Photo: Mark Richards
Of all the technologies to come out of Xerox’s legendary Palo Alto Research Center (PARC)—the graphical interface, the mouse, laser printers, Ethernet, and PostScript, to name a few—the most revolutionary might have been its 1973 SuperPaint computer. This ordinary Xerox Alto was equipped with hundreds of thousands of dollars of memory and software genius Dick Shoup’s SuperPaint program. Its key technology was the world’s first frame buffer, which allowed Shoup to import video and edit it.
Though no SuperPaint computers were ever sold, there is a clear line of development from them to George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) and to Pixar. Along the way, SuperPaint’s descendents were used on Return of the Jedi, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, and Luxo Jr., which was nominated for an Academy Award in 1986 for Best Short Animated Film. One such descendent was Renderman, the program behind the special effects in The Abyss and Terminator 2: Judgment Day.