A Biography of the Pixel

paperback, 560 pages

Published Aug. 2, 2021 by The MIT Press.

ISBN:
9780262542456

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The pixel as the organizing principle of all pictures, from cave paintings to Toy Story.

The Great Digital Convergence of all media types into one universal digital medium occurred, with little fanfare, at the recent millennium. The bit became the universal medium, and the pixel—a particular packaging of bits—conquered the world. Henceforward, nearly every picture in the world would be composed of pixels—cell phone pictures, app interfaces, Mars Rover transmissions, book illustrations, videogames. In A Biography of the Pixel, Pixar cofounder Alvy Ray Smith argues that the pixel is the organizing principle of most modern media, and he presents a few simple but profound ideas that unify the dazzling varieties of digital image making.

Smith's story of the pixel's development begins with Fourier waves, proceeds through Turing machines, and ends with the first digital movies from Pixar, DreamWorks, and Blue Sky. Today, almost all the pictures we encounter are digital—mediated …