A Look Inside the Academy’s Process with a Local Snowman (and Oscar Winner)

Feb 29, 2016

And the Academy Award goes to: Jim Hourihan, Alan Trombla, and Seth Rosenthal.

If none of those names seem familiar, there could be a good reason for that. Although all three are 2016 Academy Award winners, they weren’t part of the televised broadcast.

In fact, they were given their awards in an entirely different ceremony dedicated to technical and scientific achievements in the motion picture industry. It’s called the Sci-Tech awards, also known as the “Nerd Oscars.”

Wisconsin’s own Dieter Sturm was the recipient of a “Nerd Oscar” in 1995 for his invention: Biosnow 2, an artificial, biodegradable snow used on movie sets. Before Biosnow, most of the snow used on sets was made up of shredded plastic or Styrofoam. Sturm was upset by the environmental impact of these products, so he sought to make something new.

“I never had the intention of actually going to try to win an Academy Award for Technical Achievement,” says Sturm. “What I was doing was pursuing a need that I saw in our industry.”

Sturm is the president of Sturm’s Special Effects International, based in Lake Geneva. His company specializes in making snow for films, television and commercials. Over the past 30 years, Sturm has worked on more than 90 movie sets, including films like Fargo and The Horse Whisperer.

Although the award ceremony was the kind of grand event you might expect from the Oscars, Sturm says applying for the award was a little less glamorous. There was a lot of paperwork, culminating in an invitation to show his work to the Academy Governors of Technical Achievement in Los Angeles.

“It’s almost like a big, adult science fair assembles out in this big hotel ballroom,” says Sturm.

Unlike the televised ceremony for the Academy Awards, people receiving Sci-Tech Awards already know they’re getting they’ve won before the ceremony. And although it’s not televised, Sturm says the ceremony truly lived up to the Oscars standard.

“The orchestra was great, the food, the glamour,” says Sturm. “And plus, I had the great opportunity of receiving my award from a very well-known person, Jamie Lee Curtis.”