Born: February 23, 1949
James (Jim) Blinn is a computer scientist whose graphical simulations for NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the Carl Sagan’s Cosmos documentary marked technological turning-points in the field of computer animation.
Blinn was born in Detroit to a family of art teachers in 1949. He received a bachelor’s degree in physics and communications science, along with a master’s degree in engineering, from the University of Michigan. He earned a doctorate in computer science of the University of Utah in 1978.
He has been an innovator in the development of tools for creating realistic three-dimensional computer graphics and in applying these technologies to create award-winning animation. He programmed techniques for rendering textures onto surfaces and mapping shiny and metallic reflections on objects. In addition to better simulating how light reflects on objects, he developed methods for modeling surfaces called “blobbies,” which are amorphous shapes built of various spherical objects. This process has allowed shapes to be rendered more quickly and accurately.
Blinn is best known for his work animating the flight of the Pioneer and Voyager spacecraft across Saturn, sent to news outlets as part of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s public relations campaign. He also did animation for Carl Sagan’s popular Cosmos documentary and the educational series called “The Mechanical Universe.”