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A Conversation With Ed Catmull

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Pixar president Ed Catmull

"When I graduated my goal was not as lofty as emulating all of reality; it was to make an animated film," says Pixar president Ed Catmull.

Credit: Kevin Winter / Getty Images

In a conversation with Stanford University professor Pat Hanrahan, Pixar Animation Studios president Ed Catmull recalls that during his time in the University of Utah's computer graphics program he had a clear objective of developing computer graphics technology to make motion pictures. "We believed that achieving the appearance of reality was a great technical goal—not because we were trying to emulate reality, but because doing it is so hard that it would help drive us forward," Catmull says.

He says Pixar brings together both artistically and technically inclined people, which sets up both "a creative axis" and "an organization axis of managing and making things happen." Catmull observes that creative and organizational skills are distributed identically in both groups.

Though he stresses that technical change is vital to maintaining the health of the film and animation industry, people have a tendency to prefer stability, while Catmull thinks a state of continuous change is actually preferable. The key to successfully developing new software is the ability to navigate back and forth between two extremes—full engagement and full protection. "[Research and development] is something you really need to protect, but you don't set it up with an impermeable wall," Catmull says. "There comes a time when you need to go into the messy arena, where you actually begin to engage."

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