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Alvy Ray Smith

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Alvy Ray Smith
Alvy Ray Smith in 2019 01.jpg
Smith in 2019
Born (1943-09-08) September 8, 1943 (age 78)
Alma materNew Mexico State University (B.S.E.E., 1965)
Stanford University (M.S., 1966, Ph.D., 1970)
Known forPixar co-founder, Sunstone, Genesis Demo in The Wrath of Khan, The Adventures of André & Wally B., alpha channel, HSV color space[1], first RGB paint program
Spouse(s)Alison Gopnik (2010–present)

Alvy Ray Smith III (born September 8, 1943) is an American computer scientist who co-founded Lucasfilm's Computer Division and Pixar, participating in the 1980s and 1990s expansion of computer animation into feature film.[2][3][4]


In 1965, Alvy Smith received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from New Mexico State University (NMSU). He created his first computer graphic in 1965 at NMSU. In 1970, he received a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University, with a dissertation on cellular automata theory jointly supervised by Michael A. Arbib, Edward J. McCluskey, and Bernard Widrow.[5]


His first art show was at the Stanford Coffeehouse. From 1969 to 1973 he was an associate professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science at New York University, under chairman Herbert Freeman, one of the earliest computer graphics researchers.[citation needed] He taught briefly at the University of California, Berkeley in 1974.[citation needed]

While at Xerox PARC in 1974, Smith worked with Richard Shoup on SuperPaint, one of the first computer raster graphics editor, or 'paint', programs.[citation needed] Smith's major contribution to this software was the creation of the HSV color space,[1] also known as HSB.[citation needed] He created his first computer animations on the SuperPaint system.

In 1975, Smith joined the new Computer Graphics Laboratory at New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), where he was given the job title "Information Quanta".[6] There, working alongside a traditional cel animation studio, he met Ed Catmull and several core personnel of Pixar. Smith worked on a series of newer paint programs, including Paint3, the first true-color raster graphics editor. As part of this work, he co-invented the concept of the alpha channel.[citation needed] He was also the programmer and collaborator on Ed Emshwiller's animation Sunstone,[citation needed] included in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Smith worked at NYIT until 1979, and then briefly at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory with Jim Blinn on the Carl Sagan Cosmos: A Personal Voyage television series.[citation needed]

With Ed Catmull, Smith was a founding member of the Lucasfilm Computer Division, which developed computer graphics software, including early renderer technology.[7] As director of the Computer Graphics Project, Smith created and directed the "Genesis Demo" in The Wrath of Khan, and conceived and directed the short animated film The Adventures of André & Wally B., animated by John Lasseter.[8] At some point in the 1980s, a designer suggested naming a new digital compositing computer the "Picture Maker". Smith thought that the laser-based device have a catchier name, and came up with "Pixer", which after a meeting was changed to "Pixar".[9]

Smith and Catmull co-founded Pixar in 1986 with financing from Steve Jobs.[10] After the spinout from Lucasfilm of Pixar, he served on the board of directors and was executive vice president. According to the Steve Jobs biography iCon by Jeffrey S. Young and William L. Simon, Alvy Ray quit Pixar after a heated argument with Jobs over the use of a whiteboard.[11] It was an unwritten rule that no one other than Jobs was allowed to use it, a rule Smith decided to break in front of everyone after Jobs went "total street bully" on him and they ended up screaming into each other's face "in full bull rage".[12] Despite being the co-founder of Pixar, Young and Simon claim that the company has largely overlooked his part in company history since his departure. For example, there is no mention of Smith on the Pixar website.[13][14]

He was for four years (1988–1992) a member of the board of regents of the National Library of Medicine in Bethesda, Maryland, where he was instrumental in inaugurating the Visible Human Project.

In 1991, Smith left Pixar to cofound Altamira Software, with Eric Lyons and Nicholas Clay. Altamira was acquired by Microsoft in 1994. Smith became the first Graphics Fellow at Microsoft in 1994.[15] Pixar would go on to release Toy Story the following year and go public, helping to put Steve Jobs back at Apple.

