History of Computer Science at BYU

The Computer Science Department at Brigham Young University was formed in 1968. Dr. Gary Carlson, Director of BYU Computer Services, was named Dean of the College (which had one department) and C. Edwin Dean from the mathematics department was appointed to Chair the Computer Science Department. The first department faculty members, besides Dean and Carlson, were Willard Gardner, Parley Robinson, and Norman Wright. Willard was associate director of computer services. Parley Robison and Norman Wright were programmers in computer services. BYU was one of the very early B.S. programs in computer science in the nation. Almost all of the early university computer science programs, including the University of Utah, began as graduate programs and later, during the 1970s, added a B.S. degree program to their offerings. BYU started out with a B.S. degree program and later added the MS and PhD programs.

Dr. Theodore A. (Tad) Norman came to the BYU Computer Science Department in the January of 1970 and Dr. Bill R.Hays joined the CS faculty in the Fall of 1970. Dr. Hays had a PhD in Computer Science from Northwestern University and had been employed at Bell Laboratories and Sandia National Laboratory in New Mexico before coming to BYU. Dr. Norman had a PhD in Computer Science from Washington State and had worked for IBM previous to his BYU appointment. From 1971 to 1974 the department added 3 PhDs in Computer Science from the University of Utah, Alan C. Ashton, Duane B. Call, Robert P. Burton, and a CS PhD from Case Western University, Dr. H. Lynn Beus. A department with 6 PhD faculty in Computer Science was very unusual in the 1970s. Most of the early computer science faculty around the country came from physics and mathematics departments to staff newly formed computer science departments. Computer Science departments were sprouting up all around the country during the 1970s.

In 1972 the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences at BYU was split into two colleges, The College of Engineering Sciences and Technology, and The College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. The College of Computer Science was dissolved and Computer Science joined Mathematics, Statistics, Physics, Chemistry, and Geology as a department in the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences. Jae R. Ballif of the Physics Department was appointed Dean of the new college. Late in that same year the CS department moved into the newly finished Talmage Building which also housed the central campus computer facility.

A little aside about Gordon E. Stokes who joined the Computer Science Faculty in 1973. Stokes came to BYU in 1969 as an assistant dean working with Dean Armin J. Hill in the College of Physical and Engineering Sciences to help solve some administrative problems with the college’s newly acquired military surplus Librascope computers that were being used by the physics and chemistry departments and by the engineering departments. Stokes had a masters degree in Physics from the University of Idaho and had spent 8 years at the National Reactor Testing Station in Eastern Idaho. His work as an instrumentation physicist in a nuclear physics research group had him heavily involved with computers, especially small computers, as data acquisition and data analysis systems all during the 1960s. At BYU Stokes moved from the Dean’s office to a position as an associate director of BYU computer services in 1971 when all computing on campus was put under the direction of the campus computer services organization. Stokes was invited to join the computer science faculty in 1973 because mini-computers were becoming widely available and the CS department needed someone familiar with small computers. Stokes was also active nationally in the primary computing professional society, Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), and was appointed chair of the national ACM accreditation committee in 1972.

It is impossible to talk about the computer science academic program without also talking about what was happening in the evolution of computing systems and their associated software. In the late 1950s computer hardware was transitioning from vacuum tubes as the primary logic circuits to transistors which were much faster and more reliable than vacuum tubes. By the early 1960’s computers were in wide use in businesses and universities across the country but in by today’s standards they would have been called primitive. The machines had limited magnetic core memory, usually specified in the kilo-words (the byte as part of memory organization had not been designated yet) and external storage was mostly magnetic tape. Assembly languages were the normal programming mode although COBOL and FORTRAN compilers were available on some machines, and operating systems that took the burden of managing the computer system resources available were unknown. There were two large computer systems developed in the late 1950s and delivered in 1961 to meet the needs of the Livermore Atomic Energy laboratory and the Los Alamos Atomic Energy laboratory. A computer called the LARC was put together by Remington Rand’s Univac division for the Lawrence Livermore group, and a Computer system called STRETCH was built by IBM for the Los Alamos lab. The STRETCH is significant in this history because BYU would acquire a surplus STRETCH machine (by then called the IBM 7030) in 1972. There were only 7 IBM 7030s built and BYU acquired two of the surplus machines to make up one working computer. The IBM 7030 featured a look-ahead memory that decoded several instructions ahead of the instructions being executed and an interleaved memory. The machine was so complex (for that time period) that it was difficult to build a software system that could take advantage of all of its hardware features although a rudimentary multi-programming system was developed for the machine. As you looked across the then existing computer offerings you would find that each computer product line had their own unique control program, or operating system as they were later called. An IBM 7030 sold for around $3,000,000 dollars in 1961.

