And the Oscar goes to…: Ottawa scientists were pioneers in animation technology

In 1997, National Research Council scientists Marceli Wein, left, and Nestor Burtnyk were introduced an Academy Award for technical achievement, for the work they did in laptop animation in the 1970s.

Courtesy of Nestor Burtnyk.

At a particular Academy Awards ceremony in March 1997, a pair of retired National Research Council scientists from Ottawa, Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein, were referred to as to the podium by actor Helen Hunt to obtain Oscar awards (certificates in their case, not statuettes) for his or her pioneering roles in creating laptop animation near 1 / 4 century earlier.

In the early 1970s, Burtnyk developed and wrote a revolutionary program that allowed computer systems to generate in-between animation frames that moved the motion, at 24 frames per second, from one scene to the subsequent. In 1974, Peter Foldes’ 11½-minute National Film Board-produced Hunger, which used Burtnyk’s technology, grew to become the world’s first absolutely computer-generated animated movie to be nominated for an Oscar, in the Best Animated Short Film class.

Burtnyk’s and Wein’s 1997 award was in recognition of Hunger and their position in creating the technology behind it. Two years earlier, the pair were acknowledged by the Festival of Computer Animation as Fathers of Computer Animation Technology in Canada.

Scientists Marceli Wein, foreground, and Nestor Burtnyk at a National Research Council laptop in the early 1970s.

Courtesy of Marceli Wein.

Any lingering doubts relating to their legacy were largely dispelled at a post-Academy Awards ceremony at which Wein was approached by Jim Kajiya, at the moment Microsoft’s director of analysis and an knowledgeable in graphic rendering. At the time, Kajiya was additionally receiving an Academy Award for technical excellence.

“He was an animator at Pixar,” Wein recollects, “and he got here to me and stated that the movie Hunger impressed him to decide on a profession in laptop animation.

“Well, that felt fairly nice.”

According to Kelly Neall, managing director of the Ottawa International Animation Festival, which honoured Burtnyk and Wein in 1998, “Their work led the way for a flood of technological innovations in Canada and beyond. In typical Ottawa fashion, they were quite modest about their achievement and reluctant to blow their own horns, but we got them on the stage at the NAC in front of animators from Disney, Pixar and Dreamworks to take a bow!”

Nestor Burtnyk was the lead National Research Council scientist engaged on laptop animation and in-betweening in the early 1970s. In 1997, Burtnyk and fellow scientist Marceli Wein were awarded an Academy Award for his or her work.

Bruce Deachman /


Burtnyk was the lead on the NRC mission, and the one that truly wrote the program code. His profession there started in 1950, and by the ’60s he had began the nation’s first laptop graphics analysis mission of any notice. Wein joined the mission in 1966.

In 1969, Burtnyk attended a convention in California at which an animator from Disney defined how they made cartoons, with a head animator drawing the key motion scenes, and assistants generally known as “in-betweeners” drawing and colouring the intervening cels.

“When I heard that,” recollects Burtnyk, “I thought that might be something to try on the computer. The artist would have complete control; he wouldn’t have to describe his objects in some language — he could just draw them. And then I had to figure out how to get the computer to connect one image to another.”

Marceli Wein was certainly one of two National Research Council scientists – Nestor Burtnyk was the different – who were engaged on laptop animation and in-betweening in the early 1970s. In 1997, the pair were awarded an Academy Award for his or her work.

Bruce Deachman /


He pitched the concept to his division administration, who gave him the inexperienced mild and, inside a 12 months, utilizing a pc as massive as two fridges (however slower and with far much less storage), he got here up with a working program. “We were doing something no one else was doing,” recollects Wein, now 83, “and one thing nobody knew easy methods to do.”

The National Film Board of Canada, in Montreal, was contacted, and a mission to encourage artists to experiment with it was launched. The first to take action was expat Hungarian director Foldes, who at the time was residing in Paris.

Some animation keyframes from Peter Foldes’ 1974 NFB movie, Hunger. A pc program developed at the National Research Council by scientists Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein allowed the in-between frames to be created with out junior animators drawing each.

Courtesy of Marceli Wein.

Foldes’ first movie utilizing Burtnyk’s program was an 8½-minute 1971 effort titled Metadata, which appears to be like like little greater than an experiment to see what the software program can do. It was Foldes’ second movie, Hunger, a morality story about greed and gluttony in the trendy world, that put in-betweening on the cinematic map. Apart from its Academy Award nomination in ’74, the movie additionally gained the Prix du Jury at the Cannes Film Festival, a BAFTA award for greatest animation and a Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival.

The Acadamy Award certificates introduced in 1997 to former National Research Council scientists Nestor Burtnyk and Marceli Wein for the pioneering work they in in laptop animation in the 1970s.

Courtesy of Nestor Burtnyk.

Three years after receiving his Academy Award, Burtnyk was inducted into the Order of Canada. He has additionally obtained the Golden and Diamond Jubilee medals. All of those honours stem from his work in animation which, though only a sliver of his 45-year profession at NRC, stays the a part of which he’s proudest.

“It turned into a big thing,” he says. “We went after something that looked promising — we didn’t know quite what it would give us — and it turned into something, into one of the really big areas. There are so many people in Canada who passed through the system, visiting our lab, or working as summer students, or at the film board. There was a lot of exposure of what we were doing, and that helped it grow. And Canadian animation growth was significant — the big animation and computer graphics companies in Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, they’ll all say that it grew out of NRC.”

Watch Hunger here.

This story was delivered to you by the letter I, for In-betweening, and is a part of a collection of 26 tales about Ottawa, one for every letter of the alphabet. Stay tuned: up subsequent is J, for Jimmy Johnston, certainly one of the space’s first members of Parliament and a repeated sufferer of assault.

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