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LA411 Listees Honored At Engineering Emmys

John Shaffner, Chairman and CEO of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences kicked off the 61st Prime Time Engineering Emmys celebration by discussing Michelangelo’s knowledge of eggs.

“There’s an enormous collaboration between arts and sciences,” said Shaffner.   “Michelangelo knew that the chemical properties contained in an egg, when introduced to paint, would allow the paint to adhere to the ceiling when he was creating ‘The Last Supper.’  When there is a collaboration of arts and sciences, passion and faith will result.”

The Academy presents Engineering Awards to individuals, companies or scientific/technical organizations “for developments in engineering that are either so extensive an improvement on existing methods or so innovative in nature that they materially affect the transmission, recording or reception of television.”  Prior to each award presentation, a short video was screened that briefly described each recipient’s achievement.


Actor Christopher Knight was host for the evening’s events.  Credited for portraying Peter Brady in “The Brady Bunch,” Knight has been involved with computer technology for the past ten years. He was humbled to be part of the evening’s festivities.

“Very early on, I had an insatiable curiosity of the world around me.  I’ve always been fascinated with science,” said Knight.  “The evening’s award recipients have provided an extensive improvement to television by combining scientific achievements with an art form.”

The first award was presented to Dolby Laboratories, Inc. for the creation of the Dolby DP600 Program Optimizer.  This audio platform is a file-based work-flow system that provides correction, creation, conversion, and up-mixing.  It’s been designed to function with cable, satellite, IPTV, terrestrial TV, radio, and post production facilities.  In addition to audio analysis, automated loudness normalization and encoding, decoding, converting, and transcending between numerous Dolby formats, it also features a newly designed algorithm that allows up-mixing two-channel audio for 5.1 channel delivery.  The DP600 supports most common broadcast media audio formats, providing a smooth transition into file-based work flows.

“We were influenced by file-base and tapeless workflow systems.  We’ve been perfecting the DP600 for the past several decades,” said the Dolby team.  “We are greatly honored to receive this award.”

The evening’s second Emmy went to the Fujinon Precision Focus Assistance System.  In the advent of HD recording and larger screen sizes, focus has become more important than ever before.  The focus assist is a tool built directly into the lens that automatically corrects any focus errors.  Utilizing a feed sent to the viewfinder, the camera can override full auto-focus to manually adjust focal points through the use of a focus handle.

“We have placed the role of focus where it belongs, in the hands of the camera operators,” said Takeshi Higuchi.  “In 1964, development began in Japan with the introduction of HD.  In 1984 we had the first test of the Precision Focus Assist during the Olympic Games, but the technology had not matured to handle a live broadcast,” said Takao Kohoda.  “I am so proud to see the collaboration of Japan and the USA.  I am so proud of all the members of the team, and all they have accomplished.”

An Engineering Plaque was presented to the team behind the Grip Trix Electric Motorized Camera Dolly.  The Engineering Plaque honors “achievements that exhibit a high level of engineering and are important to the progress of the industry.”

The electric dolly utilizes cheeseboards in its construction, allowing a wide range of devices to be mounted to its frame, including jibs and other arms.  Four removable seats fit onto the cart to accommodate the camera crew.  The cart has the same dimensions of a regular dolly, allowing it access into narrow passages.  Time and production dollars are saved because the cart does not require tracks.

“We spent seven years developing the cart,” said Bob Anderson.  “A lot of time was dedicated to perfecting the motor.  Because it runs on electricity, it is silent.  The cart can go up to 35 mph, and operates just like a car.”

Henson’s Digital Puppetry Studio received an Engineering Emmy for its ability to combine puppetry with digital characters in a real time soundstage setting.  Clay models are made and then scanned, creating a computerized puppet.  The puppeteers are then able to control the characters through motion capture suits.  Tracking monitors capture their real time movement, and combine this movement with the digitized puppet.

“This technology has allowed us to keep jobs in Hollywood,” said Brett Nelson.  “All positions with our studio are kept local.  In this challenging climate, innovation is our core value.”

The final Engineering Emmy was presented to Litepanels, Inc., for their LED lighting products.  This award marks the first presentation of an Engineering Emmy for lighting equipment technology.   Litepanels are a low-voltage, low-wattage flat panel lighting fixture that works on batteries.  No cords or power supplies are necessary.  The 3’ panels may be hand-held and do not retain heat, preventing risk of fires and other heat damage.

“You have great color temperature control,” said Rodney Charters (cinematographer, “24”).  “We use them in “24” for every shot made in the CTU headquarters.”


“We’ve used the remote dimming switch as an actor walks towards the camera,” said Jody Eldred (cinematographer, “NCIS”).  “It provides you with the ability to change the lighting color easily.  We use this as a key light in interiors.”

The final award of the evening, the Philo T. Farnsworth Corporate Achievement Award, was presented by actress June Lockhart to NASA.   On hand to receive the honor that was a tribute to the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing and live broadcast from the moon were Richard Nescar and Buzz Aldrin.

Buzz Aldrin began his speech with a joke, lifting up a moderately full glass of water.

“The optimist would say this glass is half full, and the pessimist would say it was half empty.  The engineer would say ‘The glass is too big,’” said Aldrin.  “Scientists don’t make rocket ships go, engineers do.”

“I’m just an engineer with NASA,” said Nescar.  “This is quite an honor to receive.  That moment was a Herculean effort.  At the time, we didn’t know what we could do.  The picture was dark and noisy, but you were able to see Buzz and Neil walk on the surface of the moon.  History appeared live!”