1999 Ira Fulton Feeds the Digital Imagination
Ira Fulton’s mother taught him to give generously from the time he was a child in Arizona. Her hamburger stand never turned anyone away, even if customers couldn’t pay. “They’re hungry,” his mother explained simply. Fulton didn’t have much money himself growing up, nor in his first years of marriage. What he did have was a tremendous work ethic (inspired by his Mormon faith) and a lively imagination. Diligently working one job after another, he eventually struck out on his own. He started a computer company. He helped remake a dying clothing retailer into a big moneymaker. He got into homebuilding.
By then he was wealthy, and wanted to leave his mark on the world through his giving spirit. He had already donated tens of millions to his alma mater, Arizona State, and to Brigham Young University. But where many wealthy people interested in art focus on museums or symphonies, Ira’s vivid imagination kept him closer to young fields and young creators. He donated a supercomputer to BYU in 1999, and four more in the years that followed. In 2003, he funded the creation of BYU’s computer-animation program. The program promptly turned out some of the star animators involved in films like I, Robot and Star Wars. One of the unique features of BYU’s curriculum is that it doesn’t just teach the students how to do animation, it trains them in the business environment of movie studios and how to work in teams to create commercial films.
Ultimately, Fulton would give over $80 million to the school. Today, BYU’s Center for Animation produces about 25 animators per year, and is considered one of the best programs of its sort in the world. Pixar and Dreamworks assign employee mentors for the animation students and recruit graduates heavily. Having recognized the influence of digital animation within American popular culture—and particularly its significance to children and family life, Ira Fulton used a few savvy gifts to place the center of gravity for training new practitioners in a particularly family-friendly place, thereby changing the industry and our country.
- BYU Center for Animation, animation.byu.edu
- Grant Madsen, “Ira Fulton: Full of Surprises,” BYU Magazine, Winter 2004, magazine.byu.edu/article/ira-fulton-full-of-surprises/
- Kyle Smith, “Joy Story,” Philanthropy magazine, Summer 2011, philanthropyroundtable.org/topic/excellence_in_philanthropy/joy_story