The Turing Award 2019, one of the highest awards in the computer sector, was presented today to Pat Hanrahan and Ed Catmull, founding members of Pixar, who helped shape the future of computer graphics. The two share a $ 1 million prize and of course the satisfaction of receiving this prestigious award for something they clearly love.
The award was recently given to greats such as Tim Berners-Lee, cryptographer Martin Hellman and AI pioneers Yoshua Bengio, Geoffrey Hinton and Yann LeCun.
Catmull has been with Pixar for more than 30 years and was named President of a LucasFilm animation studio bought and converted by Steve Jobs from the start. Hanrahan was early on, and between them the two would have had a tremendous impact on the CG world, even if they hadn't built the technology flagship.
I spoke to Catmull and Hanrahan about the area's origins and their early work in it, which the Association for Computing Machinery recognized this year.
"When I started there were no graphics," Hanrahan recalled. "I discovered graphics in the graduate school, but there were no professors, no classes, it wasn't even in computer science, really."
"CG was not considered to be on the same level as new architectures and languages," said Catmull. “But we believed that this would be a fundamental tool in the future. It was only a long time before we were here. "
This conviction was shared by George Lucas, who commissioned Catmull to work on CG images as early as 1979. It wasn't until 1986 that Pixar was founded and Hanrahan joined the team.
Hanrahan was with Pixar for only a few years, but during that time created some of the tools and techniques that essentially enabled modern CG images. The system for which he was the Architect RenderMan enabled the use of complex lighting and shaders, creating a final image with a much more realistic feel than before. For anyone curious about the name, Hanrahan has a funny story:
"When I came to California, I met Jaron Lanier, he actually came to Pixar and was enthusiastic about VR," he said. "During that time you had the Walkman, the Discman and Jaron. What we need is a" RenderMan ". You hang it on your belt and just put on your glasses. This will reproduce these incredible scenes." But nobody else really liked the word RenderMan, so I got a lot of flak about it. I'm definitely not in marketing. "
Catmull's contributions were equally important; As a researcher, he had established early techniques for Z-buffering in 3D environments (which is really important) and texture mapping, one of the most basic processes for realistic CG graphics. Even as a doctoral student, he developed a new way of representing polygonal surfaces as smooth shapes that seemed to be lost in time. It was repeated until years later by another researcher who was hired by Catmull and brought the technology with him.
"It was so successful that they exchanged what they did with Bug & # 39; s Life," said Catmull. "I was so busy building the company and making films, and so on. I was only aware of last year when the MPAA gave me an award for developing these techniques, which are now the dominant technique in all animations. "
While the traces these two have left in the world of CG and filmmaking are considerable, they pride themselves on promoting the intersection between creativity and technology in their respective fields.
"What I'm most proud of is maintaining an environment in Pixar where we've kept technology and art in balance for so many years," said Catmull. “We built a relationship between a group of artists who want to do something new and technical people who work on things that people don't normally see. This leads to this really phenomenal dynamic between the two. "
Hanrahan in turn had a fruitful academic career and later founded Tableau.
"I am very happy about my lessons," he said. "I just graduated 40th. They did great things, I mean, from my group, we started 16 companies, and many are professors of computer graphics and so on. And Tableau was a big deal for me – I think building a company that is part of the community and a good place to work is more noticeable to me than my technical achievements. "
I will publish more of our extensive interview soon. Congratulations to the couple for their far-reaching and influential work in the field of computers and beyond.