New Mexico State University graduate Alvy Ray Smith, who co-founded Pixar and shared in two Academy Awards for technical advances in digital media, has been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, one of the highest professional distinctions that can be accorded to an engineer.
Smith, of Seattle, was recognized for “the development of digital imaging, compositing and painting that have led to fundamental changes in the graphic arts and motion picture industries.”
Smith was director of computer graphics research at Lucasfilm Ltd. from 1980 to 1986. He co-founded Pixar in 1986 and served as executive vice president of the animation company until 1991, when he founded Altamira Software Corp.
He sold Altamira to Microsoft in 1994 and became Microsoft’s first Graphics Fellow, then left Microsoft in 1999 to devote his time to digital photography, genealogy and writing.
He shared a technical Academy Award in 1996 for pioneering inventions in digital image compositing and another in 1998 for the development of digital paint systems used in motion picture production.
Smith said his election to the National Academy of Engineering is like “a different kind of Academy Award.”
“I feel like my scientific side is being awarded like the artistic side before,” he said. “When I look through the catalogue of people in the academy, I’m very pleased to be in that group.”
Smith, who grew up in Clovis, worked as a junior engineer in the Physical Science Laboratory’s electromagnetics section while earning his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering at NMSU. He graduated with high honors in
1965 and went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in computer science at Stanford University. In 1999 he received an honorary doctorate from NMSU.
In 2001 Smith presented the NMSU College of Engineering’s Bromilow Lecture, an annual event that brings a distinguished lecturer from the field of engineering to campus during National Engineers Week. He continues to support efforts to expand collaborative endeavors between the areas of electrical and computer engineering and digital media. He will be on campus April 10 to address a class in NMSU’s newly established Creative Media Institute.
“Alvy Ray Smith is a man of many talents, a visionary who has had a tremendous impact on the development of computer graphics capabilities and computer animation for motion pictures,” said NMSU Dean of Engineering Steven Castillo. “We are proud to have him as an alumnus and a continued supporter of NMSU and we congratulate him on his election to the National Academy of Engineering.”
Academy membership honors those who have made “important contributions to engineering theory and practice, including significant contributions to the literature of engineering theory and practice,” and those who have demonstrated “unusual accomplishment in the pioneering of new and developing fields of technology.”