Inside Rensselaer
Camera Created by Graduate Helps Nab  Oscar for Best Picture
Camera Created by Graduate Helps Nab  Oscar for Best Picture
Slumdog Millionaire director Danny Boyle (blue shirt) used the SI-2K digital camera created by Silicon Imaging for much of the action sequences. Ari Presler ’87 founded Silicon Imaging in the Rensselaer Incubator.
When the movie Slumdog Millionaire took home the Academy Award for Best Picture last month, it marked “a real transition for the movie industry,” according to Ari Presler ’87. The film, which took home eight Oscars including one for Best Cinematography, was filmed in large part by handheld digital cameras created by Silicon Imaging, which was founded by Presler in 2000 in the Rensselaer Incubator. According to Presler, it was the first movie shot predominantly digitally to win the coveted Best Picture award.

“That’s the best recognition that a technology and equipment supplier to the industry can get,” Presler says. “Just being associated with a project that’s had such a global presence, not only the fact that it won the Oscars, really validates our technology and product as a viable component to future production, for both cinema and television.”

Filmmakers Danny Boyle and Anthony Dod Mantle wanted to use lightweight handheld cameras to film action scenes, making viewers feel like they are in the middle of the action. “I had to find a camera setup that would be ergonomic enough for me to throw myself around the slums chasing the children while maintaining as much picture detail in the shadows and high lights,” Mantle said. “Slumdog Millionaire needed a completely different tactical approach.”

They chose the SI-2K digital cinema cameras created by Silicon Imaging. According to Presler, the filmmakers were so impressed with the results, they used the cameras for about 60 percent of the filming.

Presler, who received a bachelor’s degree in electrical, computer, and systems engineering (ECSE), gives credit to time he spent working with Lester Gerhardt, professor of ECSE, in Rensselaer’s Image Processing Labs for introducing him to the technical side of digital capture. “Les can really take credit for a few of the pixels on the big screen,” Presler says. “He had a significant influence on my career path and taught me the foundations of image processing and even several best business practices. Our research work together in the area of fingerprint image capture and analysis, and the summer internship he organized at GE Global Research, were some of my most memorable experiences during my time at RPI.”

“It is always the best reward for a professor to see his students succeed,” says Gerhardt. “It is a special pleasure in Ari’s case because of his diverse interests and unique talents.”

Presler also vividly remembers the experience he had in an Electronic Circuits class taught by Don Millard, associate director of the MDL. “Don really helped his students to bridge theory and equations into practice and application. I recall he brought his electric guitar and amplifier to the first day of class and started jamming ‘Stairway to Heaven’ to help get his points across. I don’t recall the exact points now, but needless to say, something in the music struck a chord.”

Viewers will have more opportunities to see Presler’s cameras at work in the upcoming Sherlock Holmes movie, directed by Guy Ritchie and The Dark Country, directed by Thomas Jane.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 3, Number 3, March 13, 2009
©2009 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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