Pixar’s Ed Catmull and Pat Hanrahan to Receive Turing Award for Revolutionary Work in Computer Animation

For over three decades, Pixar has entertained us, captivated our imaginations, and been a leading force in computer animation. And now, two of the studio’s employees from the studios’ history are being recognized for its pioneering work in the field with what’s considered to be the “Nobel Prize of Computing.”

One of the studio’s founders, Ed Catmull, and one of its earliest employees, Pat Hanrahan, are being honored by the Association for Computing Machinery with the A.M. Turing Award, which honors “lasting and major” contributions to the field of computer science, as the BBC reports. According to the Turing Award website, the pair have been recognized “for fundamental contributions to 3-D computer graphics, and the revolutionary impact of these techniques on computer-generated imagery (CGI) in filmmaking and other applications.” The award also comes with a $1 million cash prize.

The pair were notified at the beginning of March, when they celebrated with a meal before most of California’s restaurants closed their dining rooms due to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. The award ceremony is currently scheduled to be held in June in San Francisco, though the pandemic may force its postponement or cancellation.

Hanrahan is best known for his work on RenderMan, Pixar’s rendering software that enabled computers to create three-dimensional graphics, which would make it possible for the studio to create Toy Story, the first computer-animated feature film, and the start of one of Disney’s most successful franchises, spawning three sequels, the most recent one having been released last year. RenderMan also aided in the creation of CGI special effects for live-action films and video games, giving computers a massive presence in the visual arts and entertainment industries.

Catmull left the studio at the end of 2018, while Hanrahan departed Pixar in 1989, before holding posts at Princeton University and later Stanford University, where he currently is a professor in the Computer Graphics Laboratory.

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