Big year for graphics in the Academy’s Science and Technical Awards

Maxon gets its first award, Adobe stacks up a few more; motion graphics gets the spotlight.

The Academy Awards have been announced and now the jockeying for position has begun, but all the deciding has been done for Academy’s Science and Technical Awards and the usual suspects welcome a new entrant to the ranks. Maxon’s Cinema 4D has been recognized for the first time by the Academy. Edwards was awarded an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Scientific and Technical Achievement Academy Award for his work developing Cinema 4D’s MoGraph tools, which has been increasingly and widely used for special effects.

Unlike the Academy Awards, the awards for science and technology are decided by a committee and the awards are not necessarily given for technology introduced during the year. According to the Academy “the achievements must demonstrate a proven record of contributing significant value to the process of making motion pictures.”

Often it’s quite clear that appreciation for a technology tends to grow over the years and so it may take time for the significance of a technique or technology advance to be recognized. That’s what seems to have happened in the case of Per-Anders Edwards work in the development of Maxon’s MoGraph, which was introduced in 2006. It also doesn’t hurt that Cinema 4D’s Mograph has been used to create some spectacular work in Academy recognized films including Blade Runner 2049, The Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One, and Black Panther.

MAXON Cinema 4D General Showreel 2018.

The Academy Awards are often won by the same organizations over and over and this year there were plenty of familiar names, but it seems the award committee was looking at foundational technology quite a bit this year. Motion Graphics is a good example. Motion Graphics came along with film animation and blossomed with the first wave of digital content creation. We’re so comfortable with motion graphics in all its forms that sometimes we don’t even see it. This award serves as a reminder, to this writer at least, of the incredible variation and innovation that’s made possible by digital content creation tools. In the case of the award for Edwards, MoGraph is called out for its use in creating title designs, and fictional user interfaces in motion pictures.

Motion Graphics lie at the heart of the award given to David Simons, Daniel Wilk, James Acquavella, Michael Natkin, and David Cotter for the development of Adobe After Effects for motion graphics. It’s interesting and even relevant, I think, that Cinema 4D and Adobe have a history of working together in motion effects. After Effects for 3D motion effects. The two companies have helped push the technology forward especially with Cinema 4D’s ability to take Adobe After Effects deeper into 3D. Now, Adobe is determinedly headed in that direction on its own as well.

Also, Thomas Knoll and John Knoll won an award for the original architecture, design, and development of Photoshop and Mark Hamburg was recognized for his continued development and engineering of Adobe Photoshop.

Nine Awards were given out this year’s ceremony in Los Angeles

In all, the committee is recognizing nine technologies and is giving the John A. Bonner Award to cinematographer Curtis Clark. For some reason, the publicity around these awards flies past this year’s Bonner Award winner and it’s too bad. Cinematographers are on the front lines of cinema technology, and with all the advances in digital, it might seem sometimes that they are being left behind.

Curtis Clark has no intention of being left behind, or of leaving it all to happen somewhere in Post. He has been helping prepare the way for HDR and UHD through his work as chairman of the ASC MITC (American Society of Cinematographers Motion Imaging Technology) since 2002. The award is not given every year, but the timing this year is very good for recognizing the work of Clark who has helped define standards for color as the industry enters the era of ultra-high definition. This work puts cinematographers because it is their job to be sure the widest range of color be captured in order to give the colorists all the room they need to work in UHD. This interview published in British Cinematographer gives more detail about Curtis’ work.

Obviously, it wasn’t all about motion graphics either. Awards were also given for work done in motion capture and facial capture. Charles Loop was recognized for research and development of subdivision surfaces. Loop published his paper Smooth Subdivision Surfaces Based on Triangles in 1987 at the University of Utah. (Thank you Wikipedia.)

The list of the Science and Technology Awards follows:

Technical Achievement Awards

  • To Eric Dachs, Erik Bielefeldt, Craig Wood, and Paul McReynolds for the design and development of the PIX System’s novel security mechanism for distributing media.

