Jet Propulsion Lab (JPL)

Bob Holzman established the JPL CG Lab in 1977. Working with Ivan Sutherland, who had moved from University of Utah to Cal Tech, he envisioned a group with technology expertise for the purpose of visualizing data being returned from NASA missions. Sutherland recommended a graduate student at Utah named Jim Blinn, whose name has become synonymous with JPL and with graphics in general. (Sutherland once commented that "There are about a dozen great computer graphics people, and Jim Blinn is six of them.")

Blinn received his bachelor's degree in physics and communications science from the University of Michigan in 1970, before computer science was offered as a college subject. He went on to earn a master's degree in engineering at Michigan and a Ph.D. in computer science at the University of Utah in 1978.

Blinn had worked with various imaging techniques while at Utah, and had the vision to develop them into a viable system for the visualization task that Holzman outlined. Blinn produced a series of "fly-by" simulations, including the Voyager, Pioneer and Galileo spacecraft fly-bys of Jupiter, Saturn and their moons. Next, Blinn developed CG sequences for a Annenberg/CPB series, The Mechanical Universe, which consisted of over 500 scenes for 52 half hour programs describing physics and mathematics concepts for college students. He worked with Carl Sagan on the PBS Cosmos series.

Due to the overwhelming reception of the images produced for The Mechanical Universe, Blinn began production of another series devoted to advanced mathematical concepts. Originally titled Mathematica, the title had to be changed because of a software program called Mathematica for mathematics visualization. The series is now called Project Mathematics!

Blinn wrote a series for IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications (for which he received the IEEE Service Award) and is the author of many influential papers, including

Texture and Reflection In Computer Generated Images,
CACM, 19(10), October 1976, pp 542-547.
(The original teapot paper. Introduces environment mapping.)
Models of Light Reflection for Computer Synthesized Pictures,

SIGGRAPH 77, pp 192-198.
(Introduces the Torrance-Sparrow highlight model.)
Simulation of Wrinkled Surfaces,
SIGGRAPH 78, pp 286-292.
(Introduces Bump Mapping.)
A Generalization of Algebraic Surface Drawing,
ACM Transactions on Graphics, 1(3), July 1982, pp 235-256.
(Introduces Blobby Modelling.)
Light Reflection Functions for the Simulation of Clouds and Dusty Surfaces,
SIGGRAPH 82, pp 21-29.
(Lighting model for rings of Saturn.)

Blinn left JPL for Cal Tech, and later Microsoft, where he is involved with the Direct3D project. He received the SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics Achievement Award in 1983, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1991, and the Coons award from ACM-SIGGRAPH in 1999. (A Microsoft press release annonces Blinn's SIGGRAPH award.)

Artist David Em was hired at JPL as an artist-in-residence, and adapted Blinn's visualization software to realize his own artistic ideas. Em admitted, though that the JPL deep space environment influenced the quality and look of his artwork. From the Digital Art Museum entry on David Em:

David Em started as a painter but in 1974 began to experiment with electronic manipulations of TV images. This led to his involvement with the Xerox Research PARC in Palo Alto and to collaboration with computer graphics pioneers Alvy Ray Smith and Dick Shoup, inventor of the frame buffer. In 1976 Em had access to equipment at Triple-I, set up by Gary Demos and John Whitney Sr., but it was the introduction to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the research work of pioneer James Blinn that led to Em's mature computer art style. The works produced at JPL led to the first ever artist's monograph published on digital art ( The Art of David Em , published by Harry N. Abrams)



The Mechanical Universe

Early photo of David Em at the workstation

Artwork produced by David Em

The Far Away, David Em

Dr. Jim Number 1, David Em

Nora, David Em

Transjovian Pipeline, David Em

The moons of saturn (Voyager I)

The rings of Saturn (Voyager I) and The rings of Saturn - chemical composition (Voyager II)

Saturn from Voyager I

Saturn from Mimas

Frames from the Voyager fly-by - Part 1

Frames from the Voyager fly-by - Part 2

Project Mathematics! (produced by Jim Blinn and Tom Postle at Cal Tech)

Mathematica (Project Mathematics!) (produced by Jim Blinn and Tom Postle at Cal Tech)

Paul Debevec' Environment Mapping page, with some Blinn images


Name Came from Went to Comments
Bob Holzman      
Jim Blinn Utah Microsoft  
David Em     artist in residence
John Whitney, Sr.     artist in residence
Pat Cole      
Julian Gomez Ohio State LEGO