Ken Knowlton's work is part of the 25th Anniversary Celebration of Pioneering Computer Artists








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Transcending Technology

by Steve Allison-Bunnell

Up close, all you see are little shards of smashed pottery, 493 of them to be exact. Some are large and densely packed, others smaller and farther apart. It's an archeologist's nightmare. Stand back and suddenly the scattered fragments snap into the unmistakable image of a china teapot, that venerable SIGGRAPH icon of 3D rendering.

In fact, Ken Knowlton created this mosaic spoof of the history of computer graphics, called "Retrieved Icon," with computer algorithms that helped him lay out the real 3D teapot's remains in 2D. But Knowlton, who has long lists of both software design patents and art gallery exhibits to his name, would rather you didn't know how he did it. "Just spelling it all out detracts from the effect, takes away a little from the wonder," he says. "If you're so interested in how it was made, then why not do it as a performance?" Knowlton thinks the viewer's direct experience interacting with and understanding the artwork is more important.

Knowlton's stance points to something more significant than putting art historians out of business: No matter how sophisticated the code base behind computer graphics and animation, no matter the horsepower under the hood, CG cannot create information or emotion from nothing. The artist's vision is not programmable. If anything, the wetware is even more crucial today than ever.


Modeling | Rendering | Animation | Interaction | Virtual Reality | Synthetic Actors