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Edwin Catmull

Edwin Catmull

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Dr. Edwin Earl Catmull, Ph.D. (born 1945) is a computer scientist
Computer scientist
A computer scientist is a scientist who has acquired knowledge of computer science, the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and their application in computer systems....

 and current president of Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios
Pixar
Pixar Animation Studios, pronounced , is an American computer animation film studio based in Emeryville, California. The studio has earned 26 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes, and three Grammy Awards, among many other awards and acknowledgments. Its films have made over $6.3 billion worldwide...

. As a computer scientist, Catmull has contributed to many important developments in computer graphics
Computer graphics
Computer graphics are graphics created using computers and, more generally, the representation and manipulation of image data by a computer with help from specialized software and hardware....

.

Life and career


Edwin Earl Catmull was born in Parkersburg, West Virginia
West Virginia
West Virginia is a state in the Appalachian and Southeastern regions of the United States, bordered by Virginia to the southeast, Kentucky to the southwest, Ohio to the northwest, Pennsylvania to the northeast and Maryland to the east...

. Early in life, Catmull found inspiration in Disney
Walt Disney Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures is an American film studio owned by The Walt Disney Company. Walt Disney Pictures and Television, a subsidiary of the Walt Disney Studios and the main production company for live-action feature films within the Walt Disney Motion Pictures Group, based at the Walt Disney...

 movies such as Peter Pan and Pinocchio and dreamed of becoming a feature film animator. He even made primitive animation using so-called flip-books
Flip book
A flip book or flick book is a book with a series of pictures that vary gradually from one page to the next, so that when the pages are turned rapidly, the pictures appear to animate by simulating motion or some other change. Flip books are often illustrated books for children, but may also be...

. However, he assessed his chances realistically and decided that his talents lay elsewhere. Instead of pursuing a career in the movie industry, he used his talent in math and studied physics
Physics
Physics is a natural science that involves the study of matter and its motion through spacetime, along with related concepts such as energy and force. More broadly, it is the general analysis of nature, conducted in order to understand how the universe behaves.Physics is one of the oldest academic...

 and computer science
Computer science
Computer science or computing science is the study of the theoretical foundations of information and computation and of practical techniques for their implementation and application in computer systems...

 at the University of Utah
University of Utah
The University of Utah, also known as the U or the U of U, is a public, coeducational research university in Salt Lake City, Utah, United States. The university was established in 1850 as the University of Deseret by the General Assembly of the provisional State of Deseret, making it Utah's oldest...

. After
graduating, he worked as a computer programmer at The Boeing Company in Seattle for a short period of time and also at the New York Institute of Technology
New York Institute of Technology
New York Institute of Technology is a private, non-sectarian, co-educational research university in New York City. NYIT has five schools and two colleges, all with a strong emphasis on technology and applied scientific research...

, before returning to Utah to go to graduate school in fall of 1970.

Back at the university he became one of Ivan Sutherland
Ivan Sutherland
Ivan Edward Sutherland is an American computer scientist and Internet pioneer. He received the Turing Award from the Association for Computing Machinery in 1988 for the invention of Sketchpad, an early predecessor to the sort of graphical user interface that has become ubiquitous in personal...

's students and part of the university's ARPA program, sharing classes with Fred Parke
Fred Parke
Frederic Ira Parke graduated from the University of Utah with a BS degree in physics in 1965. He was then a graduate student of the University of Utah College of Engineering where he received his MS and PhD in computer science. Parke was the creator of the first CG physically modeled human face...

, James H. Clark
James H. Clark
James H. Clark is an American entrepreneur and computer scientist. He founded several notable Silicon Valley technology companies, including Silicon Graphics, Inc., Netscape Communications Corporation, myCFO and Healtheon...

, John Warnock
John Warnock
John Edward Warnock is an American computer scientist best known as the co-founder with Charles Geschke of Adobe Systems Inc., the graphics and publishing software company. Dr. Warnock was President of Adobe for his first two years and Chairman and CEO for his remaining sixteen years at the company...

 and Alan Kay
Alan Kay
Alan Curtis Kay is an American computer scientist, known for his early pioneering work on object-oriented programming and windowing graphical user interface design, and for coining the phrase, "The best way to predict the future is to invent it."He is the president of the Viewpoints Research...

