Adobe, PIX Celebrate Sci-Tech Oscars

Media & Entertainment Services Alliance (MESA) members Adobe and PIX System were among the honorees at this year’s Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Scientific and Technical Awards presentation, Feb. 9 at the Beverly Wilshire hotel in Beverly Hills, Calif.

PIX won a Technical Achievement Award for its digital rights management (DRM) system.

Noting that PIX was a “pioneer in enabling the review of digital dailies,” Erik Bielefeldt, director of R&D at the company, told MESA Feb. 11: “We were able to provide a secure means of viewing high quality content over the internet using the H264 codec and our purpose built DRM system, even when these technologies were still in their infancy.  This industry leading combination of quality and security led to PIX’s widespread adoption.  We continue to innovate in this area and are looking forward to providing even more products for secure collaboration across the production life-cycle.”

It was an “incredible feeling to be honored with an award like this,” he went on to say, adding: “We are all striving to improve our industry, so receiving an Academy Award for Technical Achievement really makes me proud of the impact we have made. It’s a great opportunity for us to look back at the last 15 years and see what we’ve accomplished, but there’s still a lot of work ahead of us to keep pushing the boundaries forward.”

Being honored with the award for “developing patented DRM technology that has stood the test of time is a true honor and reflects our values,” Joe Harkins, VP of strategy at PIX, told MESA. “We take pride in our service, and the fact that our clients have trusted us with more than 5,000 film and episodic projects from every major studio for more than 15 years, using our system in more than 80 countries around the world, on every type of project imaginable,” he said, noting PIX was focused “exclusively on the high-end film and episodic market with the mission of providing best-in-class products and services.” He added: “The team at PIX has deep domain expertise, and many of us are film industry veterans. Our team is confident in our ability to solve client problems and this hallmark achievement is a good indicator that we are headed in the right direction.”

Noting that, as an engineer, he’s spent his “career creating tools used by the industry,” Craig Wood, PIX technical director, told MESA it was “extraordinarily special to have the lens focus back on us and be recognized and appreciated for the impact of our work.” He called the award an “important milestone,” but said although it was “great to take a moment to reflect on all we have accomplished, it is an exciting time to look forward to the next challenges ahead.”

The PIX System was introduced to the market in 2003 and became “the industry’s most trusted and widely used secure communication and content management solution provider,” according to the company, noting its system “enables creative continuity and reduces project risk by ensuring that ideas are accurately shared, stored, and preserved throughout the entire production process.”

In a press release announcing the award, PIX CEO and founder Eric Dachs said his company was “honored, and humbled beyond words, to be recognized by AMPAS for this technical achievement,” adding “this recognition means a tremendous amount to the entire PIX team.”

PIX’s approach to secure media access has “enabled wide industry adoption, delivering a proven record of contributing significant value” to Hollywood studios including Paramount Pictures, Sony Pictures, Universal Pictures, Walt Disney Studios, Warner Bros. Pictures and streaming service providers Amazon and Netflix, among others, PIX said.

The award recognized Dachs, Bielefeldt and Wood, as well as Paul McReynolds, one of the developers of the system, for the design and development of PIX’s security mechanism for distributing media.

For Adobe, meanwhile, David Simons, Daniel Wilk, James Acquavella, Michael Natkin and David Cotter were awarded for the design and development of After Effects, while Thomas Knoll and John Knoll were awarded for the original architecture, design and development of Photoshop and Mark Hamburg was awarded for his continued development and engineering of Photoshop.

Adobe’s tools have been used extensively by Hollywood over the past 25-plus years, since their respective debuts, the company noted. After Effects has helped create memorable visual effects for films including Blade Runner: 2049, Coco and Jurassic Park, while Photoshop was used for Avatar, Gravity and Forrest Gump, just to name a few from a list of credits that Adobe said “spans pages.”

Several of this year’s Oscar nominees, meanwhile, cut their films on Premiere Pro, according to Adobe, which pointed to Minding the Gap and RBG (each nominated for Best Documentary Feature) and Capernaum (nominated for Best Foreign Language Film).

Calling it a “huge honor” to win the award for After Effects, Simons, fellow at Adobe, told MESA Feb. 11 that it “feels great except for the exclusiveness inherent in only five of us being named.” He explained: “There were so many other worthy folks who contributed too. Being recognized by the Academy for our creation is an honor that we share with everyone involved in the development of After Effects from its earliest days.”

Reflecting back on 1992, when Adobe started building what was to become After Effects, he noted that “motion graphics and visual effects were not accessible to most people” at the time, adding: “We wanted to create a tool that could run on desktop computers, and still give full flexibility to create any moving image you could imagine. Looking back on it, After Effects 1.0 was incredibly simple; the version featured no timeline, no transfer modes, no motion blur, and there was only one effect per layer. But the layer-based system, which Photoshop wasn’t even doing yet, was already there. Combined with composition nesting, keyframes, and plug-in effects, the bones of the After Effects system were set.”

After Effects today serves as “a complete toolset that enables the creation of motion graphics, fictional screen interfaces, titles, and much more,” he pointed out, adding: “We have to credit the team behind Jurassic Parkin 1993, which used our tool to create memorable on-screen animations. (You might remember when the animated man pops up on the computer screen and shakes his finger at Samuel L. Jackson). This was a big breakthrough moment that led us on a path to becoming a staple of post-production in Hollywood.”

It’s just “astounding to see how many films that After Effects has touched over the years, starting with early visual effects breakthroughs like Jurassic Park” to more recent movies including Blade Runner: 2049, he went on to say, adding: “After more than 25 years, our product continues to evolve with the industry.”

Pointing out that the honor he just received from AMPAS represented his first Academy Award, he joked: “At this rate it will be the year 2045 before my next one!” He’s currently working on Adobe Character Animator, which he said “brings character animation to both experts who want to animate faster (even live), and to novices who thought character animation was out of reach.”