Academy Award honours work

Gollum's beauty more than skin deep thanks to Richard

BEN STRANG
Last updated 07:04 14/02/2013
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Award winner: Dr Richard Dorling has scooped an Academy Award for science and technology.

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By getting under the skin of movie characters like Gollum, Reikorangi's Dr Richard Dorling has won an Academy Award.

He and Weta Workshop's Simon Clutterbuck and James Jacobs accepted their Scientific and Technical Award at a ceremony in Beverly Hills, California on Saturday night.

The award, part of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Awards, recognised work on a new technology which makes the movement of skin on animated characters more realistic.

Rather than drawing a creature, like King Kong, and drawing in fake muscle movements, the characters now have a skeleton, muscles and fat, with the skin moving over them.

"If you think you have something worthy of a Sci-Tech Award as a company, you basically have to write a proposal to the academy.

"The first time Weta did that was straight after Avatar, then we rewrote it and resubmitted it two years ago, and then resubmitted it again this year, and won."

Dr Dorling said the academy wants to recognise technological advancements that change the film industry, and are used in more than one film.

Since its debut in Avatar in 2009, the technology has been used in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Prometheus, The Hobbit, The Adventures of Tintin, and many other films.

The result is a more realistic animation, with creatures such as Gollum looking more realistic in The Hobbit, then he did in The Lord Of The Rings 10 years earlier.

In the past, characters would be drawn with just a skin, and the skin would be moved to look as if muscles and bones were underneath, Dr Dorling said.

"There was nothing under the skin. Now we can build the skeleton, we then put 200 muscles on the skeleton.

"Then when the skin is put on, we do nothing with it. It's just pushed around like the skin should be."

The 42-year-old came to New Zealand in 2009, with a resume including a Formula 1 constructors championship title in 1998 with McLaren.

At McLaren, Dr Dorling designed software that would work out the wear of tyres on Formula 1 cars, and would decide when the car should come in to pit for new tyres.

After leaving McLaren, he ran his own business and worked with other racing teams, including Mercedes and the MG Lola LeMans team.

In 2009, Dr Dorling and wife Helen moved to New Zealand for a lifestyle change, with his sister living in Waikanae.

Bringing a doctorate in engineering from Cambridge University, Dr Dorling tried to get a job in clean energy, working on wind turbines, but was unable to gain employment.

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He then applied to work at Weta, and has since formed a strong friendship and team with Mr Clutterbuck and Mr Jacobs.

"We're great friends, which is one reason I enjoy it so much," he said.

"I'm actually taking a year off at the moment, since June, but I'm hoping to go back to Weta, if they'll have me.

"We have a lot of unfinished business with the technology, a lot of things we want to improve and do to it. So I'm excited by that."

For a video of Dr Dorling accepting his Academy Award, see here.

- Kapiti Observer

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