Meet the little-known genius who helped make Pixar possible

Steven Levy, Wired:

During a panel discussion afterward, the interviewer asked a provocative question. “This might be crazy,” she began, “but is there any connection between the world of the counterculture and psychedelics, and Pixar?”

The panelists on stage—Ed Catmull and John Lasseter, both central to Pixar’s development—fell into an uncomfortable silence. Drugs and the counterculture are edgy subjects for employees of a Disney division beloved by generations of children. Finally, Lasseter said, “Is Alvy Ray Smith in the audience?”


Yet, despite a healthy ego and a raconteur’s élan, after Lasseter’s callout—and some laughter in the room—Smith stayed in his seat and said nothing.

Call it restraint. “As far as history goes, I feel like he got shafted, both in Pixar history and in computer graphics history in general,” says Pam Kerwin, a former Pixar colleague. “Everything that you currently use in Photoshop right now basically came from Alvy.” Even self-­driving cars and augmented reality, “which are all about image processing, machine vision … Alvy and his colleagues brought all that stuff into the world.”

Three reasons to follow the headline link and drink up this article:

  • It’s written by Steve Levy, Apple critic and tech writer, author of one of my all-time favorite books, Insanely Great: The Life and Times of Macintosh, the Computer That Changed Everything. He can write.

  • This is an interesting look at a critical stage in computer graphics history.

  • Some Steve Jobs anecdotes, told by someone who regularly butted heads with him.