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Interview With Head of Pixar Animation Ed Catmull 85

Posted by CmdrTaco
from the all-hail-pixar dept.
CowboyRobot writes "Stanford professor Pat Hanrahan discusses graphics with Pixar Animation Studios President Ed Catmull. Hanrahan and Catmull share an Oscar award for developing RenderMan. 'Among the many things that are inspiring about Pixar, and one way you've had a huge impact on the world, is that you changed many people's views of what computing is all about. A lot of people think of computing as number crunching whose main application is business and engineering. Pixar added an artistic side to computing. I've talked to many students who realize that art can be part of computing; that creativity can be part of computing; that they can merge their interests in art and science. They think of computing as a very fulfilling pursuit.'" I liked this, and not just because I spent the last week watching Toy Story 3 multiple times with my kid. Catmull talks a lot about the intersection of science & art and the time before Pixar. Anyone else think Pixar might be the geek Mecca? Do they do tours?
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Interview With Head of Pixar Animation Ed Catmull

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  • Always been there (Score:5, Insightful)

    by anvilmark (259376) on Monday November 15, 2010 @11:07AM (#34230806)

    Old programmers can tell you that software has always been a type of art. An esoteric form of art perhaps, but a piece of well written code is a thing of beauty.

    • by timeOday (582209)
      But these days computing is less esoteric than ever. Who still thinks of "computing as number crunching whose main application is business and engineering"? Computers are mundane now. As I was earning my CS degree, I got more comments like, "what's to research? You turn on the computer, do your word processing or whatever, and turn it off."
      • "what's to research? You turn on the computer, do your word processing or whatever, and turn it off."

        Perhaps that's how most folks use computers, but how I use a computer is completely different...

        I have an interesting idea. I turn on the computer. My ideas are made "concrete", virtually palpable (literally) and instantly available to millions of other minds.

        Note: At this point I have no incentive to "turn it off".

        Virtually anything I can imagine I can make appear on the computer screen.
        A coder sees a computer as a place where anything is (or will shortly become) possible.
        The biggest part of my own "rese

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by immakiku (777365)
      It's art in a different form than the fine art that this article refers to. It's the art of simplicity and elegance, similar to a nice mathematical proof. But I think the article is relating computing to the art developed for the prime purpose of aesthetics.
      • by Talderas (1212466)

        Step 1: Appeal to liberal arts majors.
        Step 2: Increase visual arts programmers pool.
        Step 3: Be able to lower initial salaries due to increase in pool of applicable employees.
        Step 4: ???
        Step 5: Profit!

    • by vlm (69642)

      An esoteric form of art perhaps, but a piece of well written code is a thing of beauty.

      Both are so rare, so they must be valuable.

    • Old programmers can tell you that software has always been a type of art. An esoteric form of art perhaps, but a piece of well written code is a thing of beauty.

      It's even smaller than Esoteric - a piece of well written code isn't actually MEANT to be seen by anyone. A perfect piece of code would never need to be touched again, were such a thing possible (I know its not). I view good code as something that preforms its function - accounts for a wide variety of input - and is highly maintainable. If you've achieved that, you won't be needing to alter the code that much, if at all.

      What Pixar does is actually ART art. It's something that you put on display for the mass

      • whens the last time you cried at a piece of code?

        When I worked for a large ERP software company, every time I had to do maintenance on a 5,000 line stored procedure...

  • geek mecca? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by martas (1439879) on Monday November 15, 2010 @11:08AM (#34230822)
    I can think of much better candidates for "geek mecca": Alan Turing memorial statue in Sackville Park, Manchester; the HP garage in Palo Alto, California; the first Department of Computer Sciences -- Purdue University; the list goes on.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by robthebloke (1308483)
      I completely agree with you. Personally (as someone involved in the CG industry), I'd say that the computer graphics lab at NYIT, and ILM have a higher geek status than Pixar (which would not have existed if not for Lucas and NYIT).....
    • Check out the geek atlas [geekatlas.com]. There's a lot of places that are very heavy on the geek factor, plus generally interesting to see.