. Catmull saw Sutherland's computer drawing program Sketchpad
Sketchpad
Sketchpad was a revolutionary computer program written by Ivan Sutherland in 1963 in the course of his PhD thesis, for which he received the Turing Award in 1988. It helped change the way people interact with computers...

 and the new field of computer graphics
Computer graphics
Computer graphics are graphics created using computers and, more generally, the representation and manipulation of image data by a computer with help from specialized software and hardware....

 in general as a major fundament in the future of animation, which combined his love for both technology and animation, and decided to be a part of the revolution from the beginning. From that point, his main goal and ambitions was to make a computer animated movie. During his time there he made two new fundamental computer graphics
Computer graphics
Computer graphics are graphics created using computers and, more generally, the representation and manipulation of image data by a computer with help from specialized software and hardware....

 discoveries: texture mapping
Texture mapping
Texture mapping is a method for adding detail, surface texture , or color to a computer-generated graphic or 3D model. Its application to 3D graphics was pioneered by Dr Edwin Catmull in his Ph.D. thesis of 1974.-Texture mapping:...

, and bicubic patches
B-spline
In the mathematical subfield of numerical analysis, a B-spline is a spline function that has minimal support with respect to a given degree, smoothness, and domain partition. B-splines were investigated as early as the nineteenth century by Nikolai Lobachevsky...

, and invented algorithm
Algorithm
In mathematics and computer science, an algorithm is an effective method expressed as a finite list of well-defined instructions for calculating a function. Algorithms are used for calculation, data processing, and automated reasoning...

s for anti-aliasing
Anti-aliasing
In digital signal processing, spatial anti-aliasing is the technique of minimizing the distortion artifacts known as aliasing when representing a high-resolution image at a lower resolution...

 and refining subdivision surfaces. He also independently discovered Z-buffering
Z-buffering
In computer graphics, z-buffering is the management of image depth coordinates in three-dimensional graphics, usually done in hardware, sometimes in software. It is one solution to the visibility problem, which is the problem of deciding which elements of a rendered scene are visible, and which...

, even though it had already been described 8 months before, by Wolfgang Straßer in his PhD thesis. In 1973 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
Futureworld
Futureworld is a 1976 sequel to the 1973 science fiction film Westworld. It was written by George Schenk and Mayo Simon, and directed by Richard T. Heffron. The cast included Peter Fonda, Blythe Danner, and Arthur Hill. There is also a cameo appearance by Yul Brynner in a dream sequence...

, the science fiction sequel to the film Westworld
Westworld
Westworld is a 1973 science fiction-thriller film written and directed by novelist Michael Crichton and produced by Paul Lazarus III. It stars Yul Brynner as a lifelike robot in a futuristic Western-themed amusement park, and Richard Benjamin and James Brolin as guests of the park.Westworld was the...

and the first film to use 3D computer graphics
3D computer graphics
3D computer graphics are graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data that is stored in the computer for the purposes of performing calculations and rendering 2D images...

.

In 1974, Catmull graduated again and was hired by a company called Applicon
Applicon
Applicon, Incorporated was one of the first vendors of Computer Aided Design and Manufacturing systems. It was founded in 1969 in Bedford, Massachusetts. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the company had its headquarters and R&D facility in Burlington, MA, while their manufacturing facility was in...

. However, by November the same year he had been contacted by the founder of New York Institute of Technology
New York Institute of Technology
New York Institute of Technology is a private, non-sectarian, co-educational research university in New York City. NYIT has five schools and two colleges, all with a strong emphasis on technology and applied scientific research...

, Alexander Schure
Alexander Schure
Alexander Schure was an American academic. Schure founded the New York Institute of Technology in 1955. He also served as the Chancellor of Nova Southeastern University from 1970 until 1985....

, who offered him the position as the director of the new Computer Graphics Lab at NYIT, an offer Catmull couldn't refuse.

Schure also had a great interest in animation, and was working on a project with an animated feature called Tubby the Tuba. Frustrated with the slow progress, he had been looking for tools that could help speed up the process, which turned out to be the computer graphic facilities at the University of Utah. There he also heard about the man he felt was the right man for the job, Ed Catmull. In his new position, Catmull formed a talented research group working with 2D animation, mostly focusing on tools who could assist the animators in their work. Among the inventions was a paint program simply called Paint which could be seen as an early version of Disney's CAPS, the commercial animation program Tween (used in the video called 3Measure for Measure2), inspired by an experimental computer animation system created by Nestor Burtnyk and Marcelli Wein, that automated the process of producing in-between frames, the animation program SoftCel and other software.

Catmull and his team eventually left 2D animation and started to concentrate on 3D computer graphics, moving into the field of motion picture production. By the end of the 70's, the Computer Graphics Lab was starting to struggle for several reasons and felt there was a lack of actual progress despite the technological development, but their efforts had attracted the attention of
some big names in Hollywood. These were George Lucas
George Lucas
George Walton Lucas, Jr. is an American film producer, screenwriter, and director, and entrepreneur. He is the founder, chairman and chief executive of Lucasfilm. He is best known as the creator of the space opera franchise Star Wars and the archaeologist-adventurer character Indiana Jones...

 at Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm
Lucasfilm Limited is an American film production company founded by George Lucas in 1971, based in San Francisco, California. Lucas is the company's current chairman and CEO, and Micheline Chau is the president and COO....

 and Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola
Francis Ford Coppola is an American film director, producer and screenwriter. He is widely acclaimed as one of Hollywood's most innovative and influential film directors...

