Timeline of Early Digital-Graphics Innovations and Accomplishments at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated
Initially compiled by A. Michael Noll, September 19, 2014
A considerable number of innovative contributions in digital graphics software and hardware were made at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Incorporated (BTL) during the 1960s. The people responsible for this research worked independently in a number of different departments – there was no single, central graphics research area. Some worked in such areas as speech research, mathematics, and computer systems. Their backgrounds were also quite varied, such as: electrical engineering, computer science, and mathematics. The application for much of the research was mostly scientific, but artistic applications were also explored, although usually not formally. In some cases the artistic application motivated the research and resulted in later scientific application.
A Technical Memorandum (MM) was usually written and distributed widely about Bell Labs to document discoveries and accomplishments, with the year indicated by the initial two digits in the official number and the department by the following four digits. Much of the graphics work used the Stromberg-Carlson SC-4020 microfilm printer-plotter, which was installed in 1961 at the Murray Hill, NJ facility. Later, an interactive Honeywell DDP-224 computer system (developed by Peter B. Denes for speech research) was used by some of the researchers. A timeline of these innovations and contributions is presented here, with references to documentation.
|1959||Random-dot stereograms created by computer, displayed on TV-like device.||Bela Julesz||B. Julesz, “Binocular Depth Perception of Computer-Generated Patterns,” Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 39, No. 5 (1960), pp. 1125-1162.|
|1961||Stromberg-Carlson SC-4020 microfilm printer-plotter installed at Murray Hill location. Package of FORTRAN utility subroutines created.||Clement F. Pease||Bernard D. Holbrook & W. Stanley Brown, “Computing Science Technical Report No. 99 A History of Computing Research at Bell Laboratories (1937-1975).”|
|1962||Computer-animated movie of convergence of multidimensional scaling algorithm.||Joseph B. Kruskal, Jr.||http://stat-graphics.org/movies/multidimensional-scaling.html|
|1962||Color computer-animated movie of ground effects of explosion.||Robert J. Tatem||Mentioned in his private autobiography – but no other verification.|
|Early 1960s||Computer-animated movie of simulation of missiles and decoys.||Robert M. McClure||S. Millman (Editor), A History of Science & Engineering in the bell System – Communication Sciences, 1984, p. 381.|
|August 1962||Digital computer art.||A. Michael Noll||BTL MM62-1234-14 “Patterns by 7090,” August 28, 1962.|
|November 1962||Proposal for programming language for computer-animated movies.||Kenneth C. Knowlton||BTL Memorandum for File, November 5, 1962, “A Proposal for Computer-Produced Animated Diagram Movies”|
|1963||BEFLIX (for: Bell Flicks) programming language developed.||Kenneth C. Knowlton||BTL MM63-1271-6 “BEFLIX, A Programming Language for Producing Animated Diagram Movies.”, Kenneth C. Knowlton, “A computer technique for producing animated movies,” Proceedings of the AFIPS Spring Joint Computer Conference, April 21-23, 1964, pp. 67-87.
U.S. Patent 3,609,670, "Program Controlled System for Processing Spatially Distributed Information," issued September 28, 1971.