    • by ChipMonk (711367)
      If Pixar is geek Mecca, call me an infidel. I wouldn't work for thieving, hypocritical [wordpress.com] Disney any more than I'd work for Mickeysoft... er, Micro$haft.
  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna (970587) on Monday November 15, 2010 @11:12AM (#34230860) Journal
    Toy Story 3 is a masterstroke in timing. TS1 exploited all the nostalgia the parents were having seeing their trusted old toys brought back in vivid color and life. The kids who watched TS1 are going to college now and TS3 exploits the nostalgia of these teenagers. I heard teenage boys unabashedly admit they cried in the last scene. In fact one of the walking backwards college tour guides (Amherst, MA) proudly declared he cried too.

    As for science intersecting with arts, it has always been the case. Statues and sculpting advanced metallurgy as much as canons and swords.

    • I did have watery eyes near the end.. didn't quite get to the tears stage though.

    • by Wiarumas (919682) on Monday November 15, 2010 @12:18PM (#34231530)
      Good point. And here all I was seeing was political undertones...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Ihmhi (1206036)

        That kind of shit has been creeping into children's television for decades.

        Ever watch Sesame Street? All that stuff they say about sharing? Sounds an awful lot like commie pinko propaganda, don't you think? And that green fucker in the garbage can looks a hell of a lot like Stalin.

        Man, don't even get me started on the Teletubbies and their Homosexual Socialist agenda.

    • by sootman (158191)

      I was amused at how the ending of TS3 was received by the audience. Every adult in the theater was crying, every kid (my 4 year old included) was smiling because (to them) it was a happy thing that was happening.

  • "I've talked to many students who realize that art can be part of computing; that creativity can be part of computing; that they can merge their interests in art and science. They think of computing as a very fulfilling pursuit."

    That SOUNDS nice, but most people won't make the money that Pixar does. Nothing is more fulfilling than having the opportunity to EVEN find a job that pays a decent wage. Pixar might be more of a geek mecca if average geeks could actually get a job there.
    • by njen (859685)
      As far as the industry is concerned, Pixar actually pay about 20% - 30% less than most of the other high profile studios (Dreamworks, ILM, Digital Domain, etc.)

      It's common knowledge that one does not go work at Pixar for the money.
    • If money was actually fulfilment, I would be working offshore right now, for 10x the amount that I make from coding. I do consider it occasionally to get a bit of a boost to make stuff like buying a house easier, but that's certainly not "fulfilment". It's just security. I already feel relatively secure with the wages I have anyway, and I know I'd have a hard time finding another job where the perks are as good as the one I already have.

  • I've said this before when the topic of Pixar came up but I would really, really love to see them produce a movie specifically for adults! I don't mean pornographic or lots of explosions, either. Just a well written, animated movie! You can do so much when it's all animated and it's easier to suspend disbelief for fantastic visuals. No one complains that a crazy scene looks cgi if the whole movie is cgi! :) It just seems like there's this stigma about animation being only for children in America. If anyone
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by pete_norm (150498)

      Ratatouille was great, and not necessarily a children movie. Last time i took a plane, it was the in-flight movie, and everyone listened to it, from grandfathers to children. Nobody had anything to say about the fact that it's supposed to be children movie, and, by the reactions during th movie, i guess everyone liked it. The same could be said of The Incredibles which is a really good Super Hero movie in itself.

      • didn't like Ratatouille one bit. Rats in the kitchen. erghhh. Gives me the hebejebes.
        • by tepples (727027)

          Rats in the kitchen. erghhh. Gives me the hebejebes.

          Then I guess you wouldn't like a lot of other films from Disney's parent company: the Mickey Mouse shorts, The Rescuers, and a bunch of other films with talking rodents.

