Pixar pioneers win this year’s $1 million Turing Award

By

Toy Story
Toy Story would never have existed without this dynamic duo.
Photo: Pixar

Ed Catmull and Dr. Pat Hanrahan, who created the 3D computer graphic breakthroughs that led to Pixar, have been awarded this year’s Turing Award, it was announced Wednesday.

The award, which is often called the Nobel Prize of computing, carries a $1 million prize.

Catmull, 74, went on to become president of Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios. He retired in October 2018, but remained an advisor through July 2019.

Hanrahan, 64, is professor of computer science and electrical engineering in the Computer Graphics Laboratory at Stanford University. He previously worked at Pixar, where he was employed through 1989 before leaving for academia.

“I didn’t think it would be possible [to create a feature-length computer-animated film] in my lifetime, but I could spend the rest of my life working on it,” Hanrahan told the New York Times.

Much of Catmull and Hanrahan’s Turing Award-winning research led to the creation of Pixar’s RenderMan. This groundbreaking 3D graphics software software paved the way for Toy Story. It was also used to create the special effects for movies such as Terminator 2: Judgment Day and Jurassic Park.

Steve Jobs and Pixar: Route to the Turing Award

When Steve Jobs bought Pixar in the 1980s, RenderMan was one of the products Pixar attempted to sell to make money from what was then a cash-losing venture.

Pixar is a crucial part of the Jobs story. Although it’s not quite as indelibly associated with Jobs as Apple is, it was actually the company which transformed Apple’s founder into a billionaire.

There’s no doubt that Pixar changed Hollywood, video games and many other facets of computing with its pioneering focus on computer graphics.

Things would look very, very different without the contributions of Catmull and Hanrahan. Congratulations to them both!