In 1964 IBM introduced the IBM 360 product line that featured an operating system that ran on several different sized computers in the IBM 360 line, an assembly language that was common over several different sized computers in the product line and a memory organization that was built around a character sized unit (an 8 bit byte) that could be strung together to form machines of different word lengths (8 bit, 16 bit, 24 bit, and 32 bit). This product line revolutionized business computing by making available machines from inexpensive (relatively) to very expensive that could execute the same compiled code through the whole product line. You could upgrade your computer and not have to rewrite all of your application programs. This approach to computing along with the development of a computer organization by Control Data Corporation (the CDC 6600) that utilized peripheral processors (small computers) to control and exercise and connect to memory all devices externally operating with the computer really served to establish the whole area of computer organization, computer architecture, operating systems, and compiler systems in the curriculum of computer science programs. In 1968 the ACM curriculum committee chaired by William Atchison of the University of Maryland produced a model computer science program in a report titled Curriculum ’68. The report included topic areas and course titles for the infant academic computer science programs across the country and textbooks began to be written to support the recommended courses in Curriculum ’68.

The University of Utah was active in the developing field of computer science from a very early time. Dr. David C.Evans came to the University of Utah in 1965 from the University of California at Berkeley. Evans did a lot of early work on software for timesharing and interactive computer graphics. Evans was dedicated to developing computer systems for inter-active personal problem-solving. When he came to the University of Utah he brought and shared with his graduate students in the U of U program his passion for graphics and for systems that catered to the individual. The years from 1967 to 1975 under Dr. Evans' leadership were extraordinary years for computer graphics at the University of Utah. The U of U dominated national university-level graphics developments during those years. The University of Utah was also active in the national efforts to build a network to share scarce high performance computing facilities across the country and in 1968 the U of U joined with UCLA, the Stanford research Institute, and The University of California Santa Barbara to become the first 4 nodes on the ARPANET which later developed into today’s Internet. It was from this dynamic, creative environment that the BYU CS department was able to acquire three outstanding faculty members.

With a highly qualified and highly motivated faculty, guidelines from the ACM Curriculum ’68 report, and a multitude of students flowing into the CS program, BYU developed an academically demanding and professionally stimulating computer science curriculum. When the department was formed the view of academic access to the computer was centered around students coming to the central computer and submitting their homework assignments to be run in a batch environment on the large computer. In 1968 BYU was running an IBM 360-65 computer with 382 K Bytes of memory. Cards were punched to contain the programs that students wrote, they were turned in at a centrally located “window”, and students retrieved their executed code reports the next day. The Talmage building at BYU was built to support this type of activity. The Computer Science Department and the campus central computer facility were located in the same building to make the computer more accessible to the students. In the early 1970’s the computing scene began to change. Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) had developed the 12 bit word, 4 K word memory Programmed Data Processors (PDP) PDP-5 and PDP-8 that sold for under $20,000 in the late 1960’s. In 1970 DEC introduced the PDP-11, a 16 bit word machine with a vastly improved machine architecture that sold for about the same price. Universities could afford individual machines in their computing laboratories and students were no longer dependent upon the central computer. BYU’s first computer science department mini-computer laboratories were made up of DEC PDP-8’s and machines from a spinoff group from DEC called Data General. The Data General lab ran the DG NOVA which was a 16 bit word machine that by 1972 could be acquired for under $10,000. We also had a couple of DEC PDP-11s. The BYU CS Department worked for several years during the mid and late 1970’s to populate their laboratories with mini-computers and to develop laboratory practices to keep the machines running. The DEC PDP-8’s were used primarily for the computer organization course so our students began their computer education using the DEC PDP 8 assembly language with it’s 12 bit word limitations. It was a good language to begin learning about computers because the language was simple and the student had to program in everything including indirect jumps between 256 word pages in the memory. The early input medium for student programs was punched paper tape that gradually changed to punched mylar tape by the mid 1970’s. The CS department laboratory computers did have magnetic disk storage for the operating system and key software packages such as compilers. Student programs were stored on the magnetic disk after being read into the system and many professors kept their class grades on the disks of the laboratory machines. One thing that we could count on was a disk head crash near to or during the last week of the semester. That always caused a few anxious hours for faculty and students as faculty tried to recover lost data hoping that no deep grooves had been cut into the disk by the bouncing head.

