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Obituary: Jim Houston, Two-Time Academy Award-Winning Engineer

Jim Houston

With great sadness, the Hollywood Section of Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers (SMPTE) announces the passing of its long-time member Jim Houston. A 34-year veteran of the entertainment industry, Houston held senior engineering positions with several studios and prominent post-production facilities, including Sony Pictures Entertainment, Pacific Title & Art, Walt Disney Feature Animation and, since February of this year, Samsung Research America. A pioneer in motion imaging standards, computer animation and digital restoration, he won two Academy Awards for Scientific and Engineering Achievement. He died from heart attack, March 26, in Pasadena. He was 61.

“Jim made a profound impact on SMPTE and the industry in general,” said SMPTE Hollywood Section Chair Brian Gaffney. “He was a founding member of the Academy Color Encoding System (ACES) committee. He wrote influential papers of topics ranging from the color fidelity of High Dynamic Range images to design considerations for cinemas using laser projection. He attended every industry technical and social event and was a constant presence in the community. He will be missed, and his legacy will last forever in Hollywood.”

Houston was born in Philadelphia and graduated from Cornell University. He began his career with Gould Computer Systems and worked at NASA’s Ames Research Center before getting his start in Hollywood as a technical director with Walt Disney Feature Animation in 1986. In 1992, he won an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) Scientific and Engineering Award as part of the team that developed the CAPS production system for film animation. His second such honor came in 2007 for his contributions to the Rosetta process used in digital restoration. In 2014, he was awarded SMPTE’s Technicolor/Herbert T. Kalmus Award for “leadership and contributions in the application of digital technologies to motion picture production processes.” He served as co-chair of AMPAS’s ACES Project Committee and was a member of its Science and Technology Council.

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