John Knoll

John Knoll

This is a picture of John Knoll who is a friend of mine. I first met him in about 1985 at Industrial Light and Magic. John was a young intern that had been recommended to us by USC Film School. At first, he worked in the Art and Matt departments but he was so bright he got around the company quite a bit. I was working on “The Golden Child” starring Eddie Murphy and my boss Ken Ralston was trying to figure out how to shoot the scene where the Golden Child touches a dead butterfly and causes it to come to life.

John came up to me and said, “I built a mechanical butterfly when I was in college, would you show it to Ken? “Sure kid”, I probably said. It was an amazing little device but Ken passed on using it.

After a few years John started to rise in the employee ranks because he could do anything. If he needed something that didn’t exist, he built it. Mostly, now he wrote software and plugged it into our existing systems. His first real breakthrough was when he wrote the software that made possible the “water snake” in Jim Cameron’s, “The Abyss”. That was near the begriming of our slow shift over from photo-chemical to digital film making.

Soon, John was a local legend at ILM. He is the only guy I ever heard George Lucas refer to by saying, “Of course he’s a genius”.

But we had our fun with John. We used to say that John had an older smarter brother, and he did. His brother was Thomas Knoll.

But here is the punch line. John worked for us all day, but at night he had his own project which he had talked his “older smarter brother” into helping him with.

What was the project…? John and his brother wrote the software program PhotoShop, in their spare time. Aside from “Windows” I believe “PhotoShop” is the largest selling program ever marketed.

Our old intern John now has a very big house in Marin County, and he still works for ILM. But his brother has an even bigger house and he still lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The next time you open the PhotoShop program, note the first name on the credits…Thomas Knoll.

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