Veteran optical systems designer Iain Neil was recently awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer Oscar statuette at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Scientific and Technical Awards presentation. In town to accept the award, while visiting from his home in Switzerland, Iain made a stop at the L.A. offices of Cooke Optics, where he currently serves as Chief Optics Advisor. In front of a rapt audience of ASC cinematographers and various lens aficionados, he shared some history and wisdom from his 40 year career designing some of the most iconic lenses to have been used in motion pictures. In the words of the Academy, the Gordon E. Sawyer Award was given to Neil to recognize his “substantial, extensive and innovative lens designs which have had a lasting impact in motion picture cinematography.”
Iain A. Neil has previously received 12 Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences SciTech Awards, 2 Television Academy Emmy Awards, and the SMPTE Fuji Gold Medal for his work in cinema optics and lens design. Neil designed the Panavision Primo series, the Leica Summilux-C series, and several Cooke spherical and anamorphic series of lenses. His career developing lenses for motion pictures included 18 years at Panavision, where he was an Executive VP and CTO. He was the Manager, Systems Engineering at Ernst Leitz Canada Ltd. and Head of Optical Design at Barr & Stroud, and he recently held the roles of Co-Chief Executive Officer and CTO of CW Sonderoptic. He holds a BSc Honors degree in Applied Physics from Strathclyde University in Glasgow and in 2004 was made visiting Professor to the Department of Physics. In 2015, he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
At the Cooke event, which I felt privileged to attend, Iain shared colorful stories about the challenges of developing certain lines of optics and special lenses for movies from Titanic and Minority Report. He spoke very frankly about the current trends in optics such as de-tuning and called bullshit on some others. For example, he took exception to cinematographers scratching the front elements of their lenses in order to achieve a vintage look. He also made the observation that “Camera technology will change, but imaging will still rely on the lens.” Iain’s work with Cooke continues and we can look forward to many more cinema optics innovations to come. DCS offers our hearty congratulations to Iain A. Neil…keep up the great work!