Clovis native co-founder of Pixar studio

Courtesy photo Alvy Ray Smith credits his high school teachers for inspiring him in art and math.

By Gabriel Monte: CNJ staff writer

Before Alvy Ray Smith co-founded one of the most successful animation studios in the country, he was thought of as a brilliant and funny Clovis High School student.

Smith is one of the founders of Pixar, a multi-million dollar animation studio known for producing successful box-office hits such as “Cars” and “Toy Story,” and is releasing the animation movie “Wall-E” in June.

Smith, who now lives in Seattle, said he invented the term “Pixar” to name a special effects machine they used for LucasFilm in the early 1980s. He said the definition of Pixar is “to make pictures.” The company was referred to then as “the Computer Division.”

Smith said scientific words he said looked like Spanish verbs, such as laser and radar, inspired the name Pixar. Smith said he took Spanish classes at Clovis High.

Smith worked for Microsoft and founded a digital photography company since he left Pixar in 1991.

Before Pixar separated from LucasFilms, Smith directed a computer animated short film “Adventures of Andre and Wally B.” The film was about a man trying to evade a bee. He said the inspiration of the film was to show the world that computer animation of characters was possible. At the time computer animation focused on objects and logos instead of characters.

The film also featured the first use of motion blur, a computer technique that gives the illusion of fast moving objects.

After that, Smith said he concentrated on running the company and left the art aspect of the business to the writers and animators he hired.

Smith credits Clovis High School teachers such as former band director Norvil Howell and W.C. Robinson, who taught geometry, for inspiring him in art and math, two components of computer animation.

Howell said Smith was a dependable band member, an all-state clarinetist and a brilliant, funny student.

He commissioned Smith’s first artwork when he was in the band, a painting of a trumpet Howell purchased for $25. The painting hung in Howell’s office for years before it was stolen.

Smith said he didn’t take formal art lessons but learned art by observing his uncle who taught art at the University of New Mexico.

“I was the only one in the family he would allow to sit in his studio and watch him paint under the provision that I say absolutely nothing,” he said.