In the meantime progress continued to be made in hardware and software developments. In 1971 an operating system called UNIX was developed by two programmers at the Bell Systems Laboratories. It was put together on a DEC PDP-11. By 1975 UNIX was running on several models of minicomputers from different manufacturers and Bell Labs decided to make UNIX available to universities for $750 for a site license. Bell Labs also let universities have the source code for the UNIX operating system. UNIX soon became the operating system taught in almost all Computer Science programs across the country. New systems were added to the ARPANET and BYU was able to become a node on the University of Utah Arpanet site. A super computer called the ILLIAC IV had been developed at the University of Illinois and Burroughs contracted to put together an ILLIAC IV computer that was made available on the ARPANET at the government sponsored Ames Laboratory site in California.

At Bell Labs an engineer, Dr. Evan L. Ivie, was working on software systems during the development of the UNIX operating system and the development of the C programming language. Dr. Ivie had put together a system called “the programmers workbench” that enabled programs to be written on a UNIX system computer and then export the generated code to other computers of a different type than the computer it was developed on. It rapidly became a significant tool for software developers. Dr. Ivie had become one of the world’s experts in using the UNIX operating system while working on this project. At Ames Laboratory a lead engineer on the ILLIAC IV installation, Dr. Robert Linebarger, was heavily involved in making that machine available as an ARPANET resource. Dr. Linebarger was a nationally recognized leader networking. In the1978-1979 time frame Dr. Evan Ivie and Dr. Robert Linebarger joined the BYU Computer Science Department Faculty.

The BYU CS department had a Masters degree (MS) in Computer Science approved in 1974 and two of the early graduates from the Master’s program were Dan Olsen and Scott Woodfield. Dan went on for a PhD from the University of Pennsylvania and Scott went to Purdue for his PhD. The enrollment in the Computer Science program was growing rapidly. I have a note in my sketchy journal that says that the CS department had 1,200 majors in 1982. The Master’s degree program also grew to 40 or more students very quickly. Dr. Aurel Cornell, a European computer scientist from Romania joined the faculty in 1980. Dr. David W. Embley, a faculty member from the University of Nebraska joined us in 1982. Dr. Larry E. Christensen with an EdD in instructional design came to the CS faculty in 1983 to help us with some computer-based instruction projects. Gordon Stokes acquired a doctors degree, an EdD from BYU in instruction and curriculum design in 1981. We were able to recruit Dr. Dan Olsen and Dr. Scott Woodfield from the Arizona State CS faculty and they joined us in 1985.

A word or two about the curriculum in the BYU CS department; because BYU was an early entry in the BS degree area of computer science, and the ACM curriculum ’68 guidelines had been published, and because BYU had a robust faculty cadre of PhD computer scientists, BYU’s curriculum had a much stronger computer science focus than most of the BS degree computer science programs nationally and internationally. BS degree graduates from the BYU program during the 70s had taken courses that were not covered until the master’s degree coursework in most universities across the country. When the ACM curriculum committee began work in 1975 on what would become Curriculum ’78, Stokes, a member of the committee, introduced BYU’s curriculum into the meetings and it was used as a model for a lot of what could be taught at the undergraduate level in computer science. Many of the course syllabi from the BYU curriculum became the basis for syllabi in the Curriculum ’78 report. When the curriculum ’78 report was published BYU’s program looked very good when compared to many other undergraduate programs in the country. Drs Hayes, Norman, Ashton, Burton, Call, and Beus did an excellent job of putting together a comprehensive and relevant curriculum. The computer languages used in the introductory computer science courses at BYU in the 1970s were FORTRAN and COBOL. In the early eighties the department switched to structured programming approach in the introductory courses using the PASCAL programming language.

