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Alvy Ray Smith

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Alvy Ray Smith
Smith in 2019
Alvy Ray Smith III

(1943-09-08) September 8, 1943 (age 80)
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
(m. 2010)

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.[7] 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]

Smith was a founding member, with Ed Catmull, of the Lucasfilm Computer Division, which developed computer graphics software including early renderer technology.[8] As director of the Computer Graphics Project, Smith created and directed the "Genesis Demo" in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and conceived and directed the short animated film The Adventures of André & Wally B., animated by John Lasseter.[9] 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 needed a catchier name and came up with "Pixer", which after a meeting was changed to "Pixar".[10]

Smith and Catmull co-founded Pixar in 1986 with financing from Steve Jobs.[11] After the spinout from Lucasfilm of Pixar, he served on the board of directors and was executive vice president. According to Jeffrey Young and William Simon's Jobs biography, iCon, Alvy Ray quit Pixar in 1991 after a heated argument with Jobs over the use of a whiteboard.[12] Feeling bullied by Jobs, Smith decided to publicly break the unwritten rule that no one else could use Jobs's whiteboard; they ended up screaming at each-other.[13] Despite Smith's role as co-founder of Pixar, Young and Simon claim that the company has largely written him out of its corporate history: for example, there is no mention of Smith on the Pixar website.[14][15] Pixar released Toy Story in 1995 and then went public, and Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997.

From 1988–1992, Smith was 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.

After leaving Pixar in 1991, Smith cofounded Altamira Software with Eric Lyons and Nicholas Clay. Altamira was acquired by Microsoft in 1994, and Smith became the first Graphics Fellow at Microsoft.[16]

Smith retired from Microsoft in 1999 to spend his time giving 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.[17]


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).[18]

In 1990, Smith and Richard Shoup received the ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award for their development of paint programs.[19] 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.[20][21][22] 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.[20] 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] In May 2022, Smith received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from New York Institute of Technology (where he co-founded the Computer Graphics Laboratory) for his pioneering work in computer animation. [23]

See also[edit]


  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". alvyray.com. 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". www.historyofcg.com.
  7. ^ Smith, Alvy Ray (15 August 1995), Alpha and the History of Digital Compositing (PDF), Microsoft, retrieved 8 August 2023
  8. ^ Johnson, Kieron (2017-04-28). "Pixar's Co-Founders Heard 'No' 45 Times Before Steve Jobs Said 'Yes'". Entrepreneur.com. Retrieved 2018-04-11.
  9. ^ Smith, Alvy Ray (July 20, 1984). "THE ADVENTURES OF ANDRE & WALLY B. Summary" (PDF). Alvy Ray Smith. Retrieved April 15, 2012.
  10. ^ Jones, Brian Jay (2016). George Lucas: A Life. New York City: Little, Brown and Company. pp. 289–90. ISBN 978-0316257442.
  11. ^ "Alvy Pixar History Page". Archived from the original on 2005-04-27. Retrieved 2011-01-11.
  12. ^ Isaacson, pp. 244-245
  13. ^ S, Pangambam (June 21, 2014). "Steve Jobs One Last Thing (2011 Documentary) Transcript". The Singju Post.
  14. ^ Simon and Young, p. 185
  15. ^ "Letter to Pixar president Ed Catmull" (PDF).
  16. ^ Clancy, Heather. "Alvy Ray Smith". Crn.com. Archived from the original on 2011-05-11. Retrieved 2011-01-21.
  17. ^ Gopnik, Alison (14 September 2015). "How an 18th-Century Philosopher Helped Solve My Midlife Crisis". The Atlantic (October 2015).
  18. ^ "Scientific and Technical Awards - Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences". www.oscars.org. Archived from the original on 2000-05-12.
  19. ^ "1990 Computer Graphics Achievement Award: Richard Shoup and Alvy Ray Smith". ACM SIGGRAPH. Retrieved 2020-11-19.
  20. ^ a b Hill, Karl, "NMSU graduate elected to National Academy of Engineering" Archived 2020-12-01 at the Wayback Machine, NMSU News, March 30, 2006.
  21. ^ Smith's alma mater awards him an honorary doctorate, Panorama, New Mexico State University, December 1999 (archived 2001)
  22. ^ Hill, Karl, "Rancher, computer graphics pioneer to receive honorary doctorates at NMSU's Fall Commencement" Archived 2020-11-30 at the Wayback Machine, NMSU News, December 6, 1999
  23. ^ "New York Tech Celebrates Its 61st Commencement". NYIT.edu.


  • 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[edit]