Ontario-raised research and development engineer Mike Jutan is facing two of the biggest events of his life this weekend.
On Saturday, he’ll be honoured by the Oscars of the scientific and technical worlds, for co-developing rigging software at George Lucas’s visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic. The technology has been used on dozens of films since 2004, including various Star Wars titles as well as Iron Man and Thor: Ragnarok.
And on Sunday, his wife is due to give birth to their first child.
“As long as she doesn’t go into labour that morning, then she told me I’m good,” Jutan said in a telephone interview, noting it’s a quick flight from their home in San Francisco to the ceremony in Beverly Hills.
“She’s like, ‘Get down there, put on your tux, get your thing, eat your dinner and get on the plane and get back before I have the baby.’
“So it’s definitely going to be an exciting week. Trying to balance those two things in my head has been crazy.”
Jutan, who was born in Hamilton and grew up in London, Ont., is one of several Canadians who will be honoured at the annual dinner presentation, hosted this year by Patrick Stewart.
He’ll receive a technical achievement award certificate from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for the architecture and engineering of the BlockParty procedural rigging system. Also named in the honour are Americans Jason Smith, Jeff White, and Rachel Rose.
Jutan said the software “has essentially revolutionized” the way artists at the company breathe life into characters and objects such as the Incredible Hulk and the Millennium Falcon.
“Growing up in London where it’s freezing cold in the middle of February, all you want to do on a cold Sunday evening is watch the Academy Awards and have some hot chocolate and stay inside,” he said.
“I did that every year religiously with my family … So to be recognized by the same academy that recognizes the gold medal of film, to be recognized for the gold medal of computer graphics, it’s really crazy and quite an unbelievable moment in my life.”
Meanwhile, Toronto-based Mark Elendt and SideFX Software will receive an academy award of merit Oscar statuette for the creation and development of the Houdini visual effects and animation system.
Three other Canadians connected to Houdini — Jeff Lait, Mark Tucker, and Cristin Barghiel — are also being honoured. They, along with American John Lynch, will receive a scientific and engineering award academy plaque for their contributions to the design and architecture of Houdini.
Houdini is 3D software used in films including the Star Wars franchise as well as Frozen, Moana and The Shape of Water.
“The sci-techs are a little different than what most people recognize as the Oscars, because the sci-techs aren’t really given for a single film,” Elendt said.
“It’s given for technology that’s changed the industry, and the academy spends a lot of time researching and figuring out which technology is actually worthy of an award.”
The celebration is more “calm and relaxed” since everyone knows who’s won, added Elendt.
“When you think about it, the sci-techs are the complete opposite of the awards ceremony, because we’re a bunch of math geeks and engineers and it’s kind of like the exact opposite of celebrity.”