And the Oscar for Best Fake Bruise Goes to . . .

Academy President Sidney Ganis with presenter Jessica Alba at the Scientific and Technical Oscars. Without the work of the honorees, the actress said, her movie
Academy President Sidney Ganis with presenter Jessica Alba at the Scientific and Technical Oscars. Without the work of the honorees, the actress said, her movie "Fantastic Four" would just be "Four." (By Mark J. Terrill -- Associated Press)
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By William Booth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, February 11, 2008

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. -- Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the Scientific and Technical Awards of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, better known as the "Geek Oscars." We're here on the hotel carpet on Saturday night and we can say the air in the ballroom at the Beverly Wilshire is positively charged with electrons as --

Wait! Is that the brain team from Maya Fluid Effects System? The process used to create simulations of gaseous phenomena using an unconditionally stable semi-Lagrangian formula? They sweep into the ballroom like the code-crunching rock stars they are. This year, seriously, fluid dynamics rules.

Without these people, movies would just be actors acting. You might as well go see a play. These are the behind-the-scenes technologists who put the pop in the popcorn for the Effects Revolution. All those explosions, oceans, demons, crashes, wounds and the humans flying? All that smoke and blood? They're not real. These people wrote the software for it all.

But wait! Here come the inventors of the Tiny Foggers, Jorg Pohler and Rudiger Kleinke of Ottec Technology.

Jorg, who are you wearing?

"Excuse me?"

Suddenly the fire marshals appear. They need to inspect Pohler. He is apparently wearing . . . a Tiny Fogger. Inside his tuxedo. Which he turns on later during his partner's acceptance speech. Why the Tiny Fogger, Jorg? Because, the evening's program explains, "this compact, well-engineered and remote-controllable package makes possible a range of safe special effects that would be totally impractical with larger, more conventional fog units."

The advantages could not be more clear: It is tiny. It makes fog. And fog is smoke, and today's movies are filled with smoke. "It's just so fantastic to make fog," Pohler tells us, excitedly. "I had no choice. I had to make it."

Has the Tiny Fogger been employed in any movies we may have seen? Numerous. It even played a starring role -- "with Tom Cruise," says Pohler. There's a scene during the international blockbuster "Mission: Impossible III" when Cruise employs the Tiny Fogger, a device so small it can fit into the palm of his unusually small hands.

As the crowd in formal evening wear swells during the cocktail hour before the ceremonies, Jane Grafton points out her father to us: David A. Grafton, the self-taught genius lens designer ("Blade Runner," "Star Wars") who is the evening's recipient of an Oscar for his lifelong technological contributions to the film industry. "Look," says Jane, "my father is being interviewed by E!" There he is, an octogenarian, blinking in the TV camera lights, holding what appears to be a martini glass. "He has no idea what E! is," says Jane, lovingly. "So it's hilarious."

Richard Edlund, the chairman of the Academy's science and technology committee, which doles out these prizes, tries to put it all in perspective. "Your Stradivarius violin?" We nod, knowingly. "You had to make the Stradivarius before someone could play it. That's what we do. We create the violins. And that's why we have our own special night, which is only slightly less boring than the other Oscars."

It is not boring at all, though the Chilean sea bass needed . . . something. Anyway, the other Oscars (telecast for billions later this month) may draw the movie stars, but this is the Oscars where the winners thank not their agents but their "cubicle neighbors," their hot girlfriends and their professors, some of whom flew here from Japan. Winning for the software from Digital Domain that made the splashes look real in the "Pirates of the Caribbean" series, Doug Roble says, "I'd like to thank the fluid community."


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© 2008 The Washington Post Company

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