In the late 1970s Tad Norman was appointed department chair and in the early 1980’s Bill Hays became department chair. In 1987 Dr. Tony R. Martinez, a UCLA PhD graduate, and Dr. William E. Barrett with a PhD in Medical Informatics from the U of U joined the CS faculty, In about that same time frame the BYU CS department was granted permission to offer a PhD in Computer Science and the BYU undergraduate BS program was granted national accreditation by the Computer Science Accreditation Board (CSAB), a new organization in its second year of operation. CSAB was founded by ACM and the IEEE Computer Society in 1986. Dr. Dennis Ng a PHD from Kansas State came to the faculty in 1991 followed in 1992 by Parris Egbert a PhD graduate of the University of Illinois CS program and by Kelley Flanagan, a PhD Electrical Engineer from the BYU engineering program. The first PhD from the BYU CS program was granted to J. J. Ekstrom in 199? (I don’t know the year). Dr. Phillip Windley from the University of Idaho, and Dr. Thomas Sederburg from the BYU College of Engineering, Dr. Mark Clement PhD from Oregon State and Dr. Bryan Morse PhD. from North Carolina came to the CS Faculty in the mid 1990s. Dr. Quin Snell, a PhD graduate from Iowa Sate joined the faculty in 1997. During the 1990s Department Chairs in the CS department were Dan Olsen and William Barrett

Dan Olsen, Bill Hays’ longtime friend and associate, said, “He had the vision that the department could be an excellent researching department. Before Bill, basically all faculty did was teach classes; nobody ever published a paper. When he was chair, he said, ‘This is going to change; we’re going to be a real department.’” Under his leadership, new faculty members with special emphasis in research were hired, and the west wing of the Talmage building, which now houses the Computer Science Department, was completed. As computer science’s popularity increased, Bill worked tirelessly to strengthen faculty and was successful in getting the PhD program approved.

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Bill Hays

Bill was named associate dean of the College of Physical and Mathematical Sciences in 1992, and then dean a year later.

Dan Olsen was Department Chair 1992-1996. He left to the be the director of the Carnegie Mellon University, Human-Computer Interaction Institute (1996-1998) (http://byu.danrolsenjr.org/danpubs.html).

Bill Barrett has been a Professor of Computer Science at BYU where he has been Department Chair and Associate Chair (1996-1999). He is the co-founder of the Family History Technology Lab(fhtl.byu.edu) and founder of the Family History Technology Workshop (fhtw.byu.edu) which was foundational to the creation of ROOTSTECH. He is also co-founder of the workshop on Historical Document Imaging and Processing (HIP). He works with the FamilySearch Advanced Technology Group, helping them with computerized handwriting recognition and other family history technologies. His research group is a world leader in computerized handwriting recognition. Bill also helped pioneer the field of Digital Angiography and has developed a variety of interactive segmentation tools, including Intelligent Scissors, adopted in Adobe Photoshop™ Magnetic Lasso.

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Tony Martinez

Tony Martinez became the Department Chair from 1999-2008

Can a robot have the same type of intelligence as a human?

This is a question Dr. Tony Martinez has thought a lot about as he directs the neural network and machine-learning laboratory in the BYU PhD/MS program for the computer science department. Martinez was awarded the Alumni Professorship Award at the Annual University Conference in August 2013. Receiving it himself is inspiring for him. “It is a real honor and makes me want to work even harder to be a benefit to BYU and our students,” Martinez said.

He has been published over 150 journal and conference papers on artificial intelligence and other machine learning and was department chair for the Department of Computer Science for 9 years.

Besides teaching a variety of computer classes for graduate and undergraduate students, he has also taught Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants classes at BYU.

Whether robots will ever have souls or not may be debatable, but Dr. Martinez is definitely a man who is willing to put his heart and soul into his work in the computer science department.

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Parris Egbert

Parris Egbert was the Department Chair from 2008-2014.

