The Creation of Pixar with Alvy Ray Smith

Alvy Ray Smith

Alvy Ray Smith is an American computer scientist, a Co-founder of the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Division, Pixar, and Altamira Software. Alvy was part of the 1980s and 1990s expansion of computer animation into feature films. He created his first computer graphic in 1965 at New Mexico State and by 1970, earned a PhD in computer science from Stanford University. 

Altamira Software was eventually purchased by Microsoft, where Alvy was the first Graphics Fellow. He was also the first Director of Computer Graphics at Lucasfilm. More recently, he is the Author of the book, A Biography of the Pixel


Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn: 

  • Alvy Ray Smith reveals the beginnings of Pixar, including the millionaire who made 24-bit pixels possible for the first time, meeting Ed Catmull and George Lucas, and why he joined Lucasfilm 
  • How the Computer Graphics Division got the gig designing computer graphics for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • Pixar’s big announcement at the 1984 SIGGRAPH conference
  • How Pixar and Disney’s friendship started and why it paid off in the long run 
  • Alvy talks about the key players on the Pixar team, like John Lasseter and Bill Reeves
  • Why the short film, The Adventures of André and Wally B, was monumental
  • All the fall-throughs that led to Steve Jobs’ investment in Pixar 
  • Alvy’s tumultuous relationship with Steve Jobs and the “whiteboard incident”
  • The significance of Toy Story’s creation 
  • Alvy shares his life after Pixar: the evolution of Altamira and partnering with Microsoft
  • The unique work culture at Pixar
  • A quick look inside Alvy’s book, A Biography of the Pixel

In this episode…

Pixar is one of the largest animated film companies in the world, valued at over $7 billion. They’ve released 24 full-length animated feature films since Toy Story was released in 1995. Pixar is now a household name, with children and adults alike falling in love with their movies for the last half-century. But how did it get started?

Alvy Ray Smith was there from the very beginning. Through a serendipitous turn of events, he met Ed Catmull and George Lucas and made the move for California to work at the Lucasfilms Computer Division as the Director of Computer Graphics. From there, he went on to work with the best talent in the world and turn the dream of fully animated feature films into reality. The result? Pixar Animation Studios. 

In this episode of Top Minds, Dr. Scot Gray and co-host Dr. Jeremy Weisz are joined by Pixar Co-founder, Alvy Ray Smith, to discuss the roots of one of the largest animated film companies in the world. Alvy talks about the milestones of Pixar’s journey, how they became an independent company, his tumultuous relationship with the man who invested in the company’s rise, and his business ventures after Pixar.

Resources Mentioned in this episode

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