BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. At the first Academy Award presentations of the year, 20 computer geeks graciously accepted honors for their work on particle flow simulation technology stuff that makes water scenes in the movies look more realistic.
With an end to the writers strike in sight, and the prospect of a reassuringly stylish Oscars ceremony on the minds of most everyone in the industry, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts kept its Scientific and Technical Awards dinner Saturday night as charmingly unglamorous as ever. A magician provided the pre-meal entertainment, Jessica Alba showed up to present the awards and be gawked at and nerddom was held up as something to celebrate.
"Fluid effects rock and all of us who work in fluids know this," one honoree, Nafees Bin Zafar, said earnestly.
With all the writing for the show done by an Academy administrator who isn't part of the Writers Guild, picket lines were nowhere to be seen. And though the three-month walkout by Hollywood writers wasn't mentioned once by awards winners, Academy President Sid Ganis was giddy before the meal over prospects for a settlement over the weekend and a green light for a full-fledged Oscar ceremony Feb. 24.
Organizers had been forced to prepare for two Oscar shows one with writers and stars and one without.
"Hopefully, I'll be getting a call on my cell phone from those who are involved in all this," Ganis said. "If we have a go, then I'll call (telecast producer) Gil (Cates) right away. ... I can't wait. I so hope we can say 'Plan A."'
Alba was visibly pregnant in a frilly gray dress as she nimbly picked her way through a script laden with difficult technical references like "semi-Lagrangian" (it's a mathematical process used in special-effects software that simulates gas clouds).
The star of "The Eye" was the subject of several awkward sidelong glances from winners, all but one of whom were male.
"For a computer geek like me, it's really sexy to hear Jessica talk about stable, semi-Lagrangian fluid flows," quipped Duncan Brinsmead of Autodesk, a developer of the tools for visual effects.
"They said I got 60 seconds so I might just spend the last 15 realizing I'm 10 feet away from the most beautiful woman on the planet," said Ron Fedkiw, a Stanford University associate professor and consultant to Industrial Light and Magic on fluid simulation. "And no restraining order this time."
Other winners were more demure. Honored for the invention of pint-sized fog machines, Jorg Pohler remained silent as if playing Penn to Rudiger Kleinke's Teller. While Kleinke read an acceptance speech, Pohler smiled sublimely as puffs of smoke wafted up from inside his tuxedo.
Screens at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel ballroom displayed clips of movies that used the honored technologies, including "Happy Feet," "Poseidon" and "Transformers." The only face from more well-known Oscar categories to make an appearance was supporting actor nominee Javier Bardem in a clip of "No Country for Old Men."
Makeup artist Christien Tinsley developed the "Tinsley Transfer" process of self-adhesive markings that made Bardem's face appear bloody and beaten in the film.
Most winners received certificates, plaques or a medallion; only two actual Oscars were handed out. The Eastman Kodak Company received a statuette for its widely used Vision2 color negative films, and David Grafton got one for his engineering of lenses used to create special effects in films including "Ghostbusters" and "Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back."