|1963||Computer-animated film “Simulation of a Two-Gyro Gravity-Gradient Attitude Control System.”||Edward E. Zajac||Edward E. Zajac, “Computer-made perspective movies as a scientific and communication tool,” Communications of the ACM, Vol. 7, No. 3 (March 1964), pp. 169-170.|
|1964||BEFLIX used to create computer-animated film “A Computer Technique for the Production of Animated Movies” – use of raster graphics to tell story.||Kenneth C. Knowlton||Film at: http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2012/9/10/AT&T-Archives-Computer-Technique-Production-Animated-Movies|
|1964||Stereoscopic 3D projections.||A. Michael Noll||BTL MM64-1234-2 “Stereographic Projections by Digital Computer,” March 27, 1964.|
|April 1964||BE VISION programming package for orthographic views of surfaces.||Ruth A. Weiss||Ruth A. Weiss, “BE VISION, A Package of IBM 7090 FORTRAN Programs to Draw Orthographic Views of Combinations of Plane and Quadric Surfaces,” Journal of the ACM, Vol. 13, No. 2 (April 1966), pp. 194-204.|
|1964||Packard Bell 250 computer connected to IBM 7090 and used for graphical calculations.||Elliot N. Pinson||Bernard D. Holbrook & W. Stanley Brown, “Computing Science Technical Report No. 99 A History of Computing Research at Bell Laboratories (1937-1975).”|
|April 1965||Howard Wise Gallery Show “Computer-Generated Pictures.”||Bela Julesz & A. Michael Noll||Stuart Preston review in The New York Times, April 18, 1965.|
|1965||First of a series of computer-animated artistic films “Poemfield No. 1” – colorization by Brown and Olvey.||Stan VanDerBeek (visiting artist) & Ken Knowlton||Poemfield No. 2 at: http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2012/8/13/AT&T-Archives-Poem-Field-2|
|1965||Computer-animated film “Force, Mass and Motion.”||Frank W. Sinden||Frank W. Sinden, “Synthetic Cinematography,” Perspective, Vol. 7, pp. 279-289 (1965). Film at: http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2012/8/20/AT&T-Archives-Force-Mass-Motion|
|1965||Graphic 1 remote terminal developed – cathode ray tube with interactive light pen, using a DEC PDP-5 computer.||William H. Ninke||William H. Ninke, “Graphic 1: a remote graphical display console system,” Proceedings of the Fall Joint Computer Conference Part I, AFIPS (November 30-December 1, 1965), pp. 839-846. Video at: http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2012/9/7/AT&T-Archives-Graphic-1|
|1965||The creation of “graphic art images” through the use of a library of images formed by geometric patterns.||Max V. Mathews & Henry S. McDonald||U.S. Patent 3422419A, “Generation of graphics arts images,” applied October 19, 1965; issued January 14, 1969.|
|1965||Computer-animated stereoscopic 3D movies of random kinetic sculpture, ballet, four-dimensional hypercube. Subroutine packages for 3D pictures and movies.||A. Michael Noll||A. Michael Noll, “Computer-Generated Three-Dimensional Movies,” Computers and Automation, Vol. 14, No. 11, (November 1965), pp. 20-23.
BTL MM66-1234-1, “Computer-Generated Three-Dimensional Movies and Pictures,” January 20, 1966.
|1966||Computer-generated pictures produced from grey scales of mosaic images.||Leon Harmon & Kenneth C. Knowlton||K. Knowlton and L. Harmon, "Computer-Produced Grey Scales," Computer Graphics and Image Processing No. 1, 1972, pp. 1-20.|
|June 1966||Symposium “The Human Use of Computing Machines” at Bell Telephone Laboratories, June 20-21, 1966. Academics from across the US were invited to learn about the use of digital computers in research.||Computer-animated movies shown by K. C. Knowlton, A. M. Noll, and F. W. Sinden||K. C. Knowlton, A. M. Noll, and F. W. Sinden, “Movies from the Computers,” Summary of presentation at Symposium in Proceedings of Symposium.|
