Pixar Co-Founder Ed Catmull to Retire

Ed Catmull-Pixar-Publicity-H 2018
Courtesy of Pixar

The president of Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios will step down from his current roles at the end of this year and stay on as an adviser through July 2019.

Ed Catmull, who co-founded Pixar along with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter and in doing so revolutionized the animation industry, is retiring after a ground-breaking five-decade career, during which he has been involved with dozens of hit films from Toy Story to Frozen to this year's Incredibles 2.

Catmull, who acts as president of both Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios, will step down from his current roles at the end of this year, according to a Disney announcement on Tuesday, and then stay on as an adviser through July 2019 before formally retiring.

“Never in my wildest imagination could I have conceived of the path or the extraordinary people I have worked with over all of these years — the twists and turns, the ups and downs, along with exhilarating passion, talent, and dedication that have led to something extraordinary, something that has an enduring impact in the world,” Catmull, 73, said in a statement.

Catmull, who earned a doctorate in computer technology from the University of Utah, was hired by George Lucas in 1979 to lead Lucasfilm's computer division before then going on to co-found Pixar with Jobs and Lasseter in 1986. In 1995, Pixar released Toy Story, the first computer-animated hit, the first of 20 Pixar features, which have collectively won 15 Academy Awards and earned more than $13 billion at the worldwide box office.

When Disney, which had been releasing Pixar films, acquired the studio for $7.4 billion in 2006, Catmull was named president of both Walt Disney Animation Studios and Pixar Animation Studios, overseeing the business side of the operations, while Lasseter oversaw the films as chief creative officer until he stepped down this summer following complaints about his workplace behavior.

In announcing his own retirement, Catmull continued, “From the request of George Lucas to bring technology to the film industry, to the vision of Steve Jobs, and the extraordinary freedom provided by [Disney executives] Bob Iger, Alan Horn, and Alan Bergman, we continue to dream of stories and ways of making those stories that always surprise. I have the mixed emotions that come with stepping away from a group of people I love, but also with the utmost pride and pleasure that we now have at both Pixar and Disney Animation the most dedicated and imaginative leaders I have worked with.”

Disney didn't name a successor for Catmull, Instead, Pixar president Jim Morris and Walt Disney Animation Studios president Andrew Millstein will continue to oversee operations at their respective studios, reporting to Bergman, Walt Disney Studios president. And Pixar and Walt Disney Animation will continue to be creatively led by chief creative officers Pete Docter and Jennifer Lee, respectively, reporting to Horn, Walt Disney Studios chairman. 

"Ed Catmull’s impact on the entertainment industry is immeasurable,” commented Disney chairman and CEO Iger. “A pioneer of the intersection of creativity and technology, Ed expanded the possibilities for storytellers along with the expectations of audiences. We’re profoundly grateful for his innumerable contributions, ranging from his pivotal, groundbreaking work at Lucasfilm and Pixar to the exceptional leadership he brought to Pixar and Walt Disney Animation over the last 12 years, and we wish him the best in his well-deserved retirement.”

Added Horn: "Ed is a one-of-a-kind talent, a genius who sees beyond the ordinary to the extraordinary. His unique perspective and invaluable leadership have fostered the creation of films and technologies that will stand the test of time."

In addition to the awards collected by Pixar and Disney films, Catmull has personally been the recipient of five of the Motion Picture Academy's Scientific and Technical Awards, including the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, for bringing credit to the industry, which he was awarded in 2009. He also is the architect of the RenderMan rendering software used throughout the animation and visual effects industries.

In 2014, Catmull, along with Amy Wallace, authored the book Creativity, Inc., about the management skills he learned during the course of his career. In that book, he wrote that one of his goals was creating a culture that would outlast him.