<< preface

this blog is nina wenhart's collection of resources on the various histories of new media art. it consists mainly of non or very little edited material i found flaneuring on the net, sometimes with my own annotations and comments, sometimes it's also textparts i retyped from books that are out of print.

it is also meant to be an additional resource of information and recommended reading for my students of the prehystories of new media class that i teach at the school of the art institute of chicago in fall 2008.

the focus is on the time period from the beginning of the 20th century up to today.

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>> Bell Labs


Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ was a leading research contributor in computer graphics, computer animation and electronic music from its beginnings in the early 1960s. Initially, researchers were interested in what the computer could be made to do, but the results of the visual work produced by the computer during this period have established people like Michael Noll and Ken Knowlton as pioneering computer artists.

Edward Zajac produced one of the first computer generated films at Bell Labs in 1961, which demonstrated that a satellite could be stabilized to always have a side facing the earth as it orbited. This film was titled A two gyro gravity gradient altitude control system. Ken Knowlton developed the Beflix (Bell Flicks) animation system in 1963, which was used to produce dozens of artistic films by artists Stan VanDerBeek, Noll, Knowlton and Lillian Schwartz. Ken Knowlton and Leon Harmon experimented with human pattern perception and art by perfecting a technique that scanned, fragmented and reconstructed a picture using patterns of dots (such as symbols or printer characters.) Ruth Weiss created in 1964 (published in 1966) some of the first algorithms for converting equations of surfaces to orthographic views on an output device.

The artistic/scientific/educational image making efforts at Bell Labs were some of the first to show that electronic digital processing (using the IBM 7094 computer) could be coupled with electronic film recording (using the Stromberg-Carlson 4020 microfilm recorder) could be used to make exciting, high resolution images. With the dozen or so films made between 1963 and 1967, and the many more films after that, they showed that computer animation was a viable activity. Zajac's work, Sinden's films (eg, Force, Mass and Motion) and studies by Noll in the area of stereo pairs (eg, Simulated basilar membrane motion) were some of the earliest contributions to what is now known as scientific visualization.

Turner Whitted arrived at Bell Labs from NC State (PhD - 78), and proceeded to shake the CGI world with an algorithm that could ray-trace a scene in a reasonable amount of time. His film, The Compleat Angler is one of the most mimicked pieces of CGI work ever, as every student that enters the discipline tries to generate a bouncing ray-traced ball sequence. Whitted was also very instrumental in the development of various scan line algorithms, as well as approaches to organizing geometric data for fast rendering. In 1983, Whitted left Bell Labs to establish Numerical Designs, Ltd. in Chapel Hill. NDL was founded with Robert Whitton of Ikonas to develop graphics toolkits for 3D CGI. Key developments of NDL include

  • NetImmerse 3D Game Engine
  • MAXImmerse 3D Studio MAX Plug-in
  • rPLUS Photorealistic Rendering Software

Whitted also had a faculty appointment at UNC, and in 1997 joined the graphics division at Microsoft. He is an ACM Fellow, and received the 1986 SIGGRAPH Graphics Achievment award for his simple and elegant algorithm for ray-tracing. He is now lead contact for the Graphics group and the Hardware Devices group at Microsoft, where he is investigating alternative user

timeline: (did not work on my computer)

some short facts about their inventions:
- they developed the programming language C (1970), WLAN (1990), DNA machine prototypes, large scale integrated circuits (in the 60ies), the transistor (50ies),
- Claude Shannon wrote his publication about Information Theory there, Bardeen, Brattain and Shockley received the Nobel Prize for their invention of the transistor

NameCame fromWent toComments
Ed Zajac

Ken KnowltonMITWang
Stan VanderBeek

Lillian Schwartz

Michael NollNewark College of EngineeringWhite House Office of Science and Technology, USC
Frank Sinden

Turner WhittedNC StateUNC, Microsoft
Bella Julesz

C. Bosche

Leon Harmon

Ruth Weiss

Max Mathews

Emmanuel Ghent

Laurie Spiegel

Jerry Spivack

Doris Seligmann

Carl Machover

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... is a Media Art historian and independent researcher. She is currently writing on "speculative archiving && experimental preservation of Media Art" and graduated from Prof. Oliver Grau's Media Art Histories program at the Danube University in Krems, Austria with a Master Thesis on Descriptive Metadata for Media Arts. For many years, she has been working in the field of archiving/documenting Media Art, recently at the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Media.Art.Research and before as the head of the Ars Electronica Futurelab's videostudio, where she created their archives and primarily worked with the archival material. She was teaching the Prehystories of New Media Class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and in the Media Art Histories program at the Danube University Krems.