Friday, 26 August 2011

Meeting Steve Jobs

With the recent news about Steve Jobs leaving Apple, everybody seems to be posting their stories about him. Mine isn't that funny, but here goes.

One of my first projects at NVIDIA was working on a real-time version of Pixar's famous "Luxo Jr" short film. Shadows maps were a new feature on the GeForce 3 graphics card, and our marketing guys thought this would be a great way of showing them off (without any concept of how difficult this would be, obviously). The GeForce 3 was planned to be launched with the new iMacs at MacWorld Tokyo 2001.

The crazy thing was that we developed the whole demo without any permission (or help) from Pixar whatsoever. As my boss liked to say, it's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Our intern Eugene D'Eon (now at Weta), modeled the lamps and rotoscoped the entire animation frame-by-frame from a rip of the original DVD. I worked on the shadows and shading. We finished the demo with a few days to spare (those bendy lamp cords were a real pain to get right, let me tell you), and our execs showed it to Steve at Apple. He said it was pretty close to the original, talked to Pixar, and gave us permission to show it at the launch.

So me and our chief scientist David Kirk flew out to Tokyo for the launch. My job was to drive the demo on stage, which was somewhat nerve-wracking, as you might be able to tell from the video above. During the rehearsal one of Steve's assistants told us we might have to leave the room because he was getting upset that his slide remote control wasn't working, and we wouldn't want to see that. I got the impression this happened quite often!

Later, David and I had a brief chance to talk to Steve. From what I remember of the conversation, he mainly talked about how great the new OS X user interface was. In my youthful ignorance I jumped in and said it was pretty, but had they thought about using the graphics hardware to speed up the rendering? (It was pretty slow at the time). He said he had talked to his best engineers about this, and they told him it was impossible. There was no way they could get the quality they needed using the GPU. Anyway, a year or so later OS X did introduce a GPU accelerated UI with smoothly scaling icons etc. Coincidence? I don't think so!

We only got to show that demo once, but it was worth it, I think.


Cyril Crassin said...

Eh eh thanks for this nice story Simon :-)

I did not know you used to worked with Eugene at this time, must have been a crazy work to rotoscope all the animation !

I don't know who was your boss at this time, but I like the "It's easier to ask for forgiveness than permission." :-D

Simon Green said...

That quote from Mark Daly. Big props also to Curtis Beeson and Joe Demers who wrote the engine, and Geoff Stahl at Apple, who did the Mac port!