Makers of Cranes, Illusions take home first Oscars

PASADENA, Calif. - Actress Scarlett Johansson handed out the first Oscar statuettes of the 77th Annual Academy Awards to movie engineers at the weekend while gamely slogging though complex descriptions of inventions she admitted she did not quite comprehend.

Among those honored were the man who created "bluescreen" technology that allowed actors to be placed in locations they were nowhere near, and engineers who made camera cranes more mobile and improved wide-screen cinematography.

The Academy also honored the inventors of 11 other devices, including lights, audio systems, special effects makeup and animation software.

From the start of the black-tie gala in Pasadena, California, Johansson warned attendees about the perils of the jargon-laden script she was reading from a TelePrompter.

"You need to stay alert in the first part of the evening or you'll be lost forever," she said. "The words are coming out of my mouth but I'm just not processing them."

"All you really need to know is it makes it sound better," Steven Boze later told her as he accepted an award for creating a device that removes unwanted noise from soundtracks.

The audience of mostly engineers and mathematicians seemed to startle Johansson at one point, by applauding during her lengthy description of motion-capture technology used in films like "Polar Express" and "I, Robot" to mimic human movements.

"Wow. It's a real crowd pleaser," she said.

UP AND COMING

Johansson, 20, won widespread notice for her breakout role in 2003's "Lost in Translation." She is one of a number of younger actresses the Academy has tapped in recent years to host the technical Oscars, including Jennifer Garner, Kate Hudson and Charlize Theron.

The night's big winners were the men who designed and built the Louma Camera Crane and Technocrane systems, which put cameras in places where their operators could not easily go, and helped capture complex action sequences.

Horst Burbulla developed the Technocrane telescoping crane and introduced it to Steven Spielberg, who first used it in the 1981 action-adventure film "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

The team of Jean-Marie Lavalou, Alain Masseron and David Samuelson developed the Louma Camera Crane system in 1978 to replace heavy and slow-moving fixed-length cranes that were used on movie sets to capture high-angle shots.

The Academy gave the Gordon E. Sawyer Award to Panavision engineer Takuo Miyagishima, who, in his nearly 50-year career, invented a series of camera lenses, including one that enhanced the cinematography of wide-screen formats.

Former Eastman Kodak engineer Arthur Widmer was honored for a lifetime of cinematic achievements, including his invention of "bluescreen" compositing technology that first combined actors on soundstages with pre-filmed backgrounds.

One of the first films to use the technique was "The Old Man and the Sea" starring Spencer Tracy in 1958.

- REUTERS

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