SPIE Fellow and cine lens designer Iain Neil wins an Oscar for lifetime achievement

08 March 2023
William G. Schulz

For cine lens designer and SPIE Fellow Iain Neil, each of his awards from the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences is special. But this year, as recipient of the Academy’s Gordon E. Sawyer Award, he says it is an especial honor to be recognized for his lifetime of creative achievement as an optical designer for the movies.

In the more-elegant words of the Academy, Neil has contributed “substantial, extensive, and innovative lens designs which have had lasting impact in motion picture cinematography.”

“Because I come from a baker’s family, I won’t give this award a number,” Neil said at his acceptance speech on 24 February. “We just called it a baker’s dozen.”

Indeed, with 13 Academy Awards, Neil holds more than any other living person. The late Walt Disney has the all-time record as the recipient of 26 Academy Awards.

In a phone interview from his home in Switzerland, Neil recounted for SPIE News his journey from boyhood in Milngavie and later Strathblane, Scotland, a move to Canada as a young professional, and then on to Los Angeles, California where he would eventually become a corporate executive at iconic movie-camera maker Panavision.

At Panavision, he led the development of such innovative lenses as the Primo Macro Zoom lens that unlocked new creative possibilities in cinematography for directors like Steven Spielberg in his science fiction classic, Minority Report.

Frequently, Neil says, he is asked about the differences between cine lenses of 40 years ago and today. “Well, the difference is, everything was shot on film. Nowadays most of it is digital imaging, and that’s actually changed the look of the image…. The image looks sterile, clinical, and not aesthetically pleasing.”

Today, Neil says the work of a cine lens designer involves “tuning” lenses to restore the look and feel of movies shot on film. You can read more about Neil and his perspectives on today’s cine lenses in Photonics Focus: https://spie.org/news/photonics-focus/novdec-2021/hollywoods-lens-migration

Enjoy this article?
Get similar news in your inbox
Get more stories from SPIE
Recent News
Sign in to read the full article
Create a free SPIE account to get access to
premium articles and original research