PASADENA, Calif. – No screaming fans. No crush of paparazzi. No starlets in Oscar de la Renta. Tuxedos that were, well, just la rent-a. A red carpet that was more doormat than carpet. Only three security guards.
Hollywood trekked to a Pasadena hotel over the weekend to honor the unsung creators of all manner of moviemaking gizmos as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (search) celebrated the other half of its name.
It was strictly an A-list crowd — A for academic — at Saturday night's annual Scientific and Technical Awards banquet (search), where the first Academy Awards of the season were presented in a ceremony to be seen only as a fleeting insert in the Feb. 27 Oscars telecast.
"This is the ultra nerds and the uber geeks," said Richard Edlund, chairman of the academy's technical awards committee. "It's where all the unsung heroes get sung."
So how unlike the main Academy Awards was it?
"It's not the pressure of the actual Oscars," said actress Scarlett Johansson (search), who hosted the ceremony. "It's sort of like being at a black-tie event with the crew of your film."
That's not to say that these so-called "gearheads" don't like to party. Champagne and chardonnay flowed, and they ate well, too — dining on pumpkin soup, asparagus ravioli and a duet of seared beef medallion and fennel-crusted sea bass.
Also in abundance were hearty guffaws for the corny and sometimes suggestive jokes of the one-and-only Mac King, a Las Vegas lounge act with a thing for card tricks.
Despite the engineering prowess of most of the guests, there was nary a pocket protector in sight. Sure, a lot of them wore glasses — but so do Johnny Depp and Kevin Bacon.
For one of the evening's big winners, it was more about getting by on the cheap than technical genius.
Horst Burbulla (search) of Germany won an Oscar for the invention and continuing development of a telescoping camera crane that allows filmmakers to get shots they could never get before.
Shooting his own movie, Burbulla didn't have enough money to rent a crane so he built one without any engineering experience.
"The film didn't work out, but the crane worked very well and now I'm here," he said, beaming.
When one winner thanked his wife for "putting up with weird math equations," the crowd laughed knowingly.
Johansson had the night's toughest job — and perhaps one of the tougher gigs in all of Hollywood — as she waded through recitation of the honored moviemaking machinery.
She took deep breaths before fearlessly rattling off such tongue-twisters as Satellight-X HMI Softlight, DNF-001 multiband digital audio noise suppressor and Tyler Gyroplatform boat mount.
"I have no idea what that means," she said as the crowd laughed. "The words are coming out of my mouth, but I'm not processing them."
After Johansson got through a particularly detailed explanation of motion capture technology (don't ask), someone shouted, "Excellent!"
Johansson relied heavily on a teleprompter, yet still stumbled at times. At one point, she tossed up her hands and said, "Lost me there again."
But clearly, Johansson had a sense of humor about her tricky task.
"We're here to discuss the world of digital compositing, and Table 23, I'm only going through this once!" she said.
Johansson had nearly navigated the technological minefield when a real doozy popped up — Takuo Miyagishima.
He won the Gordon E. Sawyer special Oscar for his career contributions to the movie industry. She correctly pronounced his name once and, sounding relieved, told the crowd he answers to "Tak."