Nineteen computer engineers, wire-mounted camera developers and other technicians reveled in a rare spotlight Saturday at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' annual ceremony focused on the latter part of its name.
Honorees at what's known as the Sci-Tech Oscars noted the strange feeling of celebrating work that when done right is mostly invisible to movie audiences.
"They don't see what we do," said John Frazier, who helped design the NAC servo winch system that pulls vehicles through the air on wires for blockbuster stunts. "This is what makes 47 years (in the industry) worthwhile."
Actress Marisa Tomei hosted the ceremony, handing out plaques and certificates - but no Oscar statuettes - to winners from the U.S., Australia, New Zealand and France. Wearing a white Ferre dress with black band accents, Tomei gave cheek kisses to winners and won praise for her pronunciation of phrases like "interposer layer."
"What you have to say tonight is harder than what we do," joked Cablecam co-developer Alex MacDonald.
Six attendees received certificates for their work on render queue management systems, which allow visual effects houses to efficiently process large amounts of data. This prompted Tomei to create a drinking game for the dinner ceremony guests: "Every time (I say) 'queue,' take a shot," she joked.
David Laur of Pixar wondered optimistically about what would come after Academy recognition.
"It's certainly true that nobody grows up to say 'I want to be a queuing systems engineer," he told the audience. "Now there'll be action figures."
Not that technology doesn't already play a starring role in many films.
Mark Sagar of Weta Digital, honored for his innovations in facial motion capture, said he's now working on Steven Spielberg's "The Adventures of Tintin" and "Rise of the Apes" starring James Franco.
"We're getting to the point where we can make a digital character act almost as well as the human counterpart," he said. "We're able to capture more and more of what they're doing. So we can get their performance across really truthfully."
In attendance was veteran producer Walter Mirisch, who co-hosted the very first Sci-Tech Awards ceremony in 1975 alongside Gregory Peck, as well as Feb. 27 Oscars producers Bruce Cohen and Don Mischer.