumination; an an interesting inversion of usual practice, this fast approximate global illumination / ambient occlusion technique started out as a real-time GPU technique and ended up as an offline rendering CPU technique (first used in Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, it is now a standard part of Pixar’s Renderman).  A recent SIGGRAPH Asia paper describes a closely related technique.
  • Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, John Monos and Mark Sagar for Light Stage and image-based character relighting.  The work done by Paul Debevec and his team at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies on image-based capture and lighting has been hugely influential, resulting in widespread adoption of light probes, multi-exposure HDR image capture, and many other techniques commonly used in games as well as film.

One of the Technical Achievement Awards (the third level, which comes with a certificate) is also of interest to readers of this blog:

  • Hayden Landis, Ken McGaugh and Hilmar Koch for ambient occlusion.  The pioneering work on ambient occlusion for film production was done by these guys at ILM; first publication was at the Renderman in Production course at SIGGRAPH 2002 (the relevant chapter of the course notes can be found here).  Of course, ambient occlusion is heavily used in real-time applications as well.

In an interesting related development, eight separate Scientific and Engineering Awards and two Technical Achievement were given for achievements related to the digital intermediate process (digital scanning and processing of film data), many of them for look-up-table (LUT) based color correction (LUTs have also been used for color correction in games).  The Academy tends to batch up awards in this way for technologies whose “time has come” (two years ago there were a lot of fluid simulation awards).  Given that another of the Technical Achievement Awards was for a motion capture system, we can see how quickly digital technology has come to dominate the film industry.  As recently as 2005, most of the awards were for things like camera systems; this year only one of the awards (for a lens motor system) was for non-digital technology.

Congratulations to all the winners!

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