A (now-deleted) tweet last night by Pixar director Mark Walsh announced that one of the company’s earliest employees, Loren Carpenter (pictured above right, with Ed Catmull and Alvy Ray Smith), retired on Friday at the age of 66. To give a sense of his impact on the company, Carpenter was the guy who invented the name Pixar. The invaluable book Droidmaker by Michael Rubin recounts the evening that the name Pixar was created:
Loren Carpenter was still lobbying for “Cinematrix” for either the product or the division, but couldn’t get anyone to sign on. One evening, Loren, Alvy [Ray Smith], Jim Blinn, and Rodney Stock headed out to dinner to try to work through the problem. They settled into a booth at The Country Garden, the nearest place to their offices where you could sit down and get pretty good food at any hour. It was a little noisy, but comfortable.
“Let’s just name it after what it does. It makes pictures,” pointed out Alvy. “But it should sound cool and scientific, like ‘laser.'”
Everyone gave nods of agreement between bites. “The ‘er’ at the end is good. It’s a Spanish suffix that makes it a verb. Laser…pixel laser…pixer…”
Alvy stopped. “Pixer? That’s pretty good.”
“It sounds weird,” said Loren.
“Well, something like pixer.”
“That name will never stick,” said Loren.
Loren thought for a moment.. It just sounds kind of…strange. What about pixar.”
“That’s good,” said Alvy.
Jim and Rodney didn’t stop eating, but their eyes registered consensus. Loren was mulling it over.
“Then it sounds a little more like ‘radar,’ and sort of astronomical, like ‘quasar’ or ‘pulsar,'” Loren added.
Blinn, as an unofficial space program delegate to the meal, looked up from his soup and nodded in agreement.
Alvy was pleased. “You know, ‘ar’ is another Spanish verb ending,” he said, in further support of his case.
“I like it. If we call it Pixar it will stick, and it sounds cool,” said Loren. “This will stick.”