Max Planck ’00 Featured as Harbison Lecture Speaker

On Thursday, October 23, Max Planck ’00 visited campus as this year’s Harbison Lecture Speaker. The Harbison lecture is one of several endowed lecture series at MICDS and was established and endowed in 1994 by Mr. and Mrs. Earle H. Harbison Jr. on the occasion of Mrs. Harbison’s 50th Class Reunion.

Armed with cutting edge technology, a Myo (motion control and gesture control armband bracelet that uses arm muscle activity and EMG signals to control digital devices), Planck shared his inspiring story about his journey from MICDS to MIT to Silicon Valley with Upper School students. Throughout his presentation, Planck shared his perspectives on technology, definitions of success for students, and the potential and power of an enduring curiosity.

“What I remember most about my time at MICDS were my teachers, how I learned to think critically, to use logic, to appreciate art and to work as part of a team.”

An MICDS valedictorian and National Merit Scholar, Planck went on to earn a Computer Science degree at MIT where he secured his first internship at Pixar as a team member of the cutting-edge computer animated movie ‘Cars’, followed by his full-time post-college work on such blockbusters as ‘WALL-E, ‘Up’, ‘Brave’ and ‘Monsters University.’

From working on the shading and developing of the lighting model for Eve in “WALL-E” to simulating Merida’s hair in “Brave”, Max took abstract creative direction and produced a technical solution; which is to say that he took someone’s explanation or description and creates digital visuals that bring the story to life on the screen.

In describing his pioneering work in computer animation, Planck related his memories as a student at MICDS, where he first discovered his passion for computer science, and offered encouragement and advice for students contemplating their own future career paths. Planck confessed that while he doesn’t remember much of the specific content of his classes, he was greatly influenced by the passion his teachers showed for their subjects, along with the critical academic and aesthetic foundation he gained as a student both inside and outside the classroom.

During his talk, Planck stressed that is better for us to think of ourselves as ‘learners’ and not simply ‘students’, given that today’s knowledge is perishable and lifelong learning is the mindset that will increasingly shape career success in the future. Planck stressed the vital role that teamwork and collaboration play in school, life and professional careers encouraging students to be open to recognizing what they don’t know so that they can benefit from the ‘collective genius’ of those around them.

“As a leader I want to learn from my team. I find joy in making mistakes and learning from these mistakes. I trust my team,” said Planck. “I’ve discovered to do something great you need help, a collective genius – a team of geniuses.”

There’s a talent to telling a story and Max is a great technical storyteller. After nine years at Pixar, he decided it was time to move on and continue in his quest of life-long learning to explore interactive and storytelling ventures in hopes of inventing something new. Max is now at Oculus VR as the Technical Lead of the Story Studio – a small team developing the art of storytelling in Virtual Reality.

Following Planck’s presentation, students were given the opportunity to eagerly ask questions that reflected their keen interest in his story. In addition to the Harbison lecture, Planck also spent time with Middle School and Upper School students during their science classes on Thursday and Friday.

Max has four U.S. patents in the areas of rendering methods and apparatus and was published in 2007 by the Association for Computing Machinery for an article explaining algorithms for several things including how to render a plant with 320,000 individual leaves.