The Career Achievement Award is ILDA's highest honor. It honors "an exceptional individual with a distinguished history of achievement in the laser display industry."
The CAA recipients below can generally be placed into one or more of these categories:
• Those who helped build significant laser display-related businesses
• Those who made artistic and technical achievements
• Those who worked to improve ILDA and the laser display industry.
From 1989 to 2007, Members nominated candidates and a three-person panel made the final selection. Beginning in 2009, Members nominate candidates, and then a few months later vote on the nominees in order to choose each year’s winner.
Recipients are listed below. Click the bar/button with the person’s name for more information about them. Since 2009, this information usually comes from the nominating statement.
The name "Laserium®”" is synonymous with laser shows. Ivan Dryer is the man behind Laserium -- the man who brought laser shows to mass audiences.
Dryer was a filmmaker in the early 1970s. On one project, he worked with Dr. Elsa Garmire, a Cal Tech physicist interested in laser light art. (She had previously worked with other artists on special event laser shows.) The resulting film, Laser Image, did not have the pure colors and shimmer of laser light.
So Dryer had the idea of bringing the Cal Tech laser to Los Angeles' Griffith Observatory. He, Garmire and Dale Pelton formed Laser Images, Inc. to create planetarium laser shows.
The rest is history. The first Laserium show opened to the public on November 19, 1973. It was the first ongoing laser show (not part of a special or one-time event), and it spawned an industry. Dryer's Laserium shows went on to be played in 46 cities worldwide, and were viewed by over 20 million people. Other companies sprang up to do planetarium shows, and laser imagery then spread to other venues such as concerts and corporate shows.
Laserium was the longest running theatrical attraction in the history of Los Angeles. It continued until the Griffith closed for remodeling on January 5, 2002 -- a remarkable 28-year run.
Dryer is universally recognized as the father of the laser show industry. His selection by ILDA as recipient of the first Career Achievement Award underscores his unique place in the history of laser displays.
More on Ivan Dryer's career is at an ILDA webpage published after he passed away on July 27, 2017.
Founder of Laser Images Inc., inventor of Laserium® planetarium shows, and the father of the laser show industry
Other nominees for the 1989 CAA: Fred Fenning (2021 CAA receipient), Walter Gundy, Seiji Inatsugu (1990 CAA recipient), Gary Levenberg, Walt Meador, Jennifer Morris (1992 CAA receipient), Floyd Rollefstad (1991 CAA recipient), and Dick Sandhaus.
Seiji Inatsugu, one of the founders of Laser Media, Inc., is the recipient of ILDA's second annual Career Achievement Award for outstanding contributions to the industry. Inatsugu, who received the award at the 1990 General Meeting in Bradenton, Fla., was hailed for a long list of technical contributions to the laser industry, "a veritable encyclopedia of fundamental innovations," said Ivan Dryer, head of Laser Images and ILDA's current president.
Inatsugu, who holds a doctorate in physics, began his fascination with lasers in the late 1960s when he made his own lasers and blew the glass for the tubes. His technical accomplishments at Laser Media include the following: the development of galvo-based beam switching, now a fundamental laser show technique; the development of stable scanner amplifiers that paved the way for complex galvo-scanned images; and the conceptualization of Digital Graphic Image Generation, leading to the development of the IMAGEN computer and ZAP software.
In accepting the award, Inatsugu urged the industry to prepare for a nev era that focuses on small but steady improvements in quality. "The book of our industry is not finished. Perhaps Chapter One of the book has been written. It is about the formative years of the industry. We are going to write Chapter Two together. That will be about the growth and maturity of the industry."
Other noteworthy "Sayings of Seiji" include the following:
• "To engineers and technicians: it is no longer possible to make leaps and bounds in technical progress as was done in my days. Do not let it discourage you because the industry still needs to solidify its technical basis.
• "To those who are in management... although short term profit may be realizable by cutting costs in the areas of research and development, I envision that quality in products and services you provide will make your organization successful. Without technical innovation accompanied by creative vision, the prospects for such an organization will be dim.
• "Technological progress depends on the technologies and components made available to us by suppliers, such as lasers and galvos. Without their improvement, there is a limit in this industry's technological progress."