PIX System’s robust approach to secure media access has enabled wide adoption of their remotely collaborative dailies-review system by the motion picture industry.

  • To Per-Anders Edwards for the initial design and development of the MoGraph toolset in Cinema 4D for motion graphics.

MoGraph provides a fast, non-destructive and intuitive workflow for motion designers to create animated 3D graphics, as used for title design and fictional user interfaces in motion pictures.

  • To Paul Miller for the software design, principal engineering, and continued innovation, and to Marco Paolini for the efficient, artist-friendly workflow design of the Silhouette rotoscope and paint system.

Silhouette provides a comprehensive solution for painting, rotoscoping, and image manipulation of high-resolution image sequences. Its fast, scalable, and extensible architecture has resulted in wide adoption in motion picture post-production.

  • To Paul Debevec, Tim Hawkins, and Wan-Chun Ma for the invention of the Polarized Spherical Gradient Illumination facial appearance capture method, and to Xueming Yu for the design and engineering of the Light Stage X capture system.

Polarized Spherical Gradient Illumination was a breakthrough in facial capture technology allowing shape and reflectance capture of an actor’s face with sub-millimeter detail, enabling the faithful recreation of hero character faces. The Light Stage X structure was the foundation for all subsequent innovation and has been the keystone of the method’s evolution into a production system.

  • To Thabo Beeler, Derek Bradley, Bernd Bickel, and Markus Gross for the conception, design, and engineering of the Medusa Performance Capture System.

Medusa captures exceptionally dense animated meshes without markers or makeup, pushing the boundaries of visual fidelity and productivity for character facial performances in motion pictures.

  • To Charles Loop for his influential research on the fundamental scientific properties of subdivision surfaces as 3D geometric modeling primitives.

Loop’s 1987 master’s thesis, “Smooth Subdivision Surfaces Based on Triangles,” together with his subsequent research and publications, extended the theory of subdivision surfaces and inspired further development of methods that transformed the way digital artists represent 3D geometry throughout the motion picture industry.

Scientific and Engineering Awards

  • To David Simons, Daniel Wilk, James Acquavella, Michael Natkin, and David Cotter for the design and development of the Adobe After Effects software for motion graphics.

After Effects’ pioneering use of consumer hardware to host an application that is extensible, efficient and artist-focused has made it the preeminent motion graphics tool in film production, allowing motion designers to create complex animated elements for title design, screen graphics, and fictional user interfaces.

  • To Thomas Knoll and John Knoll for the original architecture, design, and development, and to Mark Hamburg for his continued development and engineering of Adobe Photoshop.

Photoshop’s efficient, extensible architecture, innovative virtual-memory design, and powerful layering system introduced a new level of user interactivity, which led to its adoption as the preferred artistic tool for digital painting and image manipulation across the motion picture industry.

  • To Ed Catmull for the original concept, and to Tony DeRose and Jos Stam for their pioneering advancement of the underlying science of subdivision surfaces as 3D geometric modeling primitives.

Their creation of essential geometric operations and sustained research on the fundamental mathematics of subdivision surfaces helped transform the way digital artists represent 3D geometry throughout the motion picture industry.


“What is Motion Design?” from Motion Plus Design, a French organization founded in 2011 to promote and recognize
the art of Motion Design. 

What do we think?

You can see what I mean by usual suspects. Do the Knolls win an award every year? It’s just as amazing to ponder how relevant Photoshop is. It is still a basic tool in every artists’ tool bag.

Interesting as well is the attention paid to subdivision technology all the way back to the work of Charles Loop in 1987 and up through Pixar’s extension of Loop’s work. The mid-80s was a big bang period for computer graphics. It was a time when the many major CAD companies came into being as well as Alias Research and Wavefront.

But it’s not all about the technology, it’s what is done with it and in that sense, we’re experiencing another big bang as all the swell technology of the mid-eighties is being used in every single area of entertainment and design.