Pixillation – Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton

Pixillation - Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton

Pixillation was one of the first collaborations between Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton during their stint at Bell Labs using Knowlton’s self written computer animation language EXPLOR. Made in 1970 this 4 minute film crams in a spectacular amount of visual information, cutting from geometric sequences reminiscent of Cellular Automata to analogue sequences of organic forms – immersions of liquids and oils so favoured by the West Coast light show fanatacists around the same time. In fact the synergy and similarity between naturally occurring organic patterns and their isomorphic algorithmic counterparts seems to be the key message of this film. Pixillation presents us with forking paths of pixels in an alternating retort to footage of the formation of ice crystals. Schwartz and Knowlton’s work instinctively grasps the convergence between the the natural world and the world of computer simulation.

The film develops staccato modulations between microscopic network alignments and the systematic self-organisation principles derived from simple code – between data and nature. The film could be seen as an unintentional precursor to many of the ideas, experiments, simulations that underline the science of Emergence. Its cellular lattice growth systems perhaps cross reference John Conway’ s famed computational life simulations or perhaps even pre-date it, as both were made public in 1970.

The pace of the film, with its flickering montage, together with the experimental soundtrack by Gershon Kingsley further belies the interest in the perceptual and sensory aspects of the medium at this time.

4 Responses to “Pixillation – Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton”

  1. Topics about Animation | Pixillation - Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton writes:


    Pixillation – Lillian Schwartz and Ken Knowlton

    Stammers, Sharon created an interesting post today on Pixillation – Lillian Schwartz and […]

  2. randform » Blog Archive » pixillation writes:

    […] omata (game of life?) and fluids in a psychadelic 1970 animation by Schwartz and Knowlton. via dataisnoture

    posted by nad
    on Thursday, September 3rd, 2009 at 8:3 […]

  3. Laurens R Schwartz writes:

    Pixillation was Lillian Schwartz’s first commission from AT&T. She had developed a language, EXPLOR, that Knowlton was to code. It did not fulfill her needs so she put together a brief sequence of its rectilinear 2D objects. Overall, 97% of the film was created by her at her home animation/editing studio. The dripping colors that spread emulate what the language was supposed to achieve; same with the stop motion. The computer-generated sequence underwent numerous standard processes with the addition of colors and staccato editing. The film won numerous awards for Schwartz and led to a second commission from AT&T, which also made her its goodwill ambassador to lecture on computer imagery at universities. That role was expanded when the USIA made her America’s goodwill ambassador on computer imagery worldwide. She had no creative collaboration with Knowlton; she was brought to the Labs in 1968 by Leon Harmon as an already renowned artist who had studied and worked in all other media, receiving awards and museum shows. Knowlton had no art or film capabilities. Copyrights in her films and images are hers. The collaboration only invollved trying to bring her concept of EXPLOR to fruition. None of Knowlton’s programs have been used in decades.

  4. abraham san pedro writes:

    Dear Laurens R. Schwartz,
    I am an spanish new media art curator and want to comunicate with lillian Schwartz or her family to ask somes questions about her artwork for a forthcoming exhibition. I woud like t know how to obtain the archives of some filsm and how ar the fees for a public non profit exhibition. Yo can replay me here or at mail@abrahamsanpedro.es
    Thanks in advance

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