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Pixar co-founder to speak at NMSU engineering lecture

New Mexico State University's College of Engineering welcomes Academy Award-winning computer graphics innovator Alvy Ray Smith to campus to speak in Thomas and Brown Hall Room 104 at 4 p.m. Friday, Oct. 26.


Alvy Ray Smith, Pixar co-founder and NMSU alumnus, gestures while standing in front of a chalkboard.
NMSU alumnus Alvy Ray Smith will relate his experiences as co-founder of Pixar at a lecture on Friday, Oct. 16. (Courtesy photo)

An NMSU alumnus, Smith returns as part of the Verge Fund Lecture Series in Innovation, Ventures and Entrepreneurship, to speak about his expertise as the co-founder of Pixar, the former director of computer graphics research for Lucasfilm and the founder of Altamira Software.

Smith will present his personalized story of the group now known as Pixar. The story will emphasize the entrepreneurial events along the way, from its origin on Long Island in the mid '70s, to the movie studio days at Lucasfilm, to the spinout of Pixar, to the IPO, and sale to Disney. He'll describe the heroes and tyrants along the way, the strokes of sheer luck, and the camaraderie and fun of it all.

Smith obtained a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from NMSU in 1965. He received his doctoral degree in computer engineering from Stanford University in 1970 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from NMSU in 1999.

In 1974, Smith was a visiting scientist for Xerox PARC where he created the HSV color space. He began working at New York Institute of Technology in 1975 and co-invented the concept of the alpha channel which is the rendering of image elements into separate passes and then combining the resulting multiple 2-D images into a single, final image.

Smith took that concept and went on to be a founding member of Lucasfilm in 1980. In 1986, he co-founded Pixar and served on the board of directors and as the executive vice president. In 1991, Smith founded Altamira later acquired by Microsoft and became the first Graphics Fellow at Microsoft in 1994.

Smith has received two technical Academy Awards for his alpha channel concept and for digital paint systems. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering for "fundamental changes in the graphic arts and motion picture industries. He was co-awarded the Computer Graphics Achievement Award by the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Graphics in 1990 for "seminal contributions to computer paint systems."

Smith directed the first use of full computer graphics in a successful major motion picture, "Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan," while at Lucasfilm. He hired John Lasseter, Disney-trained animator, and directed him in his first computer graphics film, "The Adventures of Andre and Wally B." The team he formed for these pieces later proceeded, under Lasseter as artistic director at Pixar, to create "Tin Toy," the first computer animation ever to win an Academy Award, and the first completely computer-generated film, "Toy Story," Disney's Christmas '95 release and also an Academy Award winner.

Smith retired in 1999 to devote time to the emerging art form of digital photography and to scholarly genealogy, to which he has contributed two books and several journal papers. He is currently writing a book for the lay reader, "Digital Light: A Biography of the Pixel."

The lecture is free and open to the public. For more information, contact Spyros Angelis at 575-646-2975 or loky@nmsu.edu.