Pixar co-founder and computer animation pioneer Ed Catmull will retire next year after more than four decades working in the film industry. The soft-spoken computer engineer will step down from his current role as president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios at the end of the year, though he’ll serve in an advisory role through July 2019.
Following Catmull’s retirement, Pixar president Jim Morris and Walt Disney Animation Studios president Andrew Millstein will continue to oversee operations of their respective studios, reporting to Walt Disney Studios president Alan Bergman.
Pixar Animation Studios and Walt Disney Animation Studios will continue to be creatively led by chief creative officers Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee, respectively, reporting to Walt Disney Studios chairman Alan Horn.
“Ed Catmull’s impact on the entertainment industry is immeasurable,” Disney CEO Bob Iger said in a statement Tuesday. “A pioneer of the intersection of creativity and technology, Ed expanded the possibilities for storytellers along with the expectations of audiences.”
Said Mike Chambers, chair of the Visual Effects Society: “We want to offer our deep appreciation for Ed Catmull’s transformative impact on the art and business of animation and visual effects. A VES Fellow and recipient of our George Méliès Award, Ed exemplifies what can be achieved through remarkable vision and dedication. Across more than four decades in the film industry, he made significant and lasting contributions to our industry through invention and pioneering work.”
Catmull founded three of the leading centers of computer graphics research — the computer graphics laboratory at the New York Institute of Technology, the computer division of Lucasfilm, and Pixar Animation Studios. The Computer History Museum notes these three organizations have produced some of the most fundamental advances in computer graphics.
George Lucas hired Catmull in 1979 to lead Lucasfilm’s computer division, known as the Graphics Group. The newly christened Pixar Animation Studios was spun off in 1986 as an independent company, with backing from Steve Jobs. The animation studio released the world’s first feature-length computer animated film, Toy Story, in 1995 and has pushed creative and technological boundaries ever since.
Pixar’s 20 feature films have won 15 Academy Awards and earned more than $13 billion in global box office. Its most recent film, Incredibles 2, broke records in its debut and is the highest-grossing animated film in U.S. box office history.
“Ed is a one-of-a-kind talent, a genius who sees beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary,” said Horn in a statement. “His unique perspective and invaluable leadership have fostered the creation of films and technologies that will stand the test of time.”
Catmull’s association with Disney began in 1986 with Pixar’s work on the Computer Animation Production System (CAPS). When Disney acquired Pixar in 2006, Catmull, who made a study of techniques for managing creative types, was named president of both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios.
One day after the merger was announced, Catmull and Lasseter flew to Burbank to speak to the Disney animation staff for the first time. In an account reported in the Los Angeles Times, Catmull spoke affectionately about Disney’s heritage and assured those gathered in the studio’s Stage 7 that the company could reclaim its greatness.
“We’re not here to turn Disney into a clone of Pixar,” Catmull said, in a Times profile. “What we’re going to do is build a studio on your talent and passion.”
Since arriving at Disney, Catmull has helped oversee a turn-around of Walt Disney Animation Studio, culminating in such billion-dollar hits as Frozen and Zootopia. The studios’ output over his tenure included a trio of Pixar blockbusters, Incredibles 2, Toy Story 3 and Finding Dory, alongside such well-regarded films as Pixar’s Wall-E, Up, Inside Out, and Coco and Disney’s The Princess and The Frog, Tangled, Wreck-It Ralph, Big Hero 6, and Moana.
Catmull also was named in a controversial wage-fixing scheme, in which he, Lucas and Jobs agreed not to raid each other’s employees, and other companies joined suit. Walt Disney Pictures has agreed to shell out $100 million to settle animation workers’ claims that they lost wages as a result of practice.
Catmull is the recipient of five Academy Awards honoring advancements in technology and computer graphics, including the Gordon E. Sawyer Award for lifetime achievements in the field. A recognized thought leader in the creative space, Catmull authored the book Creativity, Inc. in 2014 and over the past several years has spoken around the world on the topic of creativity.
Pixar’s co-founder reflected on the extraordinary people he has worked alongside throughout his career.
“From the request of George Lucas to bring technology to the film industry, to the vision of Steve Jobs, and the extraordinary freedom provided by Bob Iger, Alan Horn, and Alan Bergman, we continue to dream of stories and ways of making those stories that always surprise,” Catmull said. “I have the mixed emotions that come with stepping away from a group of people I love, but also with the utmost pride and pleasure that we now have at both Pixar and Disney Animation the most dedicated and imaginative leaders I have worked with.”
Absent from those Catmull acknowledged was his Pixar co-founder, Lasseter, who is leaving Disney at the end of the year after being accused of unwanted physical contact.