Edwin Catmull

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Edwin Catmull
Catmull in 2015
Edwin Earl Catmull

(1945-03-31) March 31, 1945 (age 79)
Alma materUniversity of Utah (B.S. Physics and Computer Science; Ph.D. Computer Science)
Known for
SpouseSusan Anderson
Scientific career
FieldsComputer science
ThesisA Subdivision Algorithm for Computer Display of Curved Surfaces (1974)
Doctoral advisorRobert E. Stephenson[1]

Edwin Earl Catmull (born March 31, 1945) is an American computer scientist and animator who served as the co-founder of Pixar and the President of Walt Disney Animation Studios.[3][4][5] He has been honored for his contributions to 3D computer graphics, including the 2019 ACM Turing Award.

Early life[edit]

Edwin Catmull was born on March 31, 1945, in Parkersburg, West Virginia.[6] His family later moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where his father first served as principal of Granite High School and then of Taylorsville High School.[7][8] Born in a Mormon family, Catmull was the eldest of five brothers and, as a young man, served as a missionary in the New York City area of the 1960s.

Early in his life, Catmull found inspiration in Disney movies, including Peter Pan and Pinocchio, and wanted to be an animator; however, after finishing high school, he had no idea how to get there as there were no animation schools around that time. Because he also liked math and physics, he chose a scientific career instead.[9] He also made animation using flip-books. Catmull graduated in 1969, with a B.S. in physics and computer science from the University of Utah.[6][8] Initially interested in designing programming languages, Catmull encountered Ivan Sutherland, who had designed the computer drawing program Sketchpad, and changed[vague] his interest to digital imaging.[10] As a student of Sutherland, he was part of the university's DARPA program,[11] sharing classes with James H. Clark, John Warnock and Alan Kay.[8]

From that point, his main goal and ambition were to make digitally realistic films.[12] During his time at the university, he made two new fundamental computer-graphics discoveries: texture mapping and bicubic patches; and invented algorithms for spatial anti-aliasing and refining subdivision surfaces. Catmull says the idea for subdivision surfaces came from mathematical structures in his mind when he applied B-splines to non-four sided objects.[13] He also independently discovered Z-buffering,[14] which had been described eight months before by Wolfgang Straßer in his PhD thesis.[15]

In 1972, Catmull made his earliest contribution to the film industry: a one-minute animated version of his left hand, titled A Computer Animated Hand, created with Fred Parke at the University of Utah. This short sequence was eventually picked up by a Hollywood producer and incorporated in the 1976 film Futureworld,[8][16] which was the first film to use 3D computer graphics and a science-fiction sequel to the 1973 film Westworld, itself being the first to use a pixelated image generated by a computer.[17] A Computer Animated Hand was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in December 2011.[16][18]


Early career[edit]

In 1974, Catmull earned his doctorate in computer science,[1] and was hired by a company called Applicon. By November of that year, he had been contacted by Alexander Schure, the founder of the New York Institute of Technology, who offered him the position as the director of the institute's new Computer Graphics Lab.[19][20] In that position, in 1977, he invented Tween, software for 2D animation that automatically produced frames of motion in between two frames.[21]

However, Catmull's team lacked the ability to tell a story effectively via film, harming the effort to produce a motion picture via a computer.[22] Catmull and his partner, Alvy Ray Smith, attempted to reach out to studios to alleviate this issue, but were generally unsuccessful until they attracted the attention of George Lucas at Lucasfilm.[23]


Lucas approached Catmull in 1979 and asked him to lead a group to bring computer graphics, video editing, and digital audio into the entertainment field. Lucas had already made a deal with a computer company called Triple-I, and asked them to create a digital model of an X-wing fighter from Star Wars, which they did. In 1979, Catmull became the Vice President at Industrial Light & Magic computer graphics division at Lucasfilm.[24]


In 1986, Steve Jobs bought Lucasfilm's digital division and founded Pixar, where Catmull would work.[25] Pixar would be acquired by Disney in 2006.[26]

