EMERYVILLE, CA — The name Ed Catmull has been synonymous with computer graphics for decades. And it will continue to be so, even as he moves into retirement at the end of this year. Catmull, 73, announced his plans this week, and word quickly spread throughout the industry. The Pixar co-founder and president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, will serve as a consultant through the end of July.
“On behalf of our global membership and the Board of Directors, we want to offer our deep appreciation for Ed Catmull’s transformative impact on the art and business of animation and visual effects. A VES Fellow and recipient of our George Méliès Award, Ed exemplifies what can be achieved through remarkable vision and dedication. Across more than four decades in the film industry, he made significant and lasting contributions to our industry through invention and pioneering work. Congratulations on your well-deserved retirement and we look forward to your second act,” stated Mike Chambers, chair of the Visual Effects Society.
Catmull studied physics and computer science at the University of Utah, working as a computer programmer at Boeing before attending grad school back in Utah. The year was 1970, and studied under Ivan Sutherland, later called the father of computer graphics. Awed by Sutherland’s Sketchpad drawing program, Catmull refocused his abilities in the burgeoning new field of computer graphics technology and animation.
Lucky for us, he never looked back.
In just a short time at the university, Catmull made a number of game-changing discoveries, including texture mapping and bi-cubic patches, and invented algorithms for processes we take for granted today, such as subdivision surfaces. Then, in 1972, an animated version of his hand rewrote history, as it became the first feature film to use 3D computer graphics, a sequence memorialized in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.
Catmull soon headed up the Computer Graphics Lab at the New York Institute of Technology, where researchers developed 2D animation tools, eventually turning their sights to 3D. Their work caught the eye of some big names in film, namely George Lucas. Catmull soon became vice president of Industrial Light & Magic, the computer division of Lucasfilm. A few years later, Catmull moved to Pixar, after Steve Jobs purchased that computer division, and became CTO.
The rest, is history, as Catmull was one of the architects of the venerable Renderman system that brought toys to life in Toy Story. His continuing influence in the industry can be seen in Pixar’s string of hit films since.
He received an Academy Scientific and Technical Award in 1993 (for RenderMan) and again in 1996 (for compositing). In 2001, he received an Oscar for his advancements in CG for modeling, animation, and rendering. In 2009, he received the Gordon Sawyer Award from the Academy for his technological contributions. And that is just a sampling of the accolades he has received over the years.
Ed, the industry thanks you for your vision, efforts, and sacrifices over the years that have brought us to this point in computer graphics, enabling us to enjoy such beauty, charm, and seemingly impossible accomplishments constantly play out on the big screen.