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Pixar animation pioneers win ‘tech industry’s Nobel Prize’

Patrick Hanrahan and Edwin Catmull won the prize for their contributions to 3D computer graphics.

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(Chris Pizzello/AP)

(Chris Pizzello/AP)

(Chris Pizzello/AP)

The technology that animated movies like Toy Story and enabled a variety of special effects is the focus of this year’s Turing Award, the technology industry’s version of the Nobel Prize.

Patrick Hanrahan and Edwin Catmull won the prize for their contributions to 3D computer graphics used in movies and video games.

Mr Catmull was hired by filmmaker George Lucas to head the computer technology division that became Pixar when Apple founder Steve Jobs bought it.

Edwin Catmull
Edwin Catmull (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP)

Mr Hanrahan was one of Mr Catmull’s early hires at Pixar, which is now part of Disney.

The two worked on techniques that made graphics in movies like Toy Story look more lifelike, even though Mr Hanrahan left Pixar years before the studio released that film.

Mr Catmull is the former president of Pixar and worked there for more than three decades.

“What makes skin look like skin? What makes a tree look like a tree? You have to understand the structure of material and how light interacts with it,” Mr Hanrahan said in an interview with the Associated Press.

His RenderMan software helped produce Toy Story in 1995 and then a string of Pixar films like Up, Monsters Inc, Finding Nemo and Wall-E.

It was also the backbone of CGI special effects in live action movies such as Titanic and the Lord Of The Rings films.

The Association for Computing Machinery, which awards the prize, says filmmakers used RenderMan software in nearly all of the last 47 movies nominated for a visual effects Academy Award.

The technology has also indirectly helped the artificial intelligence field. The chips developed for video game graphics were so powerful they could then be used to train AI algorithms.

PA