1. William Fetter
No list of 3D animators would be complete without including William Fetter. In 1960, employed by Boeing within the computer graphics team, Fetter created the first ever 3 dimensional image of a human being within a computer.
Along with associate W.Bernhart, also used his own three dimensional drawings plotted on paper to create one of the first known 3D animated short films in history.
In fact, it is also said that William Fetter was the person to coin the term ‘computer graphics’, a phrase which is now so synonymous with high quality 3D animation.
2. Frederic Parke
With an initial background in Physics, Frederic Ira Parke became the creator of the first ever three dimensional human face using computer graphics technology back in 1972.
This early work has become the foundation for the developments in human model 3D animation we see every day.
Today, Parke continues his work at the Texas A&M University where he is incorporating his knowledge of facial animation with developments in speech recognition and speech synthesis to take visualization sciences forward.
3. Edwin Catmull
Catmull’s desire to be an animator and work for Disney started early. But when his artistic skills were not up to scratch, he turned to computer graphics to realise this dream.
Initially working with Frederic Parke on Futureworld the first ever main stream feature film to use computer graphic technology, Catmull became Vice President of the computer graphics division within George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic in 1979.
In 1986 Catmull became a founding member of Pixar Animation and has played a major role in the development of the Renderman technology and now continues to use his experience and expertise as President and Chief Technical Officer.
4. John Lasseter
If you have ever seen the Pixar lamp jump across the screen and wonder how it all started then John Lasseter is the man to ask. A lamp in a local furniture store gave him the inspiration and create a revolution amongst 3D animators.
After graduating from the California Institute of Arts, Lasseter became part of the Disney empire as a skipper on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland before becoming part of the animation team. But when Jerry Ross and Bill Kroyer showed Lasseter the first rushes of the new computer animated concept called Tron Lasseter realised how close his dream of moving that lamp was.
Though short animation films Where the Wild Things Are and The Little Toaster did led to his dismissal from Disney, it did pave the way for a venture with Edwin Catmull that resulted in one the most ground breaking pieces of animation history, The Adventures of André and Wally B.
As a founding member of Pixar animations, Lasseter has personally directed landmark films such as Toy Story, Cars and A Bugs Life and has won a Special Achievement Academy Award for Toy Story.
Today, Lasseter is the Chief Creative Officer of both Pixar and Disney Animation Studios and oversees all of Pixar’s films. He is also Principle Creative Director for Walt Disney Imagineering contributing to the design of all new theme park attractions and is also managing the reintroduction of animated shorts in cinemas across the world.
5. Ken Perlin
Thanks to his innovative Perlin Noise and his work within Character Animation and Hypertexture, Ken Perlin has made it possible for 3D animators to create a more realistic gaming platform than ever before.
As the Director of Games for the Learning Institute at NYU, Perlin is also a professor within the Computer Science Department and the Founding Director of the Media Research Lab.
Prior to this, Perlin was also responsible for the systems architecture on the feature films including the highly acclaimed Tron during his time in the animation department at MAGI.
6. Robert Abel
Robert Abel was not just an innovative inspiring animator in his own right, but also a genius when it came to bringing together talented people who could create something fresh.
Through his development of Robert Abel and Associates with Con Pederson, Abel made a profound impact on the development of 3D animation across the world.
During this lifetime Abel worked on inspiring films using in house developed animation software and was most well known for his work with using vector graphics to create outstanding results. Credits include Tron and the opening sequence to the Black Hole as well as adverts such as the 7 Up ‘Uncola’ spots and Levis.
7. John Hughes
As a product of the Robert and Abel and Associates legacy, John Hughes’ company Rhythm and Hughes has gone on to achieve massive success in animation. Only this year, their new film, Life of PI obtained the Oscar for Best Visual Effects but John Hughes himself provided a lifetime contribution to the industry.
Within his yearly years at Abel and Associates, Hughes was instrumental in the development of the motion control camera systems that would enable the use of CGI technology within television and films.
Though still the CFO and President of Rhythm and Hughes, John chairs education boards across American designed at improving the education of digital technologies.
8. James F. Blinn
James Blinn’s work within the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA has made him one of the most influential 3D animators in history. Working on the Voyager project, the way in which Blinn has been able to illustrate the interaction between objects and environmental factors has been unlike anything that has gone before him.
Though he has dipped his toe into the world of entertainment through his work on television series including The Mechanical Universe and Cosmos: a Personal Voyage, Blinn is now developing new concepts within computer sciences as part of the Microsoft Research team.
9. Bill Kovacs
As another product of the Robert Able and Associates crew, Kovacs work with innovative new technologies has provided him with a place in our chart.
Before leaving Able and Associates in 1984, Kovacs had personally contributed to the development of the software used in 3D animation films such as Tron.
Following his departure, he went on to co-found his own company, Wavefront Technologies, which provided the animation world with the Advanced Visualizer (TAV). During this time he achieved Clio Awards for his work in television animation while the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science awarded him their own credit for Science and Engineering.
In 1991 Kovacs became a key participant in the Infinite Illusions exhibit before becoming CTO for RezN8 in 2001, 6 years before his death.
10. Craig Reynolds
It was primarily Reynolds work on feature films Tron and Batman Returns that are said to have contributed to him receiving the Academy Scientific and Technical award in 1998. But for many, what makes Craig Reynolds one of the great 3D animators is his work in building a mathematical model to create the flocking behaviour of animals including birds and bats – or in the case of the Jurassic Park, prehistoric dinosaurs.
During the presentation of his award it was cited that Reynolds was being credited for “his pioneering contributions to the development of three-dimensional computer animation for motion picture production.”
11. Chris Landreth
When Chris Landreth finally made the move into computer graphics by joining Alias in 1994, he had actually already created his first highly acclaimed short film.
Initially employed to define and test existing software applications, Landreth’s insight provided a valuable contribution into the development of the Maya software.
By 2004, Landreth had already directed Academy Award nominated film ‘the end’ and Genie Award winning film ‘Bingo’. But it was when Ryan was launched in this year that Landreth’s true quality was shown winning him the 2005 Academy Award for his surreal use of computer graphics.
12. Hans Ulhig
As Computer Graphics Supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic between 1997 and 2003, Hans Ulhig’s worked on a range of films nominated for Best Visual Effect Academy Awards including Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, Star Wars: Episode V- The Empire Strikes Back, Deep Impact and The Haunting.
Following a period within the games industry, Hand founded his own company,Polygon Entertainment, in 2007 taking up his role as CEO to ensure that he continues to have a major impact on 3D animation today.
Most recently Uhlig has been working on ‘The Darkest Hour’ using his knowledge of stereo 3D animation to create outstanding results.