      • by falldeaf (968657)
        I haven't seen Ratatouille but I really enjoyed The Incredibles. I thought the movie was well done, polished and interesting. Lots of childrens movies are awfully immature and boring but have a few adult references thrown in almost like easter eggs to keep the parents from dying of boredom. All the Pixar movies I've seen have been pretty entertaining throughout on their own merit. But even so I think they're just so well written and animated they Children love them and anyone can enjoy them.
    • by gman003 (1693318)
      Check out Advent Children. Yes, the dubbing was terrible, and the story is a bit disappointing and difficult to follow, but the action scenes are incredible - both in the sense of "that's awesome" and "I can't believe that". It's only a "good movie" to fans of the franchise, but it does show the possibilities for non-kid-oriented CGI. For one, it proves that "nobody complains that a crazy scene looks cgi if the whole movie is cgi" - more people complained about the drawn-out emotional scenes than the use of
      • by falldeaf (968657)
        I did actually see that one and I thought pretty much exactly the same thing. The visuals were amazing but the plot and writing was pretty awful. And that's coming from an old-school final fantasy fan.
    • Re: (Score:2, Flamebait)

      by somersault (912633)

      Did you just use Wall-E as an example of "deep writing"? It's the only Pixar movie I don't consider worth buying on DVD. It's visually pretty nice, but I found the plot pretty hard to take seriously. Graphically it was amazing, but other than that I thought it was one of the worst films I've ever seen..

      I can suspend disbelief for toys coming to life, but the sentient robots in Wall-E didn't do it for me. Wall-E developing sentience just from being alive for a long time, and on the flip side his gf suddenly

      • by falldeaf (968657)
        I honestly thought the writing in Wall-E was pretty incredible. I don't think they were saying Wall-E gained sentience from being on for a long time. At least I don't remember that being part of the plot. One of the amazing parts for me was how emotive Wall-E was without ever speaking a single word. Sometimes when I remember back to the movie I forget that the two main characters had zero lines of dialogue. I seriously doubt many other writers could pull that off. I am a huge sci-fi fan too though, so mayb
        • I love sci-fi. I just remember finding the whole movie annoyingly lame after all the hype that was surrounding it. There were ads for it in the cinema something like 5 months before it even came out. I was excited about it for months, though a little annoyed at how much they drew it out.

          I also just remembered part of the reason I disliked it so much: the ads made it look like the whole thing was set in a post apocalyptic wasteland with just Wall-E and his girl, but that part didn't last long in the movie, a

          • by Rakarra (112805)

            I love sci-fi. I just remember finding the whole movie annoyingly lame after all the hype that was surrounding it. There were ads for it in the cinema something like 5 months before it even came out.

            Five months? These days that's nothing. I remember being shocked when I saw a commercial for Godzilla (1998) in the theater a full twelve months before it came out.

        • no lines if you don't think saying each other's names is dialogue. "Wallie" and "Eva" (Wall-e's Eve)
      • by DinDaddy (1168147)

        Subjective opinion, and everyone's is arguably equal, but you are part of a pretty small minority in that one.

        • Indeed, though I'm part of a small minority in many cases.. I enjoy minority browsers, operating systems, TV series, music, and sports.

          I didn't like the Lord of the Rings books and movies that much either! *runs before he is set aflame*

      • by sahonen (680948)
        My main beef was the characterization of the population of the Axiom. They've spent their entire lives on a space ship where their every whim is catered to by robots, and so have their parents and grandparents for many many generations. All of a sudden, out of nowhere they're being told that, hooray, Earth is growing plants again, we all get to go home... And every single person is totally, completely, enthusiastically on board with changing their entire way of life, to repopulate a deserted (and actually,
        • by Rakarra (112805)

          All of a sudden, out of nowhere they're being told that, hooray, Earth is growing plants again, we all get to go home... And every single person is totally, completely, enthusiastically on board with changing their entire way of life, to repopulate a deserted (and actually, still pretty polluted and disgusting) planet from scratch when none of them have ever had any sort of experience or exposure to even the outdoors, much less things like farming and the hardships of a largely non-technological existence.

