Edwin Catmull

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Edwin Catmull
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Catmull in 2010
Edwin Earl Catmull

(1945-03-31) March 31, 1945 (age 74)
Alma mater University of Utah (Ph.D. Computer Science; B.S. Physics and Computer Science)
Known for
Spouse(s)Susan Anderson Catmull
Scientific career
Fields Computer science
Thesis A Subdivision Algorithm for Computer Display of Curved Surfaces  (1974)
Doctoral advisor Robert E. Stephenson [2]

Edwin Earl Catmull (born March 31, 1945) is an American retired computer scientist and former president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. [3] [4] [5] He has been honored for his contributions to 3D computer graphics.


Early life

Edwin Catmull was born on March 31, 1945, in Parkersburg, West Virginia. [6] His family later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where his father first served as principal of Granite High School and then of Taylorsville High School. [7] [8]

Early in life, Catmull found inspiration in Disney movies, including Peter Pan and Pinocchio , and dreamed[ vague ] of becoming a feature film animator. He also made animation using flip-books. Catmull graduated in 1969, with a B.S. in physics and computer science from the University of Utah. [6] [8] Initially interested in designing programming languages, Catmull encountered Ivan Sutherland, who had designed the computer drawing program Sketchpad, and changed[ vague ]his interest to digital imaging. [9] As a student of Sutherland, he was part of the university's ARPA program, [10] sharing classes with James H. Clark, John Warnock and Alan Kay. [8]

From that point, his main goal and ambition were to make digitally realistic films. [11] During his time at the university, he made two new fundamental computer-graphics discoveries: texture mapping and bicubic patches; and invented algorithms for spatial anti-aliasing and refining subdivision surfaces. He also independently discovered Z-buffering,[ citation needed ], which had been described, 8 months before, by Wolfgang Straßer in his PhD thesis. [12]

In 1972, Catmull made his earliest contribution to the film industry: an animated version of his left hand which was eventually picked up by a Hollywood producer and incorporated in the 1976 movie Futureworld , [8] [13] the first film to use 3D computer graphics and a science-fiction sequel to the 1973 film Westworld , which was the first to use a pixelated image generated by a computer. [14] The one-minute sequence was created with Fred Parke at the University of Utah. Titled A Computer Animated Hand , the short film was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in December 2011. [13] [15]


Early career

In 1974, Catmull earned his doctorate in computer science, [2] was hired by a company called Applicon, and by November the same year had been contacted by the founder of the New York Institute of Technology, Alexander Schure, who offered him the position as the director of the new Computer Graphics Lab at NYIT. [16] [17] In that position in 1977 he invented Tween, software for 2D animation that automatically produced frames of motion in between two frames. [18]

However, Catmull's team lacked the ability to tell a story effectively via film, harming the effort to produce a motion picture via a computer. [19] Catmull and his partner Alvy Ray Smith attempted to reach out to studios to alleviate this issue, but were generally unsuccessful until they attracted the attention of George Lucas at Lucasfilm. [20]


Lucas approached Catmull in 1979 and asked him to lead a group to bring computer graphics, video editing, and digital audio into the entertainment field. Lucas had already made a deal with a computer company called Triple-I, and asked them to create a digital model of an X-wing fighter from Star Wars , which they did. In 1979 Catmull became the Vice President at Industrial Light & Magic computer graphics division at Lucasfilm. [21]


In 1986, Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm's digital division and founded Pixar, where Catmull would work. [22] Pixar would be acquired by Disney in 2006. [23]

In June 2007, Catmull and long-time Pixar digital animator and director John Lasseter were given control of Disneytoon Studios, a division of Disney Animation housed in a separate facility in Glendale. As president and chief creative officer, respectively, they have supervised three separate studios for Disney, each with its own production pipeline: Pixar, Disney Animation, and Disneytoon. While Disney Animation and Disneytoon are located in the Los Angeles area, Pixar is located over 350 miles (563 kilometers) northwest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Catmull and Lasseter both live. Accordingly, they appointed a general manager for each studio to handle day-to-day affairs on their behalf, then began regularly commuting each week to both Pixar and Disney Animation and spending at least two days per week (usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays) at Disney Animation. [24] While at Pixar Catmull was implicated in the High-Tech Employee Antitrust scandal, where Bay Area technology companies agreed, among other things, not to cold-call recruit from one another. [25] [26] [27] [26] Catmull defended his actions in a deposition, saying "While I have responsibility for the payroll, I have responsibility for the long term also." [28] [29] Disney and its subsidiaries, including Pixar, ultimately paid $100m in compensation. [25] [27]

In November 2014, the general managers of Disney Animation and Pixar were both promoted to president, but both continued to report to Catmull, who retained the title of president of Walt Disney and Pixar. [30] On October 23, 2018, Catmull announced his plans to retire from Pixar and Disney Animation, staying on as an adviser through July 2019. [31]

Personal life

In 2006, Catmull lived in Marin County, California, with his wife Susan and their three children. [32]

Awards and honors

In 1993, Catmull received his first Academy Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "for the development of PhotoRealistic RenderMan software which produces images used in motion pictures from 3D computer descriptions of shape and appearance". He shared this award with Tom Porter. In 1995, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. Again in 1996, he received an Academy Scientific and Technical Award "for pioneering inventions in Digital Image Compositing". [33] In 2001, he received an Oscar "for significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar's RenderMan". In 2006, he was awarded the IEEE John von Neumann Medal for pioneering contributions to the field of computer graphics in modeling, animation and rendering. At the 81st Academy Awards (2008, presented in February 2009), Catmull was awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, which honors "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry". [34]

In 2013, the Computer History Museum named him a Museum Fellow "for his pioneering work in computer graphics, animation and filmmaking". [35]

His book Creativity, Inc. was shortlisted for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award (2014), [36] and was a selection for Mark Zuckerberg book club in March 2015. [37]

Catmull shared the 2019 Turing Award with Pat Hanrahan for their pioneering work on computer-generated imagery. [38]


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