Photoshop was the co-creation of two brothers, Thomas and John Knoll, from Ann Arbor, Michigan. The brothers garnered an interest in photography and technology from their father, Glenn F. Knoll, a professor emeritus of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences at the University of Michigan. Glenn, a keen photographer with his own basement darkroom, was also captivated by technology and the advent of the personal computer. While Thomas’s interests leaned towards photography, John was naturally drawn to his fathers Apple II Plus.
Fast forward to 1987 and John was working at Industrial Light and Magic in Marin, California; a special effects division set up by Lucasfilm for their Star Wars movies. Thomas, on the other hand, was in college at the University of Michigan studying for his image processing Ph.D.
During his Ph.D. Thomas bought an Apple Mac Plus to work on his thesis but was disappointed when he realised that it could not display gray-scale images. So Thomas began to write his own code to address the problem but didn’t stop there. He had written, in John’s words “…a bunch of image processing tools”.
John became aware of Thomas’s work during a vacation home to Ann Arbor. As the two chatted John realised how similar Thomas’s work was to the image processing tools on the custom computer “Pixar” used at ILM. The chatting quickly turned to collaboration and, after streams of requests from John for new image processing features, the two now had an application which they named “Display”.
The two continued to refine Display and by 1988 had an improved version which was renamed ImagePro. John approached companies in Silicon Valley but was initially turned down by many until one company, BarneyScan, showed some interest. BarneyScan bundled the software under the name BarneyScan XP and a total of 200 copies were shipped.
However, this was not a long term agreement and in September 1988 John returned to Adobe, one of the companies who had initially turned him down. Adobes Art Director, Russell Brown, was impressed by the product and an agreement was made soon after between Adobe and the two brothers. After 10 months of further product development Photoshop 1.0 was released in February 1990.
Thomas remained alongside Photoshop as lead developer and continued to develop all of the core coding up until version CS4. He is still involved with the product contributing to the work on the Camera Raw plug-in.
John remained at Industrial Light and Magic where he furthered his career as visual effects supervisor and chief creative officer working on movies like “Star Trek”, “Pirates of the Caribbean”, “Star Wars”, “Rango” and “Pacific Rim”. John was also visual effects supervisor on the three latest Star Wars movies.
Who knows what the design industry would be like today if John had not worked at ILM and had not picked up on, encouraged and peddled Thomas’s work. Had it not been for Star Wars there might never have been a Photoshop. So the next time you’re retouching photos, putting together your next composition or whatever it is that you do, stop for a second and thank your lucky Star (Wars) for Photoshop!