SMPTE®, the organization whose standards work has supported a century of advances in entertainment technology and whose membership spans the globe, today announced that SMPTE Life Fellow Jonathan Erland, a pioneering visual effects technologist, has been awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer Award by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS). During the Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation, held Feb. 10 in Beverly Hills, Erland was presented with an Honorary Award (an Oscar® statuette) recognizing his technological contributions to the industry.
“Through his ongoing leadership and his extensive R&D work, Jon has had a tremendous impact not just on visual effects technology, but on the motion-imaging field as a whole,” said SMPTE Executive Director Barbara Lange. “We congratulate him on yet another well-deserved honor from the Academy.”
Erland studied both theater and film as a young man and helped build the Charles Eames-designed audio-animatronic puppet theaters for the IBM pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. This experience made him a good fit for Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), newly founded at the time by John Dykstra, and Erland applied his knowledge to ILM’s visual effects work for “Star Wars.” Continuing his work with Dykstra, Erland subsequently served as director of research and development for Apogee Productions, where he received patents for a reverse bluescreen traveling matte process, the Blue-Max High-Power Flux Projector, and a method for making front projection screens.
In 1993, Erland and his wife, Kay, founded Composite Components Company, which specializes in traveling matte composite technology. The pair earned a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy for its Digital Series™ of traveling matte backings, which features the now ubiquitous Digital Green®.
Since he joined AMPAS in 1984, Erland has held many leadership roles within the Academy. He served as chairman of the Visual Effects Award Steering Committee and, in 1995, established visual effects as a branch of the Academy. He has served on the Academy Board of Governors, the Executive Committee of the Visual Effects Branch, the Scientific and Engineering Awards Committee, the AMPAS Student Academy Awards Committee, the Foreign Films Committee, and he was a founding member not only of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures Committee, but also the Academy Science and Technology (Sci-Tech) Council, for which he served on the Executive Committee and chaired both the Research Committee and the Solid State Light Subcommittee. His proposal for a power-based index, now known as the Spectral Similarity Index (SSI), is in the early stages of industry evaluation.
Erland was also a founder of the Visual Effects Society (VES), for which he has served as director, membership chair, and member of the Technology Committee. In 2006, the VES awarded him its inaugural Founder’s Award. Four years later, Erland — along with Douglas Trumbull and Dennis Muren — became the first VES Fellows.
Erland has authored some 20 technical papers for SMPTE, and in 1993 he served as program chair for the SMPTE Technical Conference. He has received the Society’s Journal Award and the Fuji Gold Medal, as well as other prestigious awards including an Academy Award of Commendation for “his leadership efforts toward identifying and solving the problem of High-Speed Emulsion Stress Syndrome in motion picture film stock” and the John A. Bonner Medal of Commendation, which recognizes “outstanding service and dedication in upholding the high standards of the Academy.”
Erland’s latest endeavor is the nonprofit Pickfair Institute for Cinematic Studies (pickfairinstitute.org), which conducts research and produces educational materials and lectures on the history, technology, and advancement of cinema. The Institute’s initial projects include the use of current digital cinema projection to provide for the digital projection of archive films, as well as the Creative Frame Rate (CFR) Project, which demonstrates how high-frame-rate (HFR) capture and temporal oversampling provide for resampling at various frame rates. This work opens up tremendous possibilities for the return of the silent era’s creative frame rates and for their addition to the artistic palette of today’s cinematographer.