Co-founder of Laser Media, who made fundamental breakthroughs for laser display technology
Floyd Rollefstad, president of Laser Fantasy International, received ILDA's 1991 Career Achievement Award honoring a lifetime of technical and artistic achievements.
Rollefstad was honored for a series of almost single-handed technical achievements that have significantly advanced the laser display industry, including: 3-D laser graphic projection techniques, acousto-optic RGB technology for full-color graphics projection, and several unique fiber optic effects.
"Floyd Rollefstad has a persistent desire to be successful, to make fantasy come true," said Seiji Inatsugu of Laser Media, Inc., last year's winner of the Career Achievement Award. Inatsugu presented the 1991 award to Rollefstad at ILDA's annual meeting in Los Angeles. "He certainly has moved and shaken the industry," added Ivan Dryer, president of Laser Images, Inc. and recipient of the first Career Achievement Award. "We have been inspired by his work," said Dryer
In accepting the award, Rollefstad said he counted himself to be fortunate, because "not too many people get to participate in the birth of an industry. Artistically, we have incredible opportunities. We are the first people to ever use the amazing power of the laser to do artistic things."
In addition to his pioneering technical work, Rollefstad was also honored for bringing educational laser display programs to more than 1,500 high schools across North America.
"We're very proud of our education shows," said Rollefstad, whose company was among the first to produce full-length educational programs using laser displays. Educational shows include "American Dream," an historical program, "Learning to Fly," about aviation, and "Listen to the Whales," which covers ecology.
Rollefstad began creating laser shows soon after obtaining his masters degree from the University of North Dakota in 1977, the same year he cofounded Laser Fantasy. After producing shows in Chicago and Minneapolis, his company came to the West Coast in 1980 to perform in Seattle at the Pacific Science Center, where it still performs today. The company is headquartered in Bellevue, Wash.
One of Laser Fantasy's best known works is at Washington state's Grand Coulee Dam, where laser images thousands of feet across tell a nightly story of the area's natural history. The show premiered in March, 1989 and runs during summer months. It uses 70 watts of laser power and sophisticated graphics projectors that produce full-color displays.
Laser Fantasy founder, honored for pioneering work and technical achievements
Laser artist Jennifer Morris was honored with ILDA's fourth annual Career Achievement Award in recognition of over 15 years of ground-breaking work in the laser display field.
Morris, a founder and former president of Image Engineering Corp. (IEC), made laser history in 1977 when she pioneered the first use of representational laser graphics in "Lovelight." The show, which premiered at the Boston Museum of Science's Hayden Planetarium, also broke new ground with its use of a highly-automated control system. More information about Lovelight is on this page (scroll down to the Lovelight section).
Morris and Walter Gundy founded IEC in 1979, often working with industrial clients such as Cadillac and Wendy's. Morris is currently IEC's creative director, responsible for the design of such laser productions as:
Co-founder of Image Engineering Corporation and pioneer of digital laser imagery
Robert Mueller, executive vice president and art director of Lightspeed Design, received ILDA's fifth Career Achievement Award in recognition of his thirteen years of contributions to the industry.
Mueller literally worked his way up from the bottom of the laser display field, starting as a ticket-taker for a laser show in St. Paul, Minn., in 1980. Under the employ of Floyd Rollefstad, the founder of Laser Fantasy International and the 1991 recipient of ILDA's Career Achievement Award, Mueller switched paths from studying architecture at the University of Minnesota to become a top artist, programmer and art director.
In addition to his artistic achievements, Mueller helped define display software developed by Aura Technologies and Laser Fantasy. He also pursued techniques needed to create digital and analog polarized 3D stereoscopic projections. After working at Laser Fantasy since 1980, Mueller became one of the founding members of Lightspeed Design in 1992.
Under Mueller's direction, Lightspeed's artistic team recently won a string of awards in the 1993 competition for Outstanding Laser Displays. A winning trade show installation for Nintendo (hardware by Laser Fantasy) included seven scanner pairs that provided 360-degree coverage of a 50-foot dome. Another Nintendo production included 3D laser graphics visible with polarized glasses and laser-projected video imagery. Mueller's "Juggling Clown" was also honored with first-place in the Graphic Animation category. The piece featured precomputed morphing animations on spline-interpolated real-time paths.