. Lucas approached Catmull in 1979 and asked him to head up a group to bring computer graphics, video editing, and digital audio into the entertainment field.
Lucas has 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. Even if Lucas decided not to use it, it showed him the potential of CGI. Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith felt Lucas was the right man to work for, and they knew that what Triple-I had done could be done better. Smith went to California for a meeting, that turned out to be a success, and the computer research team at NYIT now had the opportunity to work with computer animation in the movie industry. Catmull was the first to leave, and in 1979 he became the Vice President at the computer graphics division at Lucasfilm.

At Lucasfilm he helped develop digital image compositing
Digital compositing
Digital compositing is the process of digitally assembling multiple images to make a final image, typically for print, motion pictures or screen display...

 technology used to combine multiple images in a convincing way. Later, in 1986, Steve Jobs
Steve Jobs
Steven Paul Jobs was an American businessman and inventor widely recognized as a charismatic pioneer of the personal computer revolution. He was co-founder, chairman, and chief executive officer of Apple Inc...

 bought Lucasfilm's digital division and founded Pixar
Pixar
Pixar Animation Studios, pronounced , is an American computer animation film studio based in Emeryville, California. The studio has earned 26 Academy Awards, seven Golden Globes, and three Grammy Awards, among many other awards and acknowledgments. Its films have made over $6.3 billion worldwide...

, where Catmull became the Chief Technical Officer. At Pixar, he was a key developer of the RenderMan rendering system used in films such as Toy Story
Toy Story
Toy Story is a 1995 American computer-animated film released by Walt Disney Pictures. It is Pixar's first feature film as well as the first ever feature film to be made entirely with CGI. The film was directed by John Lasseter and featuring the voices of Tom Hanks and Tim Allen...

and Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo
Finding Nemo is a 2003 American comi-drama animated film written by Andrew Stanton, directed by Andrew Stanton and Lee Unkrich and produced by Pixar. It tells the story of the overly protective clownfish Marlin who, along with a regal tang called Dory , searches for his abducted son Nemo...

.

After Disney acquired Pixar in January 2006, Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger put Catmull and John Lasseter
John Lasseter
John Alan Lasseter is an American animator, director and the chief creative officer at Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He is also currently the Principal Creative Advisor for Walt Disney Imagineering....

 in charge of reinvigorating the Disney animation studios in Burbank. According to a Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
The Los Angeles Times is a daily newspaper published in Los Angeles, California, since 1881. It was the second-largest metropolitan newspaper in circulation in the United States in 2008 and the fourth most widely distributed newspaper in the country....

 article, part of this effort was to allow directors more creative control as collaborators on their projects and to give them the creative freedom to use traditional animation techniques — a reversal of former CEO Michael Eisner
Michael Eisner
Michael Dammann Eisner is an American businessman. He was the chief executive officer of The Walt Disney Company from 1984 until 2005.-Early life:...

's decision that Disney would do only digital animation, which Catmull thought was the wrong idea of how Pixar's films did well.

Awards


In 1993, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is a professional honorary organization dedicated to the advancement of the arts and sciences of motion pictures...

 presented Catmull with his first Academy Scientific and Technical Award "for the development of PhotoRealistic RenderMan
PhotoRealistic RenderMan
PhotoRealistic RenderMan, or PRMan for short, is a proprietary photorealistic RenderMan-compliant renderer.It primarily uses the Reyes algorithm but is also fully capable of doing ray tracing and global illumination....

 software which produces images used in motion pictures from 3D computer descriptions of shape and appearance." In 1995 he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery
Association for Computing Machinery
The Association for Computing Machinery is a learned society for computing. It was founded in 1947 as the world's first scientific and educational computing society. Its membership is more than 92,000 as of 2009...

. Again in 1996, he received an Academy Scientific and Technical Award "for pioneering inventions in Digital Image Compositing". In 2001, he received an Oscar "for significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar's RenderMan." In the 81st Academy Awards
81st Academy Awards
The 81st Academy Awards ceremony, presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences , honored the best films of 2008 and took place February 22, 2009, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles beginning at 5:30 p.m. PST / 8:30 p.m. EST...

 (2008, presented in February 2009), Catmull was awarded with the Gordon E. Sawyer Award
Gordon E. Sawyer Award
The Gordon E. Sawyer Award is an accolade given each year by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry." The award is named in honour of Gordon E...

, which honors "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry."

External links


Interviews