In June 2007, Catmull and long-time Pixar digital animator and director John Lasseter were given control of Disneytoon Studios, a division of Disney Animation housed in a separate facility in Glendale. As president and chief creative officer, respectively, they have supervised three separate studios for Disney, each with its own production pipeline: Pixar, Disney Animation, and Disneytoon. While Disney Animation and Disneytoon are located in the Los Angeles area, Pixar is located over 350 miles (563 kilometers) northwest in the San Francisco Bay Area, where Catmull and Lasseter both live. Accordingly, they appointed a general manager for each studio to handle day-to-day affairs on their behalf, then began regularly commuting each week to both Pixar and Disney Animation and spending at least two days per week (usually Tuesdays and Wednesdays) at Disney Animation.[27]

While at Pixar, Catmull was implicated in the High-Tech Employee Antitrust scandal, in which Bay Area technology companies allegedly agreed, among other things, not to cold-call recruit from one another.[28][29][30] Catmull defended his actions in a deposition, saying: "While I have responsibility for the payroll, I have responsibility for the long term also."[31][32] Disney and its subsidiaries, including Pixar, ultimately paid $100 million in settlement compensation.[28][29]

In November 2014, the general managers of Disney Animation and Pixar were both promoted to president, but both continued to report to Catmull, who retained the title of president of Walt Disney and Pixar.[33] On October 23, 2018, Catmull announced his plans to retire from Pixar and Disney Animation, staying on as an adviser through July 2019.[34]


In March 2022, Thatgamecompany announced the addition of Catmull as principal adviser on creative culture and strategic growth.[35]

Personal life[edit]

As of 2006, Catmull lives in Marin County, California, with his wife, Susan Anderson, and their three children.[36]

Catmull has an inability to form mental imagery within his head, a condition known as aphantasia.[37]

Awards and honors[edit]

In 1993, Catmull received his first Academy Scientific and Technical Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences "for the development of PhotoRealistic RenderMan software which produces images used in motion pictures from 3D computer descriptions of shape and appearance". He shared this award with Tom Porter. In 1995, he was inducted as a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. Again in 1996, he received an Academy Scientific and Technical Award "for pioneering inventions in Digital Image Compositing".[38]

In 2000, Catmull was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering for leadership in the creation of digital imagery, leading to the introduction of fully synthetic visual effects and motion pictures.

In 2001, he received an Oscar "for significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering as exemplified in Pixar's RenderMan". In 2006, he was awarded the IEEE John von Neumann All-Medal Crown Of Trophies for pioneering contributions to the field of computer graphics in modeling, animation and rendering. At the 81st Academy Awards (2008, presented in February 2009), Catmull was awarded the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, which honors "an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry".[39]

In 2013, the Computer History Museum named him a Museum Fellow "for his pioneering work in computer graphics, animation and filmmaking".[40]

His book Creativity, Inc. was shortlisted for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award (2014),[41] and was a selection for Mark Zuckerberg book club in March 2015.[42]

Catmull shared the 2019 Turing Award with Pat Hanrahan for their pioneering work on computer-generated imagery.[43][44]



