By Tim Reid
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Reuters) - From the team who made it possible to digitally curl and trim outrageous hair in "The Hobbit" trilogy to the inventors of a high-speed car chase camera used in James Bond film "Casino Royale", some of the most ingenious behind-the-scenes innovators were celebrated at a pre-Oscars ceremony on Saturday night.
Two weeks before the Oscars, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences handed out its Scientific and Technical Achievement Awards to the visual effects, sound and technical wizards whose work behind the camera is a vital but often unheralded part of making movies.
While the Academy Awards on Feb. 22 will present Oscars to actors, directors and others who worked on films released in 2014, the yearly scientific and technical awards honor those who have contributed to the process of film making over a longer period of time, sometimes decades.
Presenting the awards were a pair who have had recent breakthrough roles in front of the camera: Margot Robbie, in "The Wolf of Wolf Street", and Miles Teller, the star of "Whiplash", a current best picture nominee. Robbie thanked the audience for making movies "stunning".
The Beverly Hills event gave awards to 58 individuals for 21 scientific and technical achievements. These usually consist of plaques or certificates but on Saturday two Oscar statuettes were presented, one to veteran sound engineer and Dolby Laboratories executive David W. Gray for his groundbreaking work on movie sound.
Gray, whose statuette came with the Gordon E. Sawyer lifetime technical achievement award, has dozens of film credits, including sound work on the 1983 hit "Flashdance" and the 1988 action blockbuster "Die Hard" starring Bruce Willis.
He thanked his children "for understanding that dad's a geek and a complete workaholic."
Also receiving an award was a team that developed SpeedTree, a software that creates virtual vegetation and has been used in the movies "Avatar" and "The Great Gatsby".
Other honorees were the inventors of the MOVA Facial Performance Capture system that records every movement of an actor's face, enabling facial movements to be reproduced or altered. It has been used in movies including "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" in 2008 for Brad Pitt's aging facial effects. That film won the visual effects Oscar.
"They wouldn't watch movies without us," said Richard Edlund, a multi-Academy Award winning special effects cinematographer, summing up the collective work of the audience.
(Reporting by Tim Reid; Editing by Paul Tait)