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Filmmaker and holography expert dies

Matt Lehmann, a member of the class of '31 who made a number of films for Stanford and KQED-TV in the 1960s and transformed himself into a practical scientist and world expert on holography in the 1970s, died in Ventura on March 24 after a long illness.

"He was a very warm individual; very colorful and full of fun," said Joseph Goodman, senior associate dean in the School of Engineering and professor of electrical engineering. Goodman was a longtime friend and colleague.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Lehmann was a descendant of a prominent pioneering family in Ventura County. When he was a junior at Stanford, he became a member of the "Immortal 21," the students who stole the Stanford Axe back from the University of California-Berkeley: Cal students originally stole the axe in 1899.

"The story of how they stole the axe was one of Matt's favorites. He never tired of telling it," Goodman said.

After graduating from Stanford, Lehmann worked as a consulting engineering for Walt Disney Studios in Burbank from 1938 to 1942, during the making of the films Snow White and Bambi. In 1942, he joined the U.S. Air Force, where he rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In the 1950s, Lehmann returned to Stanford to receive a master's degree in civil engineering and remained associated with the campus for much of his subsequent career. He held a number of different positions on campus. According to his daughter, Leslie Braun of Oxnard, Lehmann changed jobs frequently because of his belief that learning new skills was essential to keep yourself young.

While working at the Stanford Motion Picture and TV Production Office, Lehmann produced and directed a film on student life in Stanford's overseas campuses, a film on the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center and a number of other similar productions for the campus. In addition, he produced a number of television programs for KQED, including an award-winning documentary about the Soviet Union titled "Winds of Freedom."

Lehmann also worked as an official photographer at Stanford's Systems Techniques Laboratory. There he put his photographic skills to various research purposes, such as filming a computer plotting curves, using time-lapse photography of the clouds for weather studies and capturing a lunar eclipse.

In the early '60s, the laser had just been invented and people were looking for interesting applications for this new device. A group of Stanford scientists, including Goodman, got a grant from the U.S. Air Force to investigate promising laser applications. One of these was holography, the use of lasers to produce three-dimensional images. Lehmann joined the group as a photographic research engineer and quickly became a key team member, Goodman said. The group produced the first holographic movies and were the first to combine a laser with a telescope to produce a hologram of a man smoking a pipe eight miles away at night. Lehmann received several patents for his holographic work and wrote a textbook, The Holography Technique in 1970.

"He became one of the pioneers in holography," Goodman said.

Lehmann remained associated with Stanford, where he was a regular figure at the Faculty Club, until he retired in 1981. Following his retirement, he got involved in SeniorNet, a nonprofit organization that teaches computer skills to people above the age of 55. He became a volunteer computer instructor at the Peninsula Volunteer's Little House Senior Center. He also served as a Menlo Park city councilman from 1982 to 1984.

About six months ago Lehmann and his wife, Madge, moved down to Ventura to be closer to his children. "I think there was something poetic to that -- back home again," his daughter told the Los Angeles Times.

Lehmann is survived by his wife, Madge Lehmann of Ventura; children Leslie Braun, Suzanne Parnell and Matthew Lehmann; and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A private memorial service was held in Ventura and his ashes will be scattered at sea. Memorial contributions can be made to the American Red Cross, P.O. Box AR, Ventura, CA 93002, or to the Humane Society, P.O. Box 417220, Sacramento, CA 95841.


By David F. Salisbury