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Ken Knowlton, a pioneer in computer animation and art, passed away at the age of 91

Ken Knowlton, an engineer, computer scientist, and artist who was instrumental in the development of the science and art of computer graphics and created many of the earliest computer-generated pictures, portraits, and movies, passed away on June 16 in Sarasota, Florida. Knowlton was a pioneer in the field of computer graphics and helped pioneer both the science and the art of the field. He was 91.

According to his son Rick Knowlton, it is unknown what caused his father to pass away in a hospice care.

After receiving his doctorate in electrical engineering in 1962, Dr. Knowlton began working at Bell Facilities in Murray Hill, New Jersey. At the time, Bell Labs was a forward-looking part of the Bell telephone corporation and was regarded as one of the most prestigious research labs in the world. He made the decision to create movies using computer-generated visuals after discovering that the laboratory had just installed a new equipment that could print pictures onto film.

BEFLIX, which is an abbreviation for “Bell Labs Flicks,” was the computer animation programming language that he created over the course of the subsequent several months. He thought that BEFLIX was the first language of its kind. The year after that, he created an animated film with the assistance of this language. This animated short film ran for ten minutes and was titled “A Computer Technique for the Production of Animated Movies.” It explained the process that was utilised to create the film.

Even though Dr. Knowlton was the only individual to ever utilise the BEFLIX language, the principles that underpinned this technology would later cause a revolution in the film industry. He and his colleagues swiftly replaced it with other tools and procedures.

Around the middle of the 1980s, computer graphics became an essential component of full-length motion pictures such as “Tron” and “The Last Starfighter.” Pixar Studios, located in Northern California, is responsible for the production of “Toy Story,” a feature film that was released in 1995 and featured fully computer-generated imagery. These days, computer-generated imagery, sometimes known as CGI, plays some kind of part in almost every movie and television programme.

Dr. Knowlton attended Cornell University for his undergraduate education after graduating from high school a year early as the valedictorian of his class. It was at Cornell University that Dr. Knowlton’s parents had first met while they were both pursuing degrees in agriculture before settling on the decision to purchase a farm. In order to get his master’s degree, he continued his studies at Cornell and constructed an X-ray camera out of components salvaged from an electron microscope.

Dr. Knowlton was employed with Bell Labs until the year 1982, during which time he conducted research and experiments on a wide range of topics, including computer-generated music and technology that made it possible for deaf individuals to interpret sign language over the phone. After that, he went on to work at Wang Laboratories, where he contributed to the creation of a personal computer in the late 1980s that enabled users to annotate papers by recording synchronised voice messages and using digital pen strokes.

Following his retirement from the field of technological research in 2008, he collaborated with a magician and inventor by the name of Mark Setteducati to develop a jigsaw puzzle known as Ji Ga Zo. This puzzle’s pieces could be assembled in such a way as to mimic the face of any individual. In a phone conversation, Mr. Setteducati described his late colleague as possessing “a mathematical intellect mixed with a wonderful sense of aesthetics.”

Dr. Knowlton is survived by three other sons: Kenneth and David, all of whom are children from his first marriage, which resulted in a divorce; a brother, Fredrick Knowlton; and a sister, Marie Knowlton. Rick is the only child from his second marriage to have survived. Melinda Knowlton and Suzanne Knowlton, both of whom were children from his first marriage, as well as his second wife, Barbara Bean-Knowlton, have both passed away.

Mr. Knowlton worked with a number of well-known artists when he was employed at Bell Labs. Some of these artists include the experimental filmmaker Stan VanDerBeek, the computer artist Lillian Schwartz, and the electronic music composer Laurie Spiegel. According to Mr. Rauschenberg’s E.A.T. project, he conceptualised himself as an engineer who assisted others in the artistic creation process.

Later on in life, however, he started producing his own artwork and exhibiting and selling it. He constructed classic analogue paintings using dominoes, dice, seashells, and other materials. It wasn’t until much later that he came to the realisation that when engineers work with artists, they become more than engineers.

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