"I was spellbound and mesmerized the first time I saw a laser," said Mueller, recalling when he saw a laser at the age of 13 in a science museum. "I believe there is something in all of us that is attracted to light. Perhaps there is an exponentially greater attraction to laser light."
In regard to his work, Mueller says he is never satisfied with a business-as-usual attitude. "I have an innate desire to take things to the next level. If I have an idea and I don't implement it, I don't feel I've accomplished what I've wanted to do." In addition to enthusiasm and dedication, Mueller believes the next essential ingredient for a laser show producer is the ability to surprise the public. "Audiences need to see something new, something that takes them by surprise. That's our goal; to create something so intrinsically interesting it gets people's attention."
Award-winning artist and producer at Laser Fantasy and Lightspeed
(Not awarded 1994-2003)
Patrick Murphy, as founder and 15-year president of Pangolin Laser Systems, played a key role in making it possible for just about anyone to create affordable, professional-quality laser shows.
Laser computer graphics pioneer
Murphy was a pioneer in laser computer graphics. His first computerized laser graphics were done in 1979, using a mainframe computer at Oberlin College. In 1981 he earned a B.A. degree in Laser Art and Technology. For the next five years, he continued to improve his software. In 1986, Murphy founded Pangolin Laser Software to sell his Amiga-based Laser Show Designer program, the first laser software that worked like standard computer graphics paint programs.
In 1988, he and William Benner began their close collaboration on continually-improved Lasershow Designer versions. Murphy primarily handled Pangolin business functions and LD user interface programming, while Benner worked on advanced LD software programming and on the QuadMod hardware boards. Lasershow Designer was both a technological and artistic success. It won more awards for Pangolin and its clients than any other laser software and became a worldwide market leader.
Assisting ILDA and the laser industry
Murphy was a strong supporter of ILDA, working to create standardized equipment and shows. The widespread use of ILDA-compatible projectors and interchangeable shows demonstrates the degree to which this vision was realized. He was on the ILDA Board of Directors from 1994-1996, was elected ILDA President in 1995, and served as ILDA Airspace Issues Coordinator from 1996-1999.
In November 1995, one month after Murphy was elected ILDA President, the FDA shut down all outdoor laser shows in Las Vegas. For the next three years, Murphy and other key ILDA members worked with regulators to protect the right of laserists to do outdoor shows. This effort was eventually successful — Murphy even wrote some of the regulations and forms used by the government. For his work, Murphy was awarded an ILDA Certificate of Commendation, and received an Award of Recognition from the “SAE G-10” aviation safety committee.
Technical and artistic achievements
Murphy was one of the three inventors of an entirely new style of laser display, raster graphic frames. He and Benner were co-winners of three ILDA Technology Awards and two Brewster Awards. Murphy also won an ILDA Technology Award for his renumbering algorithm, and two ILDA Artistic Awards for his own laser art creations.
Patrick Murphy could not attend the ILDA Awards Banquet. His prepared remarks are below.
I’m sorry I can’t be with you tonight. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for this wonderful recognition. It means a lot to me, since I’ve been attracted to lasers all of my working life.
This attraction comes about, I think, because laser displays are the purest of the visual arts. If you consider the other lighting disciplines represented here at the ETS-LDI conference, light is always used in the support of something else: stage lighting, architectural lighting, nightclub lighting. But with laser shows, light IS the show.
Light is special. It is the cosmic speed limit. It is what the universe formed out of, in the Big Bang. In the Bible, it is the second thing created, after the heavens and the earth. And the purest, most controllable light of all is lasers.
The artistic pinnacle of laser displays, to me, were the early planetarium shows. These shows had only abstracts – no graphics – plus very creative lumia and diffraction effects. Nothing but light illustrating music. They are one of the two great accomplishments of laser art.
The other is audience-scanned beam shows. The people in this room know, like few others, how exciting it is to be surrounded by precision-shaped light. It’s like being inside a fireworks display! It is a shame that audience scanning shows are essentially banned in the United States. My one regret in my career is that I wasn’t able to help bring audience scanning to the U.S.
In my career, I’ve been most proud of three areas:
The first and most important was to make it easier for people to create professional laser shows, with the work of Bill Benner and myself on Lasershow Designer.
