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Sci-Tech Awards: Oscars Sans Glitz

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Sci-Tech Awards: Oscars Sans Glitz

Sci-Tech Awards: Oscars Sans Glitz

Sci-Tech Awards: Oscars Sans Glitz

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Two weeks before the televised Academy Awards come the Sci-Tech Awards. They're also given by the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, but few celebrities attend and they're not what you'd call glamorous.


Oscar night comes early for Hollywood's technological masters. This evening at the red carpet gala of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present its scientific and technical Academy Awards. Now, these winners don't get attention from the paparazzi. And for many of them, that's just fine.

Gloria Hillard reports.

(Soundbite of Oscar fashion show)

GLORIA HILLARD: This is about as close as you can get to Oscar glamour on a Tuesday morning in Hollywood, the annual Oscar fashion show at the Academy Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

(Soundbite of Oscar fashion show)

HILLARD: And it was all pretty exciting - the stylists, the sequins. But my story was upstairs with Rich Miller, the producer of the Scientific and Technical Academy Awards. At that event, fashion is not a big priority.

Mr. RICH MILLER (Producer, Scientific and Technical Academy Awards): I mean everybody is in tuxedos and the women are in formal wear. Most of the people that attend the Sci-Tech don't go down the Rodeo Drive and get free gowns to wear for the evening. They're wearing their own.

HILLARD: Now, once a upon a time, the Sci-Tech honorees got to sit right beside their more celebrated colleagues at the Academy Awards dinner. But when the ceremony started to be televised, the science and technology winners were handed their awards during the commercial break.

Mr. MILLER: They'd run them out onto the stage and (unintelligible) a commercial and they'd shove them all off.

HILLARD: In recent years, the Academy has been presenting a short clip from the awards dinner on Oscar's telecast. But as with last year's show, there's usually a joke involved.

(Soundbite of Oscar telecast)

Mr. JON STEWART (Host): Two weeks ago, the Academy's scientific and technical award ceremony was held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. I understand that it is still going on.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MILLER: Yes, I mean - I totally understand that the Academy Awards show is catering to a different audience than the Scientific and Technical show.

HILLARD: Show producer Rich Miller.

Mr. MILLER: I think it's nice that the Academy has at least - you know, acknowledges that movies would not be made and enjoyed the way they are today without these guys that invent all these wonderful machines and contraptions.

HILLARD: Two of those guys are Albert Ridilla and Papken Shahbazian of the Hollywood Film Company. They helped create something called the Brumagic MPST Densitometer. At first glance it doesn't look at impressive. It's beige and the size of a small printer, but Ridilla says what it does is measure the density and chemistry of film.

Mr. ALBERT RIDILLA (Co-Creator, Brumagic MPST Densitometer): To the layman it would be related to contrast, the difference between black and white, and every scale in between. And that's as simple as you can make it.

HILLARD: To be honest, I still didn't understand, but I'm certain those at the award show dinner will. Now, instead of an Oscar for the mantle, Sci-Tech honorees receive a plaque or certificate. Still, for first-time winners Shahbazian and Ridilla, it's a great honor.

Mr. PAPKEN SHAHBAZIAN (Co-Creator, Brumagic MPST Densitometer): On behalf of the company, we are very happy to have this award.

Mr. RIDILLA: Yeah, the same. It's a very - very nice to be recognized.

HILLARD: There is one Sci-Tech award that does come with a gold-plated Oscar statuette. It's in recognition for lifetime achievement. And this year that Oscar goes to Ray Feeney.

Now, as moviegoer you may not be familiar with some of Feeney's contributions like software implementation of ultimate blue screen composting technology, but it made a big splash in the film "Terminator 2," creating a new believability and wow factor for audiences.

Feeney keeps a toy model of the Terminator in his office, along with hundreds of other familiar 10-inch plastic characters.

Mr. RAY FEENEY (Sci-Tech Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient): From "Star Trek" through "X-Men" and "Power Rangers" and "Ghostbusters" and "Batman" and "Star Wars," of course. So with the variety of most just about everything we would see here, we're all from various projects that one way or another we helped outfit the studios that were doing the work.

HILLARD: Feeney says he takes a lot of pride in helping directors to tell their stories. And when it comes to receiving his first Oscar?

Mr. FEENEY: I'm greatly honored and somewhat terrified by the prospects of receiving this award.

HILLARD: There's only one thing that has the former Cal-Tech engineer stumped: his acceptance speech. Show producer Rich Miller says unlike his counterpart at the 79th Annual Academy Awards, he's not concerned about long-winded winners.

Mr. MILLER: To be honest, a lot of the acceptance speeches in Sci-Tech, there's more of a problem of them being too short sometimes.

HILLARD: Unlike those taking the stage on Oscar's big night out, the Sci-Tech winners tend to be more comfortable on the other side of the camera.

For NPR News, I'm Gloria Hillard

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