          I think you could make the case that almost none of them knew what they were actually getting into (even the videos the captain watched whitewashed the process of farming). Much like, say, Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie might think going to spend the summer on a farm milking cows and such might be "rustic" and "fun," then the realities of hard work and getting dirty set in, things that didn't occur to them since that way of life is so foreign.

          They crew seemed kind of disappointed in Earth once they got ther

          • by sahonen (680948)
            I suppose I can agree that maybe they didn't know what they were getting into... But I still have trouble with the idea that everyone would be that enthusiastic and that nobody would be hesitant about such a drastic change in their fundamental way of life, especially when the movie presents them as having been brought up as mindless consumers in the cradle of BnL Corp. I really don't see any precedent in the movie for these people to have any interest in anything outside of spending every moment relaxing an
      • Re:Adult movie (Score:4, Insightful)

        by nizo (81281) * on Monday November 15, 2010 @01:50PM (#34232734) Homepage Journal

        Huh, I was under the impression that the only reason the robots on the Axiom didn't become sentient is because they were "fixed" when they started showing aberrant behavior, which in Wall-e's case led to him becoming sentient.

        Then again there are plenty of things to nitpick about the movie reality-wise (I mean seriously, the Axiom just jettisoned trash into space instead of recycling?) but at least for me the heart of the story overcame all that. And IMO the "dancing in space" scene was one of the most beautiful scenes I've ever seen in a movie.

      • by Yunzil (181064)

        Graphically it was amazing, but other than that I thought it was one of the worst films I've ever seen..

        Everyone is entitled to their opinion; even if yours is utterly wrong.

      • by Dutch Gun (899105)

        It's funny, the bar for Pixar movies is so high that, for me at least, Wall-E was a "flop" even though I'd have to still give it an 7 or 8/10. If it was one of the worst films ever made, you apparently haven't seen a lot of films, or your tastes differ from most people's to a pretty extraordinary degree.

        Honestly, I'm also getting tired of thinly-veiled environmental messages shoved down my throat (see: every other Miyasaki movie), and at this point it just puts me in an off mood for the rest of the movie.

        • True, as a general movie I guess it was okay, saying it was one of the worst movies I've ever seen was a bit harsh. Perhaps should have said one of the most disappointing movies I've ever seen.

          This conversation has just reminded me of "9" though. Again it was graphically amazing and had a cool soundtrack, but the plot was so incredibly dumb.. it had no logic to it.

    • by mcgrew (92797) *

      It just seems like there's this stigma about animation being only for children in America.

      Which is silly as all getout. Warner Brothers cartoons were meant for adults. Ralph Bakshi tried to make cartoons "not for kids", Fritz the Cat was the only full length animated motion picture ever to be rated X by the MPAA, and Cool World was rated R.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      I would really, really love to see them produce a movie specifically for adults!

      I would argue that Up! was largely a movie for adults. The segment showing Carl and Ellie's married life together (in four minutes, with no dialogue), complete their being told they can't have children, their economic pressures and Elle's death (blah blah blah spoiler alert, live with it) is not a segment for kids... It rings very true for any 'married' grownups. I remember watching it (again) on a flight, and all the adults

      • by falldeaf (968657)
        I'm not sure I agree with you completely, you're right that that scene had more grown up themes than people usually think kids can handle but I think that's why their stories are so good. They're not pandering to kids and they treat them with a little more respect than most 100% slapstick kids movies. Plus, that scene aside the majority of the movie contained more typical childrens themes and humor. However if your point is that Pixar movies blur the line between kids movies and more grown up entertainment
  • by linuxwrangler (582055) on Monday November 15, 2010 @11:25AM (#34230992)

    Don't know about tours, but there is currently a big "25 years of Pixar" exhibit at the Oakland Museum of California: http://museumca.org/exhibit/pixar-25-years-animation [museumca.org]

  • by PPH (736903)

    When I saw the title "Interview with Head of Pixar Animation", I couldn't help wondering why they only had implemented a head. The Japanese have progressed so much farther [slashdot.org].

