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September 8

September 8, 1943 – Pixar Co-Founder Alvy Ray Smith is Born

“Our group was in love with animation, and we knew a lot about animation. We couldn’t animate very well, but we understood it.”

On September 8, 1943, engineer and Pixar co-founder Alvy Ray Smith was born in Texas. While attending New Mexico State University, Smith took a course in computer programming, and went on to get his Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Stanford University. Smith’s life-long love of painting continued while at Stanford, and his paintings were shown at the Stanford Coffee House. After graduating, Smith went on to New York University to teach classes in cellular automata, a branch of computer science on which he had written his thesis. After a skiing accident in 1973, which left him in the hospital in a full-body cast for three months, Smith decided to change the direction his life was going, and moved back to California with no real plan.

Smith soon got a job at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Center (PARC) in a roundabout way (being brought on via purchase order) by his friend Dick Shoup, who was playing with a new painting-software project known as SuperPaint, to which Smith provided the HSV (hue, saturation, and value) color space. Unfortunately, Xerox took away the machine, leaving Smith and his new coworker David DiFrancesco without their important frame buffer. In 1975, Smith went to work at the New York Institute of Technology, the only place in the country willing to put millions of dollars into this new technology. There he met Ed Catmull, who gave Alvy a new direction: make an animated film using the computer.

After being hired by George Lucas, Catmull and Smith founded a new computer division at Lucasfilm, which developed a new digital editing system, a digital sound system, a laser scanner, and a new graphics computer. Smith was instrumental in helping create a realistic shot in the film Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, when Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic division was unable to get the shot conventionally. In 1986, Smith helped co-found Pixar with Catmull, and the two worked hard to hire the best animators to help build their dream of a completely computer-animated film. In 1991, Smith left Pixar and founded the Altamira Software Corporation, which was acquired by Microsoft in 1994. Smith resigned in 1999, and is currently the founder and president of Ars Longa, a digital photography company.

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