Year Film Credited as
1976 Futureworld Producer: Animated Face and Animated Hand Film
1982 Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan Computer Graphics: Industrial Light & Magic
1995 Toy Story Executive Producer, RenderMan(R) Software Development
1998 A Bug's Life Executive Team - uncredited
1999 Toy Story 2
2001 Monsters, Inc.
2003 Finding Nemo
2004 The Incredibles
2006 Cars Executive Team
2007 Meet the Robinsons Executive Team
Ratatouille Executive Team
2008 WALL-E Pixar Senior Staff
Tinker Bell Executive Team: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios
Bolt Executive Team
2009 Up Pixar Senior Staff
Tinker Bell and the Lost Treasure Executive Team: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios
The Princess and the Frog Disney Senior Staff
2010 Toy Story 3 Pixar Executive Team
Tinker Bell and the Great Fairy Rescue Executive Team: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios
Tangled Studio Leadership
2011 Winnie the Pooh
Cars 2 Pixar Senior Leadership Team
2012 Brave
Secret of the Wings Executive Team: Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios
Wreck-It Ralph Studio Leadership
2013 Monsters University Pixar Senior Leadership Team
Planes Studio Leadership: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Frozen Studio Leadership
2014 The Pirate Fairy Studio Leadership: Walt Disney Animation Studios
Planes: Fire & Rescue
Big Hero 6 Studio Leadership
Tinker Bell and the Legend of the NeverBeast Studio Leadership: Walt Disney Animation Studios
2015 Inside Out Pixar Senior Leadership Team
The Good Dinosaur
2016 Zootopia Studio Leadership
Finding Dory Pixar Senior Leadership Team
Moana Studio Leadership
2017 Cars 3 Pixar Senior Leadership Team
2018 Incredibles 2
Ralph Breaks the Internet Studio Leadership
2019 Toy Story 4 Pixar Senior Leadership Team
Frozen II Studio Leadership
2020 Onward Pixar Senior Leadership Team


  • Catmull, Ed; Amy Wallace (2014). Creativity Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration. New York: Random House. ISBN 978-0-8129-9301-1. OCLC 851419994.
  • Catmull, Ed (2016). "Part 2: Wealthy § Ed Catmull." Pp. 309–13 in Tools of Titans: The Tactics, Routines, and Habits of Billionaires, Icons, and World-Class Performers, edited by Tim Ferriss. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ISBN 9781328683786.


