Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Passion Party #276 - Envisioning The Impossible

In 1974 Ed Catmull received his PhD in Computer Science.
He had this idea that computers could be used, not just to make images, but to make animation: moving images created completely on the computer screen that could recreate what was now being done by artists with ink on paper.
There was no software yet written to make this possible. There were no computers fast enough (or with enough memory) to create the images.
In 1979 George Lucas hired Ed Catmull and about a dozen other like-minded folks and created the Lucas Film Computer Division. One of their missions was to get computer animation to the point where it could be used for visual effects.
In 1980 Catmull had a brainstorming session with his team. The software they were using could handle images with 500,000 polygons (the element that all computer graphics consist of). They realized that would need to be able to generate 80 MILLION polygons to compete with the level of detail offered by film.
Instead of deciding this was impossible, they set this as an absurd goal - to get to the point where the computers were fast enough and the software powerful enough to handle this level of complexity.
Fast forward: In 1986 Catmull, John Lassiter and others formed Pixar, with $5,000,000 in funding from Steve Jobs. In 1991 Pixar signed a contract with Disney to produce "Toy Story". In 1995 Toy Story was released.
And it all came from an idea that Ed Catmull and a few like-minded people had, 20 years earlier, that was truly impossible at the time.

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