Digital Media Trailblazer Bob Lambert Dies at 55

Bob Lambert Headshot - P 2012

Bob Lambert Headshot - P 2012

UPDATED: He spent 25 years at Disney and was a founder of Digital Cinema Initiatives, the studio consortium that has guided the industry’s transition from film.

Bob Lambert, a technical strategist at Disney for 25 years and a guiding force in the industry’s sweeping transition from film to digital cinema, died suddenly of unnamed causes Sept. 7 at his home in Glendale, his family announced Monday night. He was 55.

No other details of his death were available.

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While working for Disney Feature Animation, Lambert conceptualized a strategy and methodology for replacing cel animation with CGI production. He selected Steve Jobs’ Pixar to design the software and oversaw the collaborative process between the companies. The resultant digital production system earned Disney an Academy Award for Scientific & Technical Achievement.

Lambert started with Disney in 1985 and exited as part of a corporate restructuring in May 2010. David Monk, CEO of the European Digital Cinema Forum, called him a “courageous visionary.” He recalled that Lambert and Disney colleague Phil Barlow served as the point men for the groundbreaking digital-cinema release of Toy Story 2 in Europe in 2000.

The Virginia native and Virginia Tech alum also was a founder and term chairman of Digital Cinema Initiatives, the seven-studio consortium launched in March 2002 to ensure a uniform level of technical performance, reliability and quality in the shift from century-old celluloid to digital. Now, more than 60 percent of U.S. theaters (nearly 3,500) have transitioned to all-digital equipment, and 90 percent are expected to convert by the end of 2013. Traditional film is expected to vanish during the next few years.

“Bob led us into the transition from celluloid film to digital and forever improved the quality of our films and our movie-watching experience,” MPAA chairman and CEO Chris Dodd said. “Few in our tech community were more respected or well-liked than Bob.”

Lambert most recently was CEO of The Digital Firm, an L.A.-based technology investment outfit, and executive vp strategy and innovation for The World Technology Network. He was instrumental in launching CityWorks (X)po in 2011, the first national conference to explore the ascendancy of small cities. 

Lambert also was chairman emeritus of USC’s Entertainment Technology Center, a multicompany consortium founded in 1993 with the help of George Lucas. The ETC evaluates what consumers really want, then passes that information along to the makers of technology products.

David Wertheimer, former CEO and executive director of ETC@USC and now president of digital for Fox Broadcasting, worked with Lambert for nearly two decades and calls him the “father of digital cinema.”

“Bob had a rare talent for helping people see through the challenges of the present and focus on the horizon," said Wertheimer. "Therefore, in his honor, I am going to try to do today what he taught us all to do -- to look forward. I know that the world of tomorrow will be a better place for having had Bob with us."

Before Disney, Lambert was executive director of development for Paramount Pictures and a development executive at Western Technologies, a consumer products and entertainment technology design firm.

As an inventor, Lambert held 30 domestic and international patents in media technologies. He was a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and a recipient of an Astrolabium Award from the International Electronic Cinema Festival and a Pioneer Award from the ShoWest conference.

Survivors include his wife Cheryl, his brother Paul and his nephew Nathaniel.

The family said it has no immediate plans for a memorial service and requests privacy. Contributions honoring Lambert can be sent to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals