Pixar’s pioneers win Turing Award – the “Computing Nobel”

This year’s Turing Award – the foremost recognition for computer scientists – goes to Edwin Catmull and Patrick Hanrahan for their work on three-dimensional computer graphics. Although their names might sound unfamiliar, most of us are well acquainted with their work. They are the two pioneers at Pixar Inc., the house that gave the world heart-warming animation masterpieces and mind-boggling special effects that changed Hollywood forever.
Dr. Edwin Catmull is a computer scientist who co-founded Pixar. He hired Dr. Patrick Hanrahan – then a young biophysics PhD – in 1986, as one of Pixar’s first employees. While Dr. Catmull pioneered the technique to display curved surfaces on monitors, Hanrahan oversaw the team that created RenderMan – a complex graphics software. It allowed images to be rendered as photorealistic animations and blended with real-life videography. This, in fact, is the crux of special effects and is now popularly known as C.G.I. or computer-generated imagery.
Over the last 30 years, RenderMan has been Pixar's core rendering technology. In 2001 RenderMan won the first Oscar (Academy Award of Merit) to be awarded for a software package “for significant advancements to the field of motion picture rendering”.
Catmull and Hanrahan developed several techniques that brought about paradigm shifts in the domains of animation, special effects, virtual reality and artificial intelligence. Their innovations led to the development of specialized software and hardware items like graphics processing units essential for 3-D computer games. Their work in the fields of virtual reality and artificial intelligence technology subsequently contributed to the design of driverless cars, face recognition systems and virtual assistants like Alexa.
Named after the legendary British mathematician and computer scientist Alan M. Turing, The Turing Award is bestowed by the Association for Computing Machinery. It comes with a cash prize of US$1 million – to be split between the two winners this year – and is regarded as the “Nobel Prize of Computing”.

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