Oscar winner happy to help Rotary


POSTED: Sunday, March 15, 2009

Only in Hawaii would the cousin of someone's wife be able to talk her husband—who happens to be six-time Oscar winner Ed Catmull, president of Disney Animation and co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios—into headlining a fundraising event for a Rotary Club.





        Annual fundraiser for Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunrise:

» When: 7:30 a.m. to noon tomorrow


» Place: Hawaii Prince Hotel, Waikiki


» Cost: $85; $650 for table of 10 (walk-ins welcome)


» Call: 847-0141; rotary honolulusunrise.org




Talk about knowing the right people.

It turns out that Catmull and his wife own a home in Kailua and embrace any opportunity to visit the island. In addition, “;the Rotary has been very strong in their support of an orphanage in Cambodia, and my wife is part of that group also,”; Catmull said during a conversation from the Bay Area.

Catmull—who just collected an Academy Award for his lifetime of work in computer animation—will speak at the annual fundraiser for The Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunrise, sharing tips about managing the creative process and helping people trust each other within a company. Supervising approximately 1,600 people working on multimillion-dollar projects undoubtedly has yielded a bit of wisdom along the way.

As a boy inspired by Disney movies, Catmull dreamed of becoming an animator, enrolled in every mail-order animation class available and constantly filled flip books with drawings. “;When I was quite young, I was a fairly good artist,”; he recalled. “;But the issue was that I didn't have a lot of training ... and I didn't see how to get from where I was to the quality I saw in the Disney animation studios. And I wasn't aware of any path to get there.”;

So he instead earned undergraduate degrees in computer science and physics. When he began studying for his Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Utah in the early 1970s, the foundations for computer graphics were emerging. Catmull immediately saw the potential and said to himself: “;Holy cow, I can do art with this!”;

In his first computer graphics course, he wrote an animation program from scratch to digitize a drawing of his left hand. A paper got published, a short film produced and “;Futureworld”; asked to use the clip. Not a flick to remember, noted Catmull, but it marked the first use of three-dimensional computer graphics in the movies.

When creating films such as “;Toy Story,”; “;Ratatouille”; or “;WALL-E”; (Pixar's latest winner of the Oscar for best animated film), filmmakers look for acting ability and comedic timing in the stars they match with the characters they create first from original drawings, then clay models and finally models on the computer.

These days, however, Catmull spends most of his time running the company and raising five children with his wife, leaving no time for his own sketching and computer work. “;The truth is, I haven't really advanced from where I was in high school!”; he joked.

When it comes to running a company and hiring the best people, Catmull recommends starting with reference checks. “;It's important to find out what kinds of connections or impressions people have made with others,”; he said. “;I always find that you learn something when you talk with other people about somebody. You really want the combination of the skills of doing the job, and then the personal skills of being able to work with others.

“;And the third thing, which is very important, is the ability to learn. The truth is, almost always the job that we've got isn't quite what people think it is, so the arc of the person's career is more important than where they are now.”;


Big names share spotlight

The two people sharing the spotlight with Pixar President Ed Catmull at tomorrow's Rotary Club of Honolulu Sunrise fundraiser boast their own lists of impressive credentials.

Honolulu resident Henk Rogers, who developed the video game Tetris, is president and CEO of Blue Planet Software and founder of Blue Planet Foundation. He wants to end the world's use of fossil fuels, and hopes that Hawaii leads the way.

Kent Keith, CEO of the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, wrote “;Anyway: The Paradoxical Commandments,”; a national best-seller translated into 17 languages. With degrees from Harvard and Oxford, among other universities, Keith is the first Hawaii public high school graduate to become a Rhodes Scholar.