The second was to work with others in ILDA to create a real industry, with standard projectors and interchangeable shows like in those film and video.
The third area I’m proud of is helping to keep outdoor shows legal in the U.S.
I could not have done this by myself. There are many people I’d like to thank, starting with my wife Donna and with my parents, who supported my efforts even when I did something “useless” like study laser art in college. There are many others in ILDA -- too many to list. I’d like to make special note of my friend David Lytle, whom I’ve known since high school; of Greg Makhov; and of course my long-time laser partner Bill Benner. It has been a privilege to work with him. I asked Bill if he would accept the award in my absence. Since he is on a plane right now, I’d like to ask his wife, Karen, if she would come up and accept it.
An innovator in laser software, founder of Pangolin Laser Systems, and a strong supporter of ILDA's work
Michael Roberts has led a distinguished dual career in the industry: one in laser shows and artwork, and the other in assisting ILDA and the laser industry.
Laser shows and artwork
Michael is a pioneer in Canadian laser shows. Inspired by a Laserium show in Toronto, in 1976 he built his own laser system and began offering his services. Later that year, he presented the first-ever Laser Dance Party, making him the father of laser raves.
He has also toured with Canadian rock groups such as Saga and Triumph, performed for HRH Queen Elizabeth II, and produced lasers at the Canada Pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver. In 1993, Michael became one of the first creators of “laser clip art”. Also in 1993, he won two ILDA artistic awards for his laser artwork.
Assisting ILDA and the laser industry
While his laser work has been pioneering and distinguished, what most impressed ILDA’s judges was Michael’s extensive efforts to help ILDA and the laser industry.
Within ILDA, Michael worked in many areas. In 1990, he helped create the first Lase-Off. He was a very active contributor to the Awards and the Terminology Standardization committees. He pushed to make ILDA’s membership more open and international, and personally recruited many new Members. In November 1996 he led “Team Canada” in hosting the first ILDA Conference held outside the U.S. This was also the first ILDA Conference to feature audience scanning.
Outside of ILDA, Michael was tireless in disseminating laser show related knowledge. In 1993, he produced and distributed the first non-ILDA newsletter for the laser industry. That same year, he began publishing a widely-used laser resource directory, pulling together information that was hard to find in the pre-Internet age.
From 1996 to 2000, he ran the Laser F/X conference in Toronto. At its peak, it drew 120 attendees. At his conference, Michael introduced the “Brewster Awards”, the first to be judged solely in laser light, by laserists.
In 1996, he published the first and only book detailing how to do laser light shows. The 400-page “Laser F/X: The Light Show Handbook” inspired many laserists (including ILDA’s Kelly Sticksel) and is in libraries at NASA, Dolby Labs, and colleges and universities.
His publications moved from print to the Internet in 1996, to his website at LaserFX.com. The site has grown to almost 1000 webpages, and is one of the Internet’s major resources teaching about laser shows. Also on the Internet, he is a regular contributor to the alt.lasers newsgroup, and for six years he ran a weekly IRC chat for laserists from around the world.
The laser display industry would be very different if it were not for the work of Michael Roberts. For his persevering work and many influences within the industry, ILDA recognizes him with the industry’s highest honor: the Career Achievement Award.
I a m e x t r e m e l y g r a t e f u l a n d h u m b l e d t o r e c e i v e t h e I L D A Ca r e e r A c h i e v e m e n t A w a r d . T h e l i s t o f p r e v i o u s r e c i p i e n t s r e a d s l i k e a w h o 's w h o o f t h e g i a n t s i n t h e l a s e r d i s p l a y i n d u s t r y : I v a n D r ye r , S eiji Inatsugu , F l o y d R o l l e f s t a d , J e n n i f e r M o r r i s , B o b M u e l l e r a n d P a t r i c k M u r p h y . T h e s e a r e p e o p l e w h o h a v e p l a y e d i m p o r t a n t r o l e s i n t h e f o u n d i n g a n d n u r t u r i n g o f o u r i n d u s t r y a n d I f e e l f o r t u n a t e t o b e c o u n t e d a m o n g s t t h e m f o r m y h u m b l e c o n t r i b u t i o n s .