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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp attends the Class of 1972 50-year reunion in Kyle Field on April 20, 2022.
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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
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The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Award ceremony honors tech strides in film making

While most of the Oscar season’s focus fell on Sunday’s events, a lesser-known ceremony two weeks ago awarded those who pushed filmmaking technology beyond its frontiers.
The Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards were given out Feb. 7 to highlight the individuals who develop the technology that much of cinema relies upon.
Tim McLaughlin, head of the department of visualization at Texas A&M, previously worked at Lucasfilm and Industrial Light & Magic. McLaughlin said the Oscars remind watchers of the interplay between technology such as VFX, or visual effects, and cinema.
“There’s a reason they’re called the Academy for motion picture art and ‘sciences,’” McLaughlin said. “On the one hand you have the movie ‘Birdman’ that looks like it was shot in one single take, made possible by VFX, and then you have the Avengers movies. So there’s a spectrum of movies that lie between the ones that use VFX to aid storytelling and the ones whose stories are pretty much based on VFX entirely.”
From collaborative efforts between scientists and filmmakers that led to the discovery of the most accurate black hole model to date in “Interstellar,” to ground-breaking technological advancements in film-projection such as IMAX, Hollywood has never been shy to reach out to tech wizards.
“There are hundreds of scientists and engineers at major movie studios today [who] base their work on the research carried out of universities such as ours, and come up with the most economical software or gadget that meets their requirement,” McLaughlin said.
Throughout cinema history, movies have often sparked the interest of scientists and engineers to copy the technologies showcased on screen. The hoverboards and self-tying shoelaces from the “Back to the Future” series continue to inspire inventors. A kickstarter project raised over $500 thousand dollars December 2014 to make the “Back to the Future” skateboard and other technologies like self-driving google cars made their silver screen debut decades ago.
Additionally, a large part of engineering has gone into addressing film production challenges over the last century, such as the ‘Dolly cam’ in 1907 and the ‘Steady cam’ in 1976.
From Chroma key compositing — better known as the ‘GreenScreen’ technology — in the 1930’s to today’s outdoor motion capture technology, these scientific advancements have not only helped bring a storyteller’s imagination to life but also gone on to develop tech gadgets for the general public, such as the “Color Predictor,” an iTune app that helps filmmakers predict the interaction of lights, camera and a photographed object.
Any discussion on the technological aspects of the movie making business is incomplete without talking about CGI – bread and butter for many of the blockbuster studio movies today.
“At the beginning there were maybe four or five directors who really pursued this emerging trend of computer graphics,” said Ergun Akleman, a professor at the department of visualization at A&M, whose students have gone on to work for companies such as PIXAR or startup digital rendering businesses like Splutterfish. “These people own CG companies that generate the visual effects you see in their films. George Lucas, Peter Jackson, James Cameron, they have pushed this industry to a new level.”

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