  1. ^ a b Catmull, Edwin Earl (1974). A subdivision algorithm for computer display of curved surfaces (PDF) (PhD thesis). University of Utah. Archived (PDF) from the original on September 26, 2020.
  2. ^ Catmull, E.; Clark, J. (1978). "Recursively generated B-spline surfaces on arbitrary topological meshes" (PDF). Computer-Aided Design. 10 (6): 350. doi:10.1016/0010-4485(78)90110-0. S2CID 121149868.
  3. ^ Cook, R. L.; Carpenter, L.; Catmull, E. (1987). "The Reyes image rendering architecture" (PDF). ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics. 21 (4): 95–102. doi:10.1145/37402.37414. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved August 28, 2015.
  4. ^ Price, David P. T. (2009). The Pixar Touch (Vintage). London: Vintage. ISBN 978-0-307-27829-6.
  5. ^ Michael Rubin, Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution (2005), ISBN 0-937404-67-5
  6. ^ a b Avery, Laura (2004). Newsmakers. Gale Research. p. 61. ISBN 978-0-7876-6806-8. ISSN 0899-0417. OCLC 17977680.
  7. ^ Katie, Harmer (June 20, 2013). "Pixar ties to Utah run deep". Deseret News. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  8. ^ a b c d David A. Price (2008). The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company. Alfred A. Knopf. pp. 12–13, 21. ISBN 978-0-307-26950-8. Retrieved January 4, 2016.
  9. ^ Ed Catmull: Creativity, Inc.
  10. ^ Catmull & Wallace, p. 11
  11. ^ "A conversation with Ed Catmull - ACM Queue". acm.org.
  12. ^ Innerview - Edwin Catmull Archived March 4, 2016, at the Wayback Machine
  13. ^ Oral History of Edwin "Ed" Catmull; 2013-03-01
  14. ^ "Edwin Catmull". awards.acm.org. Retrieved April 11, 2023.
  15. ^ Straßer, Wolfgang. Schnelle Kurven- und Flächendarstellung auf graphischen Sichtgeräten, Dissertation, TU Berlin, submitted April 26, 1974
  16. ^ a b "2011 National Film Registry More Than a Box of Chocolates". Library of Congress. December 28, 2011. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  17. ^ Trenholm, Richard. "Westworld's twists were hidden in Futureworld all along". CNET. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  18. ^ Itzkoff, Dave (December 27, 2011). "'Silence of the Lambs', 'Bambi' and 'Forrest Gump' added to National Film Registry". New York Times: Artsbeat. Retrieved December 28, 2011.
  19. ^ Hanrahan, Pat (November 13, 2010). "A Conversation with Ed Catmull". queue.acm.org. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  20. ^ "Edwin Catmull". 2008. Retrieved June 27, 2019.
  21. ^ Catmull & Wallace, p. 24
  22. ^ Catmull & Wallace, p. 25
  23. ^ Catmull & Wallace, pp. 25–27
  24. ^ "The Pixar Story: Dick Shoup, Alex Schure, George Lucas, Steve Jobs, and Disney". August 14, 2013.
  25. ^ Catmull & Wallace, pp. 42–43
  26. ^ Catmull & Wallace, p. 145
  27. ^ Lev-Ram, Michal (December 31, 2014). "A candid conversation with Pixar's philosopher-king, Ed Catmull". Fortune. Time Inc. Retrieved January 11, 2015.
  28. ^ a b Johnson, Ted (February 2017). "Animation Workers Reach $100 Million Settlement With Disney in Wage-Fixing Suit". Variety. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  29. ^ a b Amidi, Amid (July 11, 2014). "Pixar's Ed Catmull Emerges As Central Figure In The Wage-Fixing Scandal". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  30. ^ Ames, Mark. "REVEALED: Emails, court docs show how Sony stood up to Steve Jobs' and Pixar's wage-fixing cartel". Pando. Archived from the original on March 21, 2020. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  31. ^ Rosenblatt, Joel (November 20, 2014). "A conspiracy or a lawsuit all about money?". independent.ie. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  32. ^ Cano, Georgia (February 2019). "Op-Ed: Why I Filed The Wage-Theft Lawsuit Against Major Animation Studios". Cartoon Brew. Retrieved March 21, 2020.
  33. ^ Graser, Marc (November 18, 2014). "Walt Disney Animation, Pixar Promote Andrew Millstein, Jim Morris to President". Variety. Variety Media, LLC. Retrieved November 18, 2014.
  34. ^ "Pixar Co-Founder Ed Catmull to Retire". The Hollywood Reporter. Retrieved October 23, 2018.
  35. ^ "Sky and Journey maker Thatgamecompany raises $160M". VentureBeat. March 3, 2022. Retrieved March 17, 2023.
  36. ^ Eller, Claudia (June 12, 2006). "Disney's Low-Key Superhero". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  37. ^ Gallagher, James (April 9, 2019). "Aphantasia: Ex-Pixar chief Ed Catmull says 'my mind's eye is blind'". BBC News. Retrieved April 15, 2022.
  38. ^ "Three Pixar execs get special Oscars". San Francisco Chronicle. February 1, 1996. Retrieved March 12, 2009.
  39. ^ Moody, Annemarie (January 6, 2009). "Academy to Honor Ed Catmull with Gordon E. Sawyer Oscar". Animation World Network. Retrieved March 19, 2020.
  40. ^ "Edwin Catmull—CHM Fellow Award Winner". Computerhistory.org. March 30, 2015. Archived from the original on April 3, 2015. Retrieved March 30, 2015.
  41. ^ Andrew Hill (September 24, 2014). "Shortlist unveiled for FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year". Financial Times. Archived from the original on December 10, 2022. Retrieved November 12, 2014.
  42. ^ Richard Feloni (March 3, 2015). "Why Mark Zuckerberg thinks everyone can learn something from Pixar". Business Insider. Retrieved April 19, 2015.
  43. ^ Metz, Cade (March 18, 2020). "Pixar Pioneers Win $1 Million Turing Award". The New York Times. Retrieved March 18, 2020.
  44. ^ Thomas, Zoe (April 5, 2020). "Pixar animators win 'Nobel Prize' of computing". BBC News. Retrieved April 6, 2020.

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