|1966-68||Computer-generated artistic images and animations, programmed by Nam June Paik in FORTRAN.||Nam June Paik (visiting artist)||Archive of Smithsonian Institution; Prof. Greg Zinman.|
|1966-67||Computer-animated movie of harmonic phasors, for use in electrical engineering education.||William H. Huggins (Johns Hopkins University) & Donald D. Weiner (Syracuse University)||William H. Huggins & Doris R. Entwisle, “Computer Animation for the Academic Community,” AFIPS’69 Proc. (May 1969), pp. 623-627.|
|1967||Computer-animated short “Man and His World” for 1967 World’s Fair in Montreal.||Stan VanDerBeek (visiting artist) & Ken Knowlton|
|1967||Computer-generated artistic images, programmed in FORTRAN by Marcus.||Aaron Marcus (graphic designer)||Aaron Marcus, “The Computer and the Artist,” Eye, Vol. 2, pp. 36-39 (Spring 1968).|
|1967||Computer-animated film “A Pair of Paradoxes” with Escher staircase and endlessly increasing tone.||Edward Zajac & Roger Shepherd||Film at: http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2011/10/10/AT&T-Archives-A-Pair-of-Paradoxes|
|1967||3D stereoscopic computer-animated simulation of the basilar membrane in the human ear.||Robert C. Lummis, A. Michael Noll, Man Mohan Sondhi||BTL MM67-1232-6 MM67-1234-5, “A 3-D Glimpse of the Hearing Process,” May 15, 1967.|
|1967||BEFLIX modified to create moving images of random-dot stereograms for experiments in perception.||Carol Bosche||Carol Bosche, “Computer-Generated Random Dot Images,” Design and Planning 2: Computers in Design and Communication, Edited by Martin Krampen and Peter Seitz, Hastings House, Publishers, Inc., 1967, pp. 86-91.|
|1967||Graphic 2 terminal is developed||William H. Ninke||Bernard D. Holbrook & W. Stanley Brown, “Computing Science Technical Report No. 99 A History of Computing Research at Bell Laboratories (1937-1975)”|
|October 1967||Grey-scale mosaic of “The Nude” reproduced in The New York Times.||Leon D. Harmon & Kenneth C. Knowlton||Lieberman, Henry R., “Art and Science Proclaim Alliance in Avant-Garde Loft,” The New York Times, October 11, 1967, p. 49.|
|1968||Computer animation of main title sequence of documentary “Incredible Machine.”||A. Michael Noll||A. Michael Noll, “Computer Animation and the Fourth Dimension,” AFIPS Conference Proceedings, Vol. 33, 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, Thompson Book Company: Washington, D.C. (1968), pp. 1279-1283. Film at: http://techchannel.att.com/play-video.cfm/2011/4/22/AT%26T-Archives-Incredible-Machine|
|1968||Computer-generated images based on number theory.||Manfred R. Schroeder & Sue Hanauer||Manfred R. Schroeder, Number Theory in Science and Communication, Springer, 1984.|
|1968||Computer-animated movie of rainfall during thunderstorm in Holmdel, NJ.||Anne Freeny & John Gabbe||http://stat-graphics.org/movies/thunderstorm.html|
|April 1968||Proposal for a tactile, force-feedback interactive touch system for the DDP-224 computer system. Actual construction completed in 1970-71.||A. Michael Noll||BTL MM68-1234-2, “Man-Machine Tactile Communication: Computer Graphics for the Blind,” April 10, 1968., BTL MM71-1234-6, “Man-Machine Tactile Communication,” June 8, 1971., A. Michael Noll, “Man-Machine Tactile Communication,” SID Journal (The Official Journal of the Society for Information Display), Vol. 1, No. 2, (July/August 1972), pp. 5-11., U.S. , 3919691A “Tactile man-machine communication system,” filed May 26, 1971; issued November 11, 1971.|
|June 1968||Software package for 2D and 3D input and output for the DDP-224 interactive computer system.||A. Michael Noll||BTL MM68-1234-3, “Software Package for Real-Time Interactive Computer Graphics for the Honeywell DDP-224 Computer,” June 6, 1968.|
|1969||Computer-generated hologram created (random 3D sculpture used as example).||Michael C. King, A. Michael Noll, Daniel H. Berry||M. C. King, A. M. Noll, D. H. Berry, "A New Approach to Computer-Generated Holography," Applied Optics, Vol. 9, No. 2, (February 1970), pp. 471-475.|
