Inventors have their own Oscars: The Sci-Tech Awards

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In this still image from a video posted on YouTube, an engineer demonstrates how an innovation called Stop Motion Animator can be used in filmmaking. (Oscars.Org video via YouTube)
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In this still image from a video posted on YouTube, an engineer demonstrates how an innovation called Stop Motion Animator can be used in filmmaking. (Oscars.Org video via YouTube)
Updated 08 February 2018
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Inventors have their own Oscars: The Sci-Tech Awards

LOS ANGELES: Engineers and inventors who create innovations for the movie business have their own Academy Awards.
Presented since 1931, the film academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards recognize engineering and design achievements that have had a lasting influence on the art of filmmaking, from newfangled camera rigs to advanced computer software that makes animated renderings more precise.
“The academy tries to recognize cleverness and the things that change the movies,” said Doug Roble, creative director of software at Digital Domain and vice-chair of the academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards committee.
Since 1977, these prizes have been awarded at a dinner ceremony ahead of the Academy Awards. The private, untelevised event is generally hosted by a celebrity or two, who often struggle to explain the inventions being honored.
This year’s ceremony, set for Saturday, will be hosted by Patrick Stewart.
The Sci-Tech Awards, as they are colloquially known, comprise certificates, plaques and Oscar statuettes. Unlike the Academy Awards, Sci-Tech prizes aren’t for the previous year’s work. Inventions aren’t generally considered for Sci-Tech Awards until they’ve been used in various productions, Roble said.
“We take the long view,” he said. “We are awarding software or hardware or engineering that has stood the test of time... One of the things we look for is adoption of the technology beyond just the people who created it.”
All kinds of game-changing inventions are eligible for consideration.
“Last year we gave a mechanical horse puppet a Sci-Tech Award,” Roble said.
The creation makes it easier to film scenes on “horseback,” for both the performer and director. But it’s not just a hydraulic marvel.
“It had to be horsey enough that the horses around the actor will accept it,” Roble said, adding that the puppet has a tail that swishes back and forth. It was used in 2015’s “The Revenant,” among other films.
Other inventions that have been recognized include a pump device that helps flip cars in action films and software (created by Roble) that digitized certain shots of food that were previously done with practical effects.
This year’s awardees include an advanced camera rig mount that makes aerial shots easier and several software developments critical to modern animated movies.
The Presto and Premo character animation systems allow artists to see their fully rendered characters interact with other characters in real time. The old process was far less detailed and way more time consuming, Roble said.
“The technology these guys built is just beautiful, and it’s optimized to take full advantage of the latest hardware,” he said, adding that it’s been used in Pixar and DreamWorks Animation productions.
Three Oscar statuettes will be presented Saturday as well, with two of them recognizing the Houdini visual effects and animation system.
“It has become the de-facto standard for doing visual effects at studios,” Roble said. “It’s like a Photoshop for destruction.”
Where Photoshop allows users to manipulate images, Houdini allows them to manipulate three-dimensional objects. Artists can program specific details that are then extrapolated out to entire structures or scenes.
It’s this technology that created the warped buildings in Marvel’s “Doctor Strange” and galactic destruction in “Rogue One.”
The program’s pioneer, Mark Elendt, and the company he works for, Side Effects Software, will each receive the Academy Award of Merit, an Oscar statuette. Visual effects artist Jonathan Erland will receive the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette for his career contributions that include pioneering effects for “Star Wars” in 1977 and “Star Trek” two years later.
Roble noted that the innovations recognized with the film academy’s Sci-Tech Awards all share one thing in common: “This is all in service of art.”


Postman, shopper, builder: In Japan, there’s a robot for that

Updated 18 October 2018
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Postman, shopper, builder: In Japan, there’s a robot for that

  • CarriRo “is designed to roll along the pavements and direct itself via GPS to an address within a two-kilometer radius,” explained Chio Ishikawa, from Sumitomo Corp, which is promoting the robot
  • The lucky recipient of the package is sent a code to a smartphone allowing him or her to access CarriRo’s innards and retrieve whatever is inside — post, medicine or a take-away

TOKYO: Forget the flashy humanoids with their gymnastics skills: at the World Robot Summit in Tokyo, the focus was on down-to-earth robots that can deliver post, do the shopping and build a house.
Introducing CarriRo, a delivery robot shaped a bit like a toy London bus with bright, friendly “eyes” on its front that can zip around the streets delivering packages at 6km/h (4 miles per hour).
CarriRo “is designed to roll along the pavements and direct itself via GPS to an address within a two-kilometer radius,” explained Chio Ishikawa, from Sumitomo Corp, which is promoting the robot.
The lucky recipient of the package is sent a code to a smartphone allowing him or her to access CarriRo’s innards and retrieve whatever is inside — post, medicine or a take-away.
Services like this are especially needed in aging Japan. With nearly 28 percent of the population over 65, mobility is increasingly limited and the country is struggling for working-age employees.
Toyota’s HSR (Human Support Robot) may not be an oil painting to look at — standing a meter tall, it looks like a bin with arms — but it can provide vital help for the aged or handicapped at home.
Capable of handling and manoeuvring a variety of objects, it also provides a key interface with the outside world via its Internet-connected screen for a head.
Japan’s manpower shortage is felt especially keenly in the retail and construction sectors and firms at the summit were keen to demonstrate their latest solutions.
Omron showcased a robot that can be programmed to glide around a supermarket and place various items into a basket. Possibly useful for a lazy — or infirm — shopper but more likely to be put to use in a logistics warehouse.
Japan also has difficulty finding staff to stack shelves at its 55,000 convenience stores open 24/7 and here too, robots can fill the gap.
With buildings going up at breakneck pace as Tokyo prepares to welcome the world for the 2020 Olympics, there are construction sites all over the city but not always enough people to work them.
Enter HRP-5P. The snappily named, humanoid-shaped machine certainly has the look of a brawny builder, at 182cm tall and weighing in at 101 kilogrammes.
And HRP-5P is designed to carry out the same construction tasks that humans currently perform — even when left to its own devices.
HRP-5P “can use the same tools as a man, which is why we gave it the shape of a human — two legs, two arms and a head,” explained one of its creators, Kenji Kaneko from the National Advanced Industrial Science and Technology research facility.
Manufacturers were also promoting the latest in talking robots, which are becoming increasingly “intelligent” in their responses.
Sharp’s Robohon, a cute-as-pie humanoid robot standing only 20 centimeters tall, has been employed since last month to recount to tourists the history of the ancient Imperial capital of Kyoto — in English, Japanese or Chinese.
And very popular among Japanese visitors to the World Robot Summit was a robot replica of Tetsuko Kuroyanagi, one of the country’s top TV stars.
Created in collaboration with Japanese robotics master Hiroshi Ishiguro, the robot replicates the 85-year-old’s facial expressions almost perfectly but conversation with the machine hardly flows.
“The difficulty is being able to create fluid conversations with different people,” said Junji Tomita, engineer at telecoms giant NTT which is also involved in the project.
“The number of possible responses to an open question is so vast that it is very complicated,” admitted Tomita.