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Pixar’s Renderman is still a big draw

Software turns data into high-quality images

When Pixar prexy Ed Catmull delivers his keynote at the Siggraph computer graphics confab Aug. 11, expect word of a sequel to an Academy Award-winning Pixar title.

No, not “Ratatouille Too” or “More Incredibles,” but Renderman, version 14.0.

The software, which turns computer data into high-quality images, isn’t as famous as the company’s movies. But for graphics pros, it’s as important as any Pixar title.

And Pixar remains devoted to Renderman, even as the company has morphed into a big part of the even bigger Walt Disney Co.

“It’s a core part of the essential culture of Pixar itself, and it’s hard to see that changing,” says Chris Ford, Pixar’s Renderman business manager.

In fact, without Renderman, Pixar as auds know it today probably wouldn’t exist.

After Steve Jobs bought the company from George Lucas in 1986, its only product was graphics hardware, not movies, and it was losing money. In 1989, while the company struggled to perfect computer-generated animation, execs decided to sell its image-rendering software as a commercial product.

The software quickly became popular throughout the visual f/x and animation industries, and gave Pixar vital cash flow until “Toy Story” established the company as a hitmaker in 1995.

Pixar still uses Renderman to make its own movies, and benefits by making it available to the whole biz, Ford says.

“In effect, the software is tested and tortured in virtually every imaginable production scenario. By treating Renderman as a commercial product, by exposing it to that amount of industry testing, Pixar gains the confidence of knowing we can predict very precisely how long it will take for (the next Pixar) film to be rendered and produced, and predict the capacity needed.”

“It’s a virtuous circle that benefits everyone.”

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