|1969||Computerized, interactive, page-layout design system.||Aaron Marcus (consultant)||Aaron Marcus , "A Prototype Computerized Page-Design System." Visible Language, 5:3 (1971), pp. 197-220.|
|1969||Raster-scan display hardware for the DDP-224 interactive computer system.||A. Michael Noll||BTL MM69-1234-8, November 21, 1969. A. Michael Noll, "Scanned-Display Computer Graphics," Communications of the ACM, Vol. 14, No. 3, (March 1971), pp. 145-150.|
|1969||FORTRAN IV version of BEFLIX.||Kenneth C. Knowlton & Lorinda L. Cherry||BTL MM-70-1371-4 “FORTRAN IV BEFLIX. Kenneth C. Knowlton and Lorinda L. Cherry, "FORTRAN IV BEFLIX", Proceedings of the Eighth Annual Meeting of the Users of Automatic Information Display Equipment (UAIDE), November 1969, pp. 411-431.|
|1970||Stereoscopic 3D joystick input and output display for the DDP-224 interactive computer system.||A. Michael Noll||BTL MM70-1234-10, “Real-Time Interactive Steroscopy,” December 11, 1970. A. Michael Noll, “Real-Time Interactive Steroscopy,” SID Journal (The Official Journal of the Society for Information Display), Vol. 1, No. 3, (September/October 1972), pp. 14-22.|
|1970||EXPLOR programming language for computer-generated movies.||Kenneth C. Knowlton||BTL TM70-1371-12 “EXPLOR – A Generator of Images from Explicit Patterns, Local Operations, and Randomness,” September 14, 1970. Kenneth C. Knowlton, "EXPLOR — A Generator of Images from EXplicit Patterns, Local Operations & Randomness," Proc. 9th Annual UAIDE Mtg., pp. 544-583 (1970).|
|1973||Proposal for real-time, interactive, color video system for the DDP-224 system||A. Michael Noll||BTL Memorandum for Record, “Proposal for an Interactive, On-Line Real-Time Motion, Scanned, Color Display System for the DDP-224 Computer,” December 3, 1973.|
|1975||FORTRAN version of EXPLOR for minicomputers.||Kenneth C. Knowlton||BTL MM75-1271-2, “MINI-EXPLOR – A FORTRAN Coded Version of the EXPLOR Language for Minicomputers. Kenneth C. Knowlton, “MINI-EXPLOR: a FORTRAN-coded version of the EXPLOR language for mini (and larger) computers,” ACM SIGGRAPH Computer Graphics, Vol. 9, No. 3 (Fall 1975), pp. 31-42.|
|1976||Optical system for superimposing computed information on input devices (changing virtual key labels under semitransparent fingers) to create virtual keys.||Kenneth C. Knowlton||BTL MM76-1271-11 “Computer Displays Optically Superimposed on Input Devices.”
Kenneth C. Knowlton, "Computer Displays Optically Superimposed on Input Devices, Bell System Technical Journal, Vol. 56, No. 3 (March 1977), pp.367-383.
Many of the people who performed this early work went on to do other things, for example, Edward E, Zajac headed a group of economists performing economic research relevant to the Bell System. Kenneth C. Knowlton took off for a year (1971-72) from Bell Labs to teach computer graphics and computer art at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and he then returned to Bell Labs and continued his graphics work. A. Michael Noll left in mid 1971 to work two years on the staff of the President’s Science Advisor and did not continue his research in graphics.
Scientists and engineers at Bell Labs used these graphics innovations and techniques in their research and development work. A number of scientists, and even artists, came to Bell Labs as “resident visitors” to use the graphics facilities there. As one example, Prof. William H. Huggins of Johns Hopkins University and Prof. Donald D. Weiner of Syracuse University came to Bell Labs to use the microfilm plotter to investigate computer-animated movies to teach concepts about phasors in electrical engineering. The Korean video-artist Nam June Paik came initially to Bell Labs in 1966 to explore the use of digital graphics in his art – others came later.