Smith retired from Microsoft in 1999 and is currently[when?] giving many talks, making digital photographs, doing scholarly genealogy, and researching technical history. He lives in Seattle, Washington. In 2010 Smith married Alison Gopnik, author and Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.[16]


With his collaborators, Smith has twice been recognized by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for his scientific and engineering contributions, to digital image compositing (1996 award) and digital paint systems (1998 award).[17]

In 1990, Smith and Richard Shoup received the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award for their development of paint programs.[18] Smith presented the Forsythe Lecture in 1997 at Stanford University, where he received his PhD in 1970.[citation needed] His undergraduate alma mater New Mexico State University awarded him an honorary doctorate in December 1999.[19][20][21] He was inducted into the CRN Industry Hall of Fame at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, CA in 2004.[citation needed] In 2006, Smith was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering.[19] In 2010, Smith was elected a Fellow of the American Society of Genealogists and presented the Washington Award in Chicago for advancing "the welfare of humankind". In 2011, Smith was awarded the Special Award at Mundos Digitales in La Coruna, Spain, for lifetime achievement in computer graphics.[citation needed] In 2012, Smith was awarded the Digital Media Symposium Lifetime Achievement Award in Boulder, Colorado, and was awarded a plaque in the Circle of Honor at New Mexico State University.[citation needed] In 2013, Smith was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.[citation needed] Smith has been the recipient of several grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts during his career.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ a b Smith, Alvy Ray (August 1978). "Color gamut transform pairs". Computer Graphics. 12 (3): 12–19. doi:10.1145/965139.807361.
  2. ^ Price, p. 74
  3. ^ Isaacson, pp. xv, 244
  4. ^ "Pixar Founding Documents". Archived from the original on 2005-04-27. Retrieved 2012-07-25. Listed here are the 38 founding employees who came with the two cofounders to Pixar.
  5. ^ Alvy Ray Smith at the Mathematics Genealogy Project.
  6. ^ "People Behind the Pixels".
  7. ^ Kieron Johnson (2017-04-28). "Pixar's Co-Founders Heard 'No' 45 Times Before Steve Jobs Said 'Yes'". Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  8. ^ Smith, Alvy Ray (July 20, 1984). "THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRE & WALLY B. Summary" (PDF). Alvy Ray Smith. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
  9. ^ Jones, Brian Jay (2016). George Lucas: A Life. New York City: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 289–90. ISBN 978-0316257442.
  10. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2005-04-27. Retrieved 2011-01-11.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  11. ^ Isaacson, pp. 244-245
  12. ^ S, Pangambam (June 21, 2014). "Steve Jobs One Last Thing (2011 Documentary) Transcript". The Singju Post.
  13. ^ Simon and Young, p. 185
  14. ^ "Letter to Pixar president Ed Catmull" (PDF).
  15. ^ Clancy, Heather. "Alvy Ray Smith". Archived from the original on 2011-05-11. Retrieved 2011-01-21.
  16. ^ Gopnik, Alison (14 September 2015). "How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis". The Atlantic (October 2015).
  17. ^ [1]
  18. ^ "1990 Computer Graphics Achievement Award: Richard Shoup and Alvy Ray Smith". ACM SIGGRAPH. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  19. ^ a b Hill, Karl, "NMSU graduate elected to National Academy of Engineering", NMSU News, March 30, 2006.
  20. ^ Smith's alma mater awards him an honorary doctorate, Panorama, New Mexico State University, December 1999 (archived 2001)
  21. ^ Hill, Karl, "Rancher, computer graphics pioneer to receive honorary doctorates at NMSU's Fall Commencement", NMSU News, December 6, 1999


  • Michael Rubin, Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution (2005) ISBN 0-937404-67-5
  • Elio Quiroga, "La Materia de los Sueños", Fundación DMR Consulting, Ediciones Deusto (Spain, 2004) ISBN 84-234-3495-8
  • Simon, William L. and Young, Jeffrey S. "iCon: The Greatest Second Act in the History of Business." (2005) ISBN 0-471-72083-6
  • David A. Price, "The Pixar Touch: The Making of a Company" (2008) ISBN 978-0-307-26575-3
  • Walter Isaacson, "Steve Jobs" (2011) ISBN 978-1-4516-4853-9

External links

This page was last edited on 26 November 2021, at 21:38
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