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

LOS ANGELES — March 27, 2020 — 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.

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“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.

He is survived by his mother, Margaret Houston, and his siblings John, Michael, Martin, Kevin and Cathy, and their families. Funeral services will be held in Philadelphia. A memorial service will be scheduled for later this year in Los Angeles.

About the SMPTE® Hollywood Section

The Hollywood Section of SMPTE® was initially organized as the West Coast Section in 1928. Today, as its own SMPTE Region, it encompasses more than 1,200 SMPTE Members with a common interest in motion-imaging technology in the Greater Los Angeles area. The Hollywood Section offers free meetings monthly that are open to SMPTE Members and non-members alike. Information about meetings is posted on the Section website at www.smpte.org/hollywood.

About SMPTE®
The Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers®, or SMPTE, is defining the future of storytelling. The Society’s mission is to enable the technical framework that allows the global professional community to make media for artistic, educational, and entertainment purposes and to distribute that content for the benefit and enjoyment of people worldwide. As a global volunteer-driven society of technologists, developers, and creatives, SMPTE is engaged in driving the quality and evolution of motion pictures, television, and professional media. The Society sets industry standards that help businesses maximize their markets more cost-effectively, provides relevant education that supports members’ career growth, and fosters an engaged and diverse membership community.

Information on joining SMPTE is available at smpte.org/join.

Media Contacts

SMPTE Headquarters:

Frank Kunkle
Director of Marketing 
SMPTE
610-864-4813
fkunkle@smpte.org 

SMPTE Hollywood Section:

Linda Rosner
ArtisansPR
310 837 6008
lrosner@artisanspr.com