Alvy Ray Smith is an American computer scientist and a Co-founder of the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Division, Pixar, and Altamira Software. Alvy was part of the 1980s and 1990s expansion of computer animation into feature films.

He created his first computer graphic in 1965 at New Mexico State and, by 1970, he had earned a Ph.D. in computer science from Stanford University.

Alvy would later become the first Graphics Fellow after Microsoft bought Altamira Software. He was also the first Director of Computer Graphics at Lucasfilm. More recently, he authored the book, A Biography of the Pixel.


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Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:

  • Alvy Ray Smith shares the genesis of Pixar, including how he convinced a millionaire to fund the first 24-bit pixels
  • When Alvy and team first got the vision for a completely digital movie, only for it to happen 20 years later
  • Alvy shares how the letter of a lifetime led to the graphics gig for Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan
  • How Pixar was initiated into the big screen
  • Alvy talks about how he learned storyboarding even though he was a graphics designer
  • Pixar’s big announcement at the 1984 SIGGRAPH conference
  • How Pixar and Disney’s friendship started and why it paid off
  • Alvy talks about the key players on the Pixar team, like John Lasseter and Bill Reeves
  • How Alvy taught himself how to animate
  • Why the short film, The Adventures of André and Wally B, was monumental
  • All the fall-throughs that led to Steve Jobs’ investment in Pixar
  • Alvy’s tumultuous relationship with Steve Jobs and the “whiteboard incident”
  • The significance of Toy Story’s creation
  • Alvy shares his life after Pixar: the evolution of Altamira and partnering with Microsoft
  • The unique work culture at Pixar
  • A quick look inside Alvy’s book, A Biography of the Pixel

In this episode…

Have you seen the Toy Story series or The Incredibles? Pixar, the company behind these animated movie classics and many others, has been around for decades and is worth $7 billion today. What’s more exciting is that a letter started it all as one of the co-founders, Alvy Ray Smith, said.

How did Pixar start, and what’s its connection to Disney? What are the inner workings of such a company, and what has Steve Jobs got to do with it? Alvy answers these questions and shares never-before-heard parts of the building of Pixar. He even reveals how he convinced a millionaire to fund the world’s first 24-bit pixel. Want the full story?

Listen to this episode of the Inspired Insider podcast with Dr. Jeremy Weisz, featuring Dr. Scot Gray of Top Minds as co-host, and Pixar co-founder, Alvy Ray Smith as a guest. They discuss the genesis of full animated movies in America, Pixar’s contributions, Pixar becoming part of Disney, Steve Jobs’s infamous role, and some business partnership lessons.

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Episode Transcript

Jeremy Weisz 0:19

Dr. Jeremy Weisz here, Founder of InspiredInsider.com where I talk with inspirational entrepreneurs and leaders. I’m here with Dr. Scott Gray who is host of Top Minds and we both have had amazing founders and CEOs on our podcast. We are here with Alvy Ray Smith, the Co-Founder of Pixar among other companies and before I formally introduce you Alvy, I love to point out some popular episodes on the podcast. And, you know, I love talking about the ups and the downs. You know, sometimes we only hear the ups in the media. We like on the podcast to hear about the challenges a down moment. So one of my favorites was the Founder of P90x on and obviously we know they’ve, you know, had lots of success, but I love when Tony Horton talks about driving cross country and Lv the way he made his food and rent money was as a street mine. So you just put his hat on the street. And that’s how he made his money. And actually on the interview, I made him do street mining for me like and he actually did. The Another one is the Founder of Atari Nolan Bushnell, you probably know, Alvy is one of Steve Jobs as mentors and he talked about on the podcast that Steve Jobs offered him 33% of Apple for $50,000. And he talks about why he said no to that, so that in many more check out episodes that and also on Top Minds and without further ado on introduce Alvy Ray Smith. He’s an American computer scientist co-founded Lucasfilms Computer Vision and Pixar participating in the 1980s and 90s expansion of what we know as a computer animation into feature film. This is an epic tale. And he created his first computer graphic in 1965 at New Mexico State. In 1970, he received a PhD in computer science for Stanford University. He was the Co-founder and CEO of Altamira Software Corporation, which was eventually purchased by Microsoft, and obviously Co-founder of Pixar, which was eventually purchased by Disney, Lucasfilm Computer Division, Director of the Computer Graphics and so much more. Please everyone, check out his book, A Biography of The Pixel. And Alvy Ray, thanks for joining us.

Alvy Ray Smith 2:33

Very pleased to be here, Jeremy, after all this time,

Jeremy Weisz 2:35

I am so excited. I know. Dr. Scot is so excited and we want just start off with just taking us back to the beginning of Pixar for a second.