Lance_WilliamsLance J. Williams, a University of Utah computer science student during the department’s famed period in computer graphics development in the early 1970s and the inventor of computer image optimization known as mip-mapping, died Aug. 20 of cancer. Williams, who was 67, was living in Los Angeles, according to his Facebook page.

Williams attended graduate school at the U’s then computer science department from 1972 to 1976 along with other department luminaries at the time including Pixar founder Ed Catmull and Netscape founder Jim Clark. He would later receive a doctorate in computer science from the U in 2000.

A legend in the field of computer graphics, he is best known for inventing texture mip-mapping (demonstrated in his picture above), shadow mapping, and image-based rendering, processes used today that allow computerized images to be optimized for better rendering speed and improved picture quality.

During his career, Williams worked in both television and film as well as for companies Apple, Disney, Google, Nokia, and the movie special effects group DreamQuest. He also worked with famed Muppets creator Jim Henson and for Hollywood studio DreamWorks SKG as the head of long-term software development where he worked on such animated films as “The Prince of Egypt,” “The Road to El Dorado,” and “Spirit.” He later received an Academy Award in 2002 for his work in computer animated graphics and special effects and the ACM SIGGRAPH Coons Award in 2001 for his contributions to computer graphics.

In 2012, he joined Nvidia Corp. as a researcher for the company’s VR and face-tracking groups where he worked until his passing.

“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,” a co-worker wrote on Nvidia’s website. “His brilliant, creative mind will be sorely missed.”