Alumni and Academy Awards

Several alumni have connections to Oscar-winning films

FrozenAnd the Oscar goes to…As the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rolls out the red carpet for the 87th Academy Awards ceremony Feb. 22, a select group of people involved in the nominated films—from directors and actors to designers, camera developers, and software engineers—anticipates the opening of the envelopes naming the winners. The following alumni have experienced the excitement of learning that a project they worked on received one of the highest honors in filmmaking.

Michael Weissman ’10 was part of the team that produced the film Frozen, which won the 2014 Oscar for Best Animated Feature Film. Weissman, a computer science and EMAC major at Rensselaer, joined Walt Disney Animation Studios immediately after graduation. After spending two years in the technology department, where he worked on Tangled, Winnie the Pooh, and Wreck it Ralph, he became a jack-of-all-trades for Frozen, recording voice actors, adding sound effects, and helping with technological hurdles. His next assignment was assistant editor on Big Hero 6, which opened in November.

When the filmmakers of Academy Award winner Slumdog Millionaire wanted to use lightweight handheld cameras to film their action scenes, they chose SI-2K digital cinema cameras created by Silicon Imaging, a company founded by Ari Presler ’87. So impressed were the filmmakers with the cameras that they used them for nearly 60 percent of the filming. The movie took home eight Oscars in 2009, including Best Picture and Best Cinematography. Presler, who majored in electrical, computer, and systems engineering at Rensselaer, founded Silicon Imaging Inc. in 2000.

Roy Hall ’74 received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award in 1998 for his principal engineering efforts that led to the Wavefront Advanced Visualizer computer graphics system. According to the Academy citation, “The Wavefront system was the first commercial software package for modeling, animating, and rendering computer-generated elements and scenes that was adopted into widespread use to create digital images with sufficient quality for theatrical motion pictures.” Hall, who earned bachelor’s degrees in building science, civil engineering, and architecture at Rensselaer, is co-founder and chief technology officer at Thetus Corporation.

Carl Ludwig ’66, who started his career as an electrical engineer for NASA, co-founded computer animation pioneer Blue Sky Studios in 1986, at a time when the idea of a feature film made only with computers didn’t exist. He was one of the main developers of CGI Studio, which became the most advanced rendering software used in production. After producing innovative computer animation for advertising, Blue Sky produced Bunny, which won the 1998 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. Blue Sky went on to produce such successful full-length feature films as Ice Age and its sequels, Robots, and Rio.