Lance Williams

It is with profound sadness that I share the loss of our friend and colleague Lance Williams, who passed away on Sunday, Aug. 20, 2017.

Lance joined NVIDIA Research in 2012 to work on VR and human face tracking.

Lance was a giant in computer graphics. He is best known for inventing texture mip-mapping, shadow mapping, and image-based rendering. Every time we watch a movie, play a video game, or use Google Street View, we are benefiting from these deeply foundational inventions.

Over his long, distinguished career, Lance worked with some of the most influential people and companies in our industry – from Jim Henson to Ed Catmull, and from Apple to Disney (where he was chief scientist of Disney Feature Animation from 2002-2004). He received an Academy Award in 2002 for his “pioneering influence in the field of computer-generated animation and effects,” and the ACM SIGGRAPH Coons Award in 2001 for “outstanding creative contributions to creative graphics.”

Those who knew him will remember most his unfailingly polite manner; his gentle, erudite, and wickedly funny sense of humor; his incredibly creative insights on technological problems; and his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of science, engineering, history, and art. 

His brilliant, creative mind will be sorely missed.

Lance is survived by his wife Amber Denker and two sons, Mane and Zeph. Please keep him and his family in your thoughts.

-David Luebke

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Lance Williams was part of the University of Utah computer graphics group when Ivan Sutherland and David Evans spearheaded the historic research undertaken there.  Later, he worked with Ed Catmull, Jim Blinn, Jim Clark, and Alvy Ray Smith at the New York Institute of Technology Computer Graphics Lab.  Creative work included production of television commercials, 2D and 3D character design, and short subjects 3DV, User Abuser (broadcast on “Entertainment Tonight”), a Japanese animated feature film, The Lensman, and the script for a prototype 3D computer-animated feature, The Works.  Experimental sequences from “The Works” were shown at several SIGGRAPH conferences to considerable acclaim, and the project was written up in such magazines as Cinefantastique, Time, and Newsweek.  For two years he headed CGL Studios, a facility founded to undertake the production of Strawberry Fields, an animated feature sequel to Yellow Submarine.

After leaving NYIT/CGL in 1986, Williams consulted for Henson Associates in New York and GLOBO television in Rio de Janeiro.  In 1988, he joined Apple Computer’s Advanced Technology Group, where he worked for eight years.  During his stint at Apple, Williams contributed to “The Virtual Museum,” an interactive CD, four animated films shown at the ACM SIGGRAPH conference, three patent applications, and “QuickTime VR,” which supports interactive panoramas.

In 1996, Williams worked on special effects for a live-action feature, Habitat, before joining DreamWorks SKG as head of long-term software development for DreamWorks Feature Animation.  While there, he contributed to the feature films Prince of Egypt, The Road to El Dorado, and Spirit.

Williams worked briefly at DreamQuest, Hoyt Yeatman's visual effects company, before it was acquired by Disney in 2000. At Walt Disney Feature Animation, he worked on an early and influential system for tracking and animating realistic human facial performance, the Human Face Project, and served as Chief Scientist from 2002-2004.

Williams proceeded to work as a Senior Scientist at Applied Minds, founded by Disney fellows Danny Hillis and Bran Ferren, where he led software development for a cancer proteomics project. He worked as a software engineer in Google's Geo group from 2006-2008, and as principal researcher at Nokia Research Center Hollywood from 2008-2011.

Lance Williams joined Nvidia's Research Group in 2012, where he returned to research in human face-tracking and animation.