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North Van inventor brings home Oscar for science and technology

The Lynn Valley resident has spent his life working on laser projection
North Vancouver inventor Gerwin Damberg proudly shows off his 2024 Scientific and Technical Oscar Award, which he was awarded by the Academy on Feb. 23, 2024. | Paul McGrath / North Shore News

On Sunday, March 10, all eyes will be on Hollywood for the 96th Academy Awards. But a North Vancouver man has already brought home some 2024 Oscar glory.

Lynn Valley resident Gerwin Damberg has been given one of the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards for his life’s work in developing state-of-the-art laser projectors for theatres.

Unlike the more familiar Oscars, the ones for science and technology are awarded for work that has taken place over many years. Damberg, along with fellow winners Michael Perkins, Trevor Davies and Martin J. Richards, are being honoured for the Christie E3LH Dolby Vision Cinema Projection System. The technology that it’s based on is something he’s been working on since he moved from Germany to join a UBC-based startup two decades ago.

“I’ve been an entrepreneur ever since and I’ve been hooked on the cinema and broadcast space,” he said. “Back then, the dream was can we make cinema better than it is now? And that’s what led to this invention of this super high-definition, high contrast-cinema projector which took basically 20 years to get into the field.”

Officially, what sets the E3LH apart is its “novel dual modulation technique that employs cascaded DLP chips along with an improved laser optical path, enabling high dynamic range theatrical presentation.”

But what it does is far more important than how it works, Damberg is quick to tell you.

“You feel like you’re part of the story. You feel like you’re almost sucked into the screen. That’s how realistic it feels. The colours are crisp,” he said.

Often, Damberg and his team work with a film’s colourists and director to ensure everything is looking just right before a big screen premier.

“That’s really when you know you’ve built something really cool because everything up to that point is just geekery in the lab and it doesn’t look pretty,” he said.

Although he is an engineer professionally, Damberg said he is driven by his love of film – The Birds and 2001: A Space Odyssey are among his favourites. And while he’s not a filmmaker, he shares their mission to evoke a visceral experience for the moviegoer.

“I absolutely love movies. There are so many good ones out there. I like the storytelling element about it,” he said. “How do we enable somebody in the creative community to do their storytelling?”

It’s an experience you can’t quite replicate streaming a movie at home on the couch. Unfortunately, though, it’s also one you can’t even experience in Metro Vancouver. The nearest of the 300 theatres with an E3LH projector is the AMC in Burlington, Wash., he said.

Damberg said when he takes his family to the movies here, he’s learned to “stay quiet” about theatre technology.

“It really kills the atmosphere talking about contrast, brightness, colour gamut,” he said with a laugh. “Nobody wants to hear about that.”

Damberg received his Oscar trophy at a Feb. 23 ceremony, which was held at Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and was hosted by Natasha Lyonne.

“Everybody was dressed up, red carpet and everything,” he said. “It was really exciting but at the same time, a humbling experience because they are so rare and they give them out so selectively.” (Damberg was wearing a tux from Harry Rosen for the occasion.)

Of course, someone with such a passion for film and the way it’s presented has opinions about this year’s Oscar race. Oppenheimer is likely the favourite among the blockbuster movies, but Damberg also recommends Perfect Days, a film by Wim Wenders.

Damberg recently had the pleasure of giving Wenders a showing of the film on the next generation of projector he’s been working on.

“He stayed for the whole thing and loved it and it was so cool to see. It’s a beautiful picture,” he said.

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