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Former Pixar software engineer is Strathclyde alumnus of the Year

Dr Martin Reddy after receiving the Alumnus of the Year trophy, with Professor Neil Ghani, Head of Strathclyde's Department of Computer and Information Sciences (left) and Strathclyde Chancellor Lord Smith of Kelvin. Photo by Mark Runnacles

An entrepreneur and software engineer who helped to bring animated characters including Nemo, Lightning McQueen and Wall-E to life has been named the University of Strathclyde's Alumnus of the Year.

Dr Martin Reddy was involved in the production of some of animation company Pixar's biggest films, including Finding Nemo, Cars, The Incredibles, Ratatouille and Wall-E, during his six years as Lead Software Engineer with the studio, where he led a team of software engineers making next-generation tools for filmmakers.

He later co-founded PullString - originally ToyTalk - a company that provided artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create conversational AI experiences and voice apps. He was Chief Technology Officer of the company, which was acquired in 2019 by Apple, where he now leads a team of engineers working on the Siri voice assistant.

Dr Reddy, who is originally from Lossiemouth in Moray, graduated from Strathclyde in 1993, with a BSc Honours degree in Computer Science. He received his Alumnus of the Year award during a graduation ceremony at the University on Wednesday 19 June.

The award is made annually in celebration of the contributions which the University's alumni make in their chosen fields, in the UK and overseas.      

Dr Reddy said: "I first came to Strathclyde almost 30 years ago and the knowledge and skills that I learned here set me up in my career and ultimately led me to where I am today.     

"The other big effect that Strathclyde had on my life is in terms of the people I met here and the relationships I formed; connections that have turned into life-long friendships over the many years since graduating."

He left the students with the words of advice: "Don't be afraid of big changes or of the perception of failing. It's all just part of charting your own course through life. But as you chart that course, be mindful of the people you work around, because to truly do great things in life you will have to rely on other people."

Professor Neil Ghani, Head of Strathclyde's Department of Computer and Information Sciences, gave the oration for Dr Reddy. He said: "Martin has, through his life, been an exemplar of the ambition, innovation, and people-centredness we value at Strathclyde.

Exceptional

"Martin has demonstrated exceptional vision, ambition and innovation and has always retained close links with Strathclyde. His work…has touched nearly all of us and helped change the environment we live in."   

Before joining Pixar in 2002, Dr Reddy worked on a 3-D terrain visualisation system called TerraVision for the artificial intelligence team at SRI International, the company that later produced the Siri phone assistant.

After leaving Pixar, he briefly worked as Engineering Manager at the Bakery Animation Studio. In 2009, he formed the technology consultancy Code Reddy Inc, which provided 3D computer graphics solutions for the entertainment industry and internet applications.

At PullString, he developed technology to enable computer conversation in text, voice and video, including the PullString Converse web app that enabled non-technical users to create voice applications for popular devices. PullString also worked in partnership with the toy company Mattel to produce the first AI-powered talking Barbie doll.

PullString was most recently valued at US$163M.

Dr Reddy has published more than 40 academic papers, written two books, and has nine issued patents. He is also a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo, a four-time UK champion in the martial art of tukido and has gained his glider pilot's licence.