    • by JustOK (667959)

      It was a scheduling thing, not technological. All american assholes were in Washington. D.C.

  • Anyone else think Pixar might be the geek Mecca? Do they do tours?

    Sounds very much like those whom worship the idea of being a game programmer, while knowing nothing of the working conditions.

    Not saying the conclusion (run! its a sweatshop!) is identical, just saying it sounds creepily similar.

    All we need is a slashvertisement for a 2 year AA degree in "computer animation" "as advertised on cable TV" and the circle will be complete...

  • Its nice to know about computing history if you have the time. But not too relevant. The whole software industry is like a giant ocean liner moving forward to the future. Being 15 or 50 years old doesnt matter. We all to to be updating our technology.
  • I recall in an early ray tracing text the author talking about a college professor who stated that computer graphics were pointless and that computers should be used for nothing but pure number crunching. And people wonder why the title "professor" does not automatically impress me. I could see the potential even as a kid when I saw an early system that just did line drawings on a plotter.

  • by jcr (53032)

    I remember Renderman being bundled with NeXTSTEP. I wish we still had it in Mac OS X.

    -jcr

  • Pixar were responsible for unirally's [nintendolife.com] production being stopped and any hopes of a sequel dashed.

    All because the game used a red unicycle, to me this is like suing someone because they used a tennis ball in a game of tennis.

    Then again I should expect such things from a company founded by jobs

  • "I've talked to many students who realize that art can be part of computing; that creativity can be part of computing; that they can merge their interests in art and science." It's so obvious - but so under appreciated. I've always been skilled with computers, and fought the urge to be a geek, rather lending my efforts to more traditional creative pursuits in the fine arts all through college. One of the most critical realizations of my life was coming to understand the truth in this quote- computers are
  • so what ever happened to Larry Gritz?
    I used to be a big fan of BMRT

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_Moon_Rendering_Tools [wikipedia.org]

    The article explains most of it. BMRT was a freely available Renderman-compatible renderer. It was available for years until Larry Gritz decided to produce an upgraded commercial version.

    It was quite a fun toy to play with, and also probably stopped quite a few aspiring 3D artists from learning RM.

    • by ACorvus (202386)

      Ugh, that last sentence makes no sense; I meant:

      "its loss probably stopped quite a few aspiring 3D artists from learning RM."

    • by artao (648799)
      Well, now there is Aqsis and Pixie. Aqsis has more active development. Both are perfectly capable RM-compliant renderers. Besides, one can still use BMRT if one wants ... I've still got the last release. ... never have gotten the hang of RM though, mostly due to the difficulties of RMSL, I'm just not a programmer that way I guess ...
  • Every year, Pixar hosts a benefit for San Francisco's Cartoon Art Museum. There are screenings, Q&A sessions, and exhibits of pre-production artwork. The last one was November 6th, so it will be almost another year before the next one. http://cartoonart.org/2010/10/seventh-annual-cartoon-art-museum-benefit-at-pixar-animation-studios/ [cartoonart.org]
  • by ukemike (956477)
    They don't really do tours, unless you know someone. Our office is near Pixar and this summer they needed access to some of our parking spaces for some of the construction they have been doing. They gave us a tour in return. It was neat and it went a long way to make up for the self-absorbed attitude exhibited by most of the Pixels. (That's what we call Pixar people, though sometimes we call them Pixies). It even took an edge off the irritation we had after the two months of pile driving, and the month
  • Yeah, in case anyone else thought the name was familiar [wikipedia.org]...
  • The correct url to the interview is: http://queue.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1883592 [acm.org] not http://queuedev.acm.org/detail.cfm?id=1883592 [acm.org]
  • In case your IP is blocked by ACM as mine.

    http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:5hQeyIzYvqEJ:queue.acm.org/detail.cfm%3Fid%3D1883592+ed+catmull+acm&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=in
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