Weta man wins his second Oscar

AMANDA FISHER
Last updated 05:00 09/02/2011
PIONEER: Weta's Mark Sagar, who has won his second consecutive Sci-tech award for his work with Weta digital.
CRAIG SIMCOX/The Dominion Post

PIONEER: Weta's Mark Sagar, who has won his second consecutive Sci-tech award for his work with Weta digital.

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The glamour of the red carpet is a long way from engineering textbooks, but two-time Oscar-winner Mark Sagar is getting used to the glitz.

Weta Digital special projects supervisor Dr Sagar has won a second consecutive Sci-tech award – the branch of the Oscars that recognises movie science and technological achievements – for a 15-year quest for digital emotional accuracy, among other feats.

Dr Sagar, who has worked on Spiderman 2, King Kong and Avatar, began professional life as an engineering PhD, creating an eye surgery simulator that took him to Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While there he worked in a lab that drew in businessmen looking to use digital technology for movies.

He has worked variously on digital ageing and effects of light on the face, but the work that has sustained him is bringing digital faces to life.

Dr Sagar pioneered the use of the facial action coding system in motion capture for digital characters, a system originally devised by psychologist Paul Ekman to identify and classify facial expressions. This system has been credited with capturing the subtlety of emotion in the faces of digital characters in Weta blockbusters King Kong and Avatar, which have been widely acclaimed in the movie world.

"[They were] wonderful opportunit[ies] to show you can take human expression and map it on to a fundamentally different face," he said.

His work would not have been possible without Weta Digital director Joe Letteri, who had fostered an environment for advancing digital work, Dr Sagar said.

Dr Sagar, who has worked with actors Jim Carrey and Andy Serkis, said he had never envisaged life on the red carpet and was more comfortable watching others walk down it.

He flies to Los Angeles tomorrow with his wife to attend Saturday's Marisa Tomei-hosted ceremony, at which 23 people will be recognised. The more familiar Oscars will be held on Sunday, February 27.

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- The Dominion Post

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