A look at the more than seven decades of Scientific and Technical Awards shows that today’s tech marvels become tomorrow’s status quo. Here are a few of the most significant past winners.
1952: Eastman Kodak color negative film
The older Technicolor process required heavy, mechanically complex cameras that shot three strips of film—one each for red, green and blue. Kodak’s revolutionary single-strip film could be loaded into machines that weighed a fraction as much. The first feature-film usage was in the 1952 western The Lion and the Horse. By 1955, Technicolor cameras were extinct.
1964: Color traveling matte compositing
Shoot a scenic backdrop; shoot an actor against a blue screen; use red filters to create positive and reverse silhouettes of the actor; combine the four layers to create a single image. That’s blue-screening. The technique, also known as traveling matte compositing, has been a cornerstone of effects work since its award-winning debut, facilitating effects including the sky-biking in E.T. , the speeder-chasing in Return of the Jedi and the barnstorming in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.
Rocky’s signature shot of Sylvester Stallone jogging up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art would have been hopelessly bouncy without this invention. The Steadicam’s breakthrough was a balanced, articulated arm—with a motorized stabilizing system of hinges, springs and pulleys—that attached to the camera operator’s vest.
1984: Computer graphics
When the Academy awarded a modest Sci-Tech plaque to digital-graphics pioneers John Whitney, Jr., and Gary Demos “for the practical simulation of motion-picture photography by means of computer-generated images,” you don’t sense that its members knew the magnitude of what was to come. Whitney and Demos contributed to such trailblazing CG projects as Tron (1982) and The Last Starfighter (1984). The Last Starfighter, the first feature film to make use of photorealistic computer graphic images, contained a full 27 minutes of CG effects produced with the help of a Cray XMP supercomputer at a cost of $14 million. Pixar’s short animated films of the late 1980s and Jurassic Park in 1993—the projects that the public associates with ushering in the CG era—were still years away.
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.