Speaking of the changes in the department, Dean Sommerfeldt, of the College
of Physical and Mathematical Sciences said, "[Dr. Martinez] has provided
strong and capable leadership to the department for many years. He has
been an effective advocate for the department and has overseen significant
growth in the teaching and scholarship activities within the department.
He has helped instill a positive vision throughout the department that promises
to yield continued growth even as he leaves his position as chair of the
department."

Dean Sommerfeldt continued, "[Dr. Egbert] brings strong leadership
skills to his new position that will help him to foster continued growth in the
department. We look forward to working with him in this capacity, and we
are confident that he will oversee continued outstanding teaching in the
department, as well as increasingly strong scholarship. The future
appears bright for the department."


Other changes in the department include the appointment of a new associate
chair and graduate coordinator. Christophe Giraud-Carrier has been
appointed to serve as the associate chair of the department, replacing Dr.
Bryan Morse, who previously held the position. In addition, Dr. Kent Seamons
has been selected to be the department’s graduate coordinator, replacing Dr.
Egbert in this position.

Dr. Giraud-Carrier is an associate professor and director of the Data Mining
Laboratory in the department. Prior to joining BYU in 2004, he was senior manager
at ELCA, a Swiss IT services company, where his responsibilities included the
capitalization of data mining expertise, responses to tenders, and the
management of various projects for companies, local governments and NGOs. Prior
to this, he was Senior Lecturer in the Department of Computer Science at the
University of Bristol, where he founded and led the Machine Learning Research
Group. Dr Giraud-Carrier received his bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees
in computer science at BYU in 1991, 1993, and 1994, respectively.

Dr. Giraud-Carrier is married to the former Isabelle Mauclair, and they are
the parents of eight children.

Dr. Kent Seamons has been chosen to replace Dr. Egbert as the department's
graduate coordinator. Dr. Seamons is an associate professor and the director
of the Internet Security Research Lab in the department. Prior to joining the
faculty at BYU in 2000, Dr. Seamons was the principal investigator on several
DARPA-sponsored research projects at the IBM Transarc Lab in Pittsburgh, PA. He
was a co-inventor of two patent applications filed in 21 countries by IBM in
the area of trust negotiation. He received his PhD in Computer Science from the
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he conducted research in
parallel I/O. Dr. Seamons' current research is the creation of convenient
and secure authentication techniques in open systems. His research interests are in trust and
privacy in open systems, usable security, and trust negotiation. Dr. Seamons has over 45 research publications
in the areas of trust and security, parallel I/O, distributed systems, and
information retrieval.

Dr. Seamons and his wife, the former Linda Knupp, are the parents of three
children.

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Mike Goodrich

Mike Goodrich was the Department Chair from 2014-2018

Goodrich received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering from BYU in 1992, 1995, and 1996, respectively. Following his education, he worked as a postdoctoral research associate with Nissan at Cambridge Basic Research (CBR).

Following his postdoctoral research at CBR, Goodrich joined the BYU Department of Computer Science as a research assistant professor in 1998. His current research focuses on human-robot interaction, multi-agent learning, artificial intelligence, and human machine interaction.

In 1999, Goodrich switched to a teaching and research position and has now taught classes at BYU for 15 years. Goodrich’s goals have always been to genuinely care about the students in his classes, to make classes both intellectually stimulating and challenging, and to make personal contact with every student, especially those who are struggling.

The department's new associate chair, Ventura received his B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in computer science from BYU in 1992, 1995, and 1998, respectively. Following graduation, he worked as a research scientist for Fonix Corporation until 1999.

After his stint with Fonix, he worked as a research associate in the Applied Research Laboratory at Penn State University until 2001. He joined Penn State’s graduate faculty of Computer Science and Engineering at that time as well. Later that year, he joined the BYU Department of Computer Science as an assistant professor and has worked in the department ever since.

His research focuses on building systems to which he can attribute creativity, thus expanding the understanding of (artificial) intelligence and leading to the development of more robust artificially intelligent systems. In addition, he facilitates work on computational creativity that necessitates advances in other fields, such as natural language processing and understanding; computer vision; and search and information retrieval.

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Kevin Seppi

Kevin Seppi was appointed Department Chair in 2018. “Dr. Seppi’s capabilities as a researcher and mentor will allow him to provide strong leadership to the department and open doors to students,” said Dean Reese. “We are excited to see what he accomplishes.”

