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Publisher's Summary

The Great Digital Convergence of all media types into one universal digital medium occurred, with little fanfare, at the recent turn of the millennium. The bit became the universal medium, and the pixel conquered the world. Henceforward, nearly every picture in the world would be composed of pixels. 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. Smith explains, engagingly and accessibly, how pictures composed of invisible stuff become visible—that is, how digital pixels convert to analog display elements. Taking the special case of digital movies to represent all of Digital Light (his term for pictures constructed of pixels), and drawing on his decades of work in the field, Smith approaches his subject from multiple angles. A Biography of the Pixel is essential for anyone who has watched a video on a cell phone, played a videogame, or seen a movie.

©2021 Massachusetts Institute of Technology (P)2022 Tantor

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Fascinating book read by a delightful narrator

A wide ranging review of the technologies and personalities who shaped our digital visual landscape. Author is comprehensive without getting too technical, narrator keeps the story interesting. Highly recommended.

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History / story was great, technically oversimple

I was very conflicted about my feelings for this book, oscillating back and forth between finding it really annoying / frustrating and really enjoying it. Overall though, the good parts far outweighed the frustrating ones, and I'm quite glad I read it.

With any popular book covering a technical subject, things have to be simplified to appeal to a general audience and be more approachable, and I totally get that, but in this case this process went way too far. Many of the technical sections and explanations, which constitute a significant portion of the book, generally felt simplified to the point of losing a lot of content, and occasionally being just wrong. Technical terms that would have been used throughout the book and become familiar were instead switched for easier to understand terms, despite the fact that this makes it harder to integrate these concepts into larger knowledge and understanding. This is always a tough balance to strike, but here it really felt like they were expecting way to little from the reader, and it was disappointing. Also, the Audiobook has no accompanying PDF of figures, which is a huge oversight for a book so heavily reliant on them. Also, for audiobook listeners, I'd particularly recommend trying it at 1.3x speed or more. The narrator spoke very slowly, and had many deeply annoying mispronunciations.

All of that said, this book tells an amazing story about the history of computer graphics from someone who was deeply involved from the very beginning all the way up through founding pixar, and this story is deeply interesting and well written. Despite the oversimplification of many of the technical areas, I still learned a lot about how certain kinds of computer graphics are done, and there was a lot of interesting content about correctly sampling and reconstructing the visual world in space and time. Just being able to see all of this history of the field that underlies so much of our modern lives from someone who was so deeply a part of it for so long made the book well worth it on its own.