So how did you end up at Lucasfilm?
I went to a computer graphics conference in Long Beach where Ed Catmull was one of the speakers. He asked me how Brave Little Toaster was going and I said it was shelved.
Then Ed asked if I wanted to "do a little freelance" at Lucasfilm – although he couldn’t be seen to be hiring an animator as that wasn’t really what they did.
So he called me an ‘Interface Designer’. Nobody knew what that was but they didn’t question it in budget meetings!
But George Lucas was more interested in developing new software that could be used for his films rather than computer animation per se?
Well, I really like George and I think he is one of the great visionaries of film. You have to understand: he was spending his own money. He felt that film-making technology hadn’t changed that much at all since DW Griffith made Birth Of A Nation in 1915. He was developing non-linear film editing, digital sound editing, digital optical printing...
This was what had drawn Ed there, and then Ed brought with him animation, developing computer animation, because that’s what Ed was really into and always wanted to do. He couldn’t draw but he was very good at math so he ended up in computer science and found himself at the very beginning of the era where computers made movies.
So you were like a little band of revolutionaries.
Well, we were a very small group, led by Ed with a visionary - George Lucas - funding it. It was remarkable. I’m the very first traditionally trained animator in the world who worked with computer animation. And I just blossomed!
After my experience at the Disney Studio of just being squelched, Ed had gathered together the world's greatest young minds in computer animation. I asked him, ‘How did you get all these amazing people?’ And he said, ‘Oh, it’s easy, I just try to hire people who are smarter than myself.’
Yeah, I was laughing when he said it but I kept thinking about it.
Having seen the original Tron being developed, it must be interesting to see the new version coming together.
Yeah. I think Tron the movie wasn’t as captivating as the promise of it. But, given how far computers and computer games have gone, the possibilities are really, really awesome.
If they could marry it to an engaging story...
Yeah, well that’s always the goal of great movies, no matter what you're doing.