Seppi is the author or co-author of eighty-four refereed conference and journal publications. Seppi’s research at BYU has included topics in function optimization and parallel systems, most of this work making use of probabilistic models. Seppi currently works in two areas: natural language processing and the application of machine learning to activities and devices in the physical world. He is especially interested in improving the ways in which humans interact with intelligent systems.

“My objective is to continue to make BYU computer science an environment where great student-led research flourishes,” Seppi said. “I want to build a program that excites students and employers—a compelling program that includes core computer science, data science, software engineering, cloud computing, security, systems, image processing, games, and animation.”

Noted Faculty Contributions

Faculty and CS department graduates of note because of their contributions to the economy of Utah Valley or general contributions to Computer Science on a national scale are: Alan Ashton (faculty), and Bruce Bastion (graduate student) founders of Word Perfect Corporation, Duane Call founder of Computer Systems Architects, Theodore (Tad) Norman, cofounder of Auto Simulations Incorporated, Superset Software (Drew Major, Kyle Powell, Dale Neibaur, and Mark Hurst, CS graduates). Superset Software with Ray Noorda really made Novell a national leader in networking software. Dan Olsen who served for 3 years as Director of Carnegie Mellon University’s Human Interface Lab, Gordon Stokes, a coauthor of Curriculum ’78, a member of the IEEE-ACM accreditation development committee, a member of the first Executive Board of the Computer Science Commission of the Computer Science Accreditation Board, and Phillip Windley, CTO for iMall, a very early internet merchandising company.

Other Faculty from the Computer Science department at BYU.

Seth Holladay

Seth Holladay was the first BYU intern that Pixar ever hired, starting a relationship that has benefited many students and faculty alike.

The Holladay family enjoys the movie Ratatouille in a different way than most families. Instead of just watching Remy, the mouse turned chef, experiment with food while having exciting adventures, Seth Holladay, a new instructor in the Computer Science Department, and his family discuss aspects of Remy’s cooking that don’t really meet the eye. While animating at Pixar Animation Studios, Holladay specialized on the intricate details of Remy’s food in Ratatouille, so his wife and children hear special commentary on his contributions to the movie.

His film experience with Ratatouille is just an appetizer in Holladay’s feast of a résumé; Holladay also contributed to box-office hits Cars, WallE, and Up. While he makes creating victorious characters look easy, Holladay’s own road to animation was quite the adventure.

As a student, he always knew he wanted to have a career in computer animation, but was unsure how to get there. Holladay attended BYU before the animation major and the Center for Animation had been developed, so he was referred to the Department of Computer Science.

After graduating with a BS in 2004, Holladay was not immediately hired into the industry, so he decided to pursue a master’s degree. The semester he started his master’s program, he applied for an internship at Pixar, knowing his chances of getting it were slim.

“I thought it couldn’t hurt to apply,” Holladay said. “I kind of felt like if they rejected me, I wouldn’t feel too bad, because Pixar is so prestigious.”

Two weeks later, Holladay was happily surprised with a phone call from Pixar, informing him that he had been accepted into the internship. His first assignment at Pixar was rendering Cars, helping to complete the finished visual product. Since Holladay’s experience at Pixar, several other BYU students are accepted annually to the exclusive internship program. But Holladay was the first one to take that chance and apply, and now he is helping his own students get first-rate internships as well.

After gaining invaluable experience completing the internship, he returned to Provo to finish obtaining his master’s in computer science. Upon graduation, Pixar offered Holladay a full-time position, and for three years, he animated environmental effects in several Pixar films. He prefers working with environmental special effects because it illustrates how phenomena occur in real life.

“It’s like combining animation and physics,” Holladay said. “I really love animating how things work.”

Working for Pixar provided Holladay with important experience in the animation industry. He now passes down these valuable lessons in the classroom as he instructs future animators while concurrently earning his PhD. But what was the best part of working for a major motion picture studio in California?

“I have five children, and when we were there, they were excited that we got free tickets to Disneyland. So we always got into the parks for free,” Holladay said. He laughed that his kids were more excited about that than the fact that their dad helped create several of the films featured at Disneyland.