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Academy celebrates night of the nerds'

February 10, 2015
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BEVERLY HILLS, California Two weeks before the glamour of the Oscars, the film academy hosted its annual 'night of the nerds' honoring software engineers, digital projection innovators and a former sound guy for Frank Zappa and the Kinks who helped modernize movie audio.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized 58 men and one woman for their behind-the-scenes science and technical work, including creation of a camera rig used in 'The Grand Budapest Hotel' and development of software that forms the realistic hair seen in 'Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.'

Actors Miles Teller and Margot Robbie hosted the ceremony on Saturday night in Beverly Hills with a light comedic touch. Robbie, who just completed filming the effects-heavy 'Tarzan,' made a drinking game of the word 'voxels.' Teller, starring as Mr. Fantastic in this summer's 'Fantastic Four' reboot, laughed off his inability to pronounce 'diodes.'

'I have zero technical ability. I don't even know how to rent a movie on iTunes,' said Teller, who most recently starred in the music school drama 'Whiplash,' a best picture nominee at the Academy Awards on Feb. 22.

The academy handed out two actual Oscar statuettes. One went to Dolby executive David W. Gray, the former rock sound engineer who has led that company's surround-sound advancements. The other went to Larry Hornbeck, who in the late 1980s helped invent the optical semiconductor at the heart of most digital projectors.

Hornbeck thanked his father, who 'with only an eighth grade education taught me to ask the question, Why?' and to go out and find the answer.'

Love for movies ran deep in the crowd: Two separate honorees gave shout-outs to sons named Oscar. 'I'll thank all the supervillains and giant monsters that like to destroy stuff,' Ron Fedkiw of Industrial Light and Magic said.

Attendees stood at their dinner tables and gave an extended ovation for the lone woman recognized in a predominantly male industry. Colette Mullenhoff of ILM, who helped develop a 'shape sculpting' system for quickly modifying character animations, got a hug from Robbie and quickly thanked her husband and parents, startled by the attention.

The visual effects world has faced upheaval in recent years, with globalization and fierce competition for work on Hollywood's biggest movies leading to high-profile effects houses downsizing or closing altogether.

DreamWorks Animation software engineers, honored for systems that render trees and other foliage in animated movies like Oscar-nominated 'How To Train Your Dragon 2,' dedicated their award to PDI, the Northern California-based studio shuttered last month in an effort to save costs.

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