10 Questions with Edwin Catmull,
Super Genius

by Gregory Singer and Heather Kenyon

For our issue on production technology, we thought there wouldn't be a better choice than one of the fathers of some of the most widely used production technology to take the ten question test...

Dr. Edwin Cutmull.

Edwin E. Catmull has been on the cutting edge of computer graphics since the early beginnings of the industry. As co-founder and Executive Vice President and Chief Technology Officer of Pixar Animation Studios, he has led the charge on such crowd pleasing favorites as Toy Story. Prior to joining Pixar, Dr. Catmull entered the film industry as vice president of Lucasfilm, Ltd.'s computer division in 1979. In addition to being a key creator of RenderMan, the Academy Award-winning program that creates realistic digital effects for computer graphics and animation, he also managed Lucasfilm's development efforts in computer graphics, video editing, video games and digital audio.

Dr. Catmull has been awarded the Scientific and Technical Engineering Award from The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and has also won the Coons Award, which is the highest achievement in computer graphics for his lifetime contributions. Dr. Catmull is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and the Science and Technical Awards Committee. He earned his B.S. degrees in computer science and physics and his Ph.D. in computer science from the University of Utah.

AWN: What upcoming CGI project has you excited?

Edwin Catmull: Monsters, Inc. is really going to surprise people. It is going to have a great story, be funny and look great.

AWN: In raising the bar of visual effects, what do you perceive as being the next greatest hurdle to clear?

EC: We can already do just about anything. The real problem is that it is too hard. The difficulty of producing effects is sometimes interfering with the process of telling a good story. I expect that improved techniques, faster computers and better tools will keep us on a course of continual better effects, and ultimately lower costs.

AWN: If two workstations begin rendering their scenes at the same hour, one in Toronto and one in Los Angeles, each processing at a speed of....uMmm...wait a second, I forgot the question....

AWN: What was the big milestone, what corner did we turn, in making computer animation a viable artform?

EC: While we absolutely needed advanced modeling, lighting and animation systems, the single event that let us mix computer animation with live-action film was the discovery of motion blur.

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