A. Michael Noll created his earliest digital computer art in summer of 1962 while he was working at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, as documented in a Bell Telephone Laboratories Technical Memorandum "Patterns by 7090" (MM-62-1234-14, August 28, 1962) [Courtesy of Alcatel-Lucent © 1962 Alcatel-Lucent]. In an early experiment performed a few years later, he compared a Mondrian painting with a computer-generated pattern – an experiment which latter became classic. His "Computer-Generated Ballet" was the first use of a digital computer to create an animation of stick figures on a stage. In 1968 and 1970, he utilized his four-dimensional computer-animation method to create the title sequences for a movie ("Incredible Machine") and for a television special ("The Unexplained") – a very early use of computer animation for generating title sequences.

Noll's early work in computer art was pioneering and set the way for many others to follow. He wrote many published papers and spoke extensively about his computer art at the time. A selction of quotations from these papers is below.

Examples of Noll's work are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art , the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the USC Fisher Gallery, the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center, and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. See below for the specifics of these collections.

For examples of early computer art by Noll, please click here.

For a history of early digital art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, please click here.

Computer-Generated Animated Movies at Bell Labs:

Some of the earliest research into the use of digital computers to create animated movies was done at Bell Labs at Murray Hill, NJ in the early 1960s. This research was performed using a Stromberg Carlson SC-4020 microfilm plotter and IBM 7090 and 7094 computers. In 1968, the SC-4020 was replaced by a Stromberg DatagrahiX SD-4360.

Dr. Frank W. Sinden programmed a 10-minute animated movie titled “Force, Mass, and Motion” demonstrating Newton’s Law with various central force laws. Dr. Edward E. Zajac programmed a 4-minume animated movie titled “Two-Gyro Gravity-Gradient Attitude Control System” showing how an orbiting satellite is stabilized to orient toward the Earth. Dr. Bela Julesz and Ms. Carol Bosche produced short computer animated segments for experiments in visual depth perception. Dr. Kenneth C. Knowlton, using his BEFLIX programming language, collaborated with Stan VanDerBeek to produce a one-minute computer-animated movie titled “Man and His World” for Expo 67 in Montreal. Dr. Joseph B. Kruskal, Jr. programmed a computer-animated movie in 1962 showing the convegnce of multi-dimensional scalling data.

A. Michael Noll made some of the earliest three-dimensional stereoscopic computer-animated movies, with separate images for the left and right eyes. One of his computer-animated movies showed a four-dimensional hypercube, perspectively projected into three dimensions and then as stereo pairs. He later used this technique to animate letters and words in four space for title sequences for a movie (1968) and a TV program (1970). Noll also used his stereo animation to investigate three-dimensional random “kinetic sculptures” and a computer-generated ballet of stick figures on a stage. Noll's computer-generated animations are:

"Computer-Generated Ballet" (1965) — 3D stereographic and 2D versions.

"Four-Dimensional Hyperobjects" (1965) — 3D stereographic pairs.

"4-D Hyper Movie."

"Simulated Basilar Membrane Motion (3D)" with R. C. Lummis and M. M. Sondhi.

"Incredible Machine" (1968) — main-title animation sequence for award-winning movie by Owen Murphy Productions for the American Telephone & Telegraph Company.

"The Unexplained" (1970) — main-title animation sequence for Encyclopedia Britannica Special by Lee Mendelson Productions for NBC and colorcast on April 3, 1970.

"Computer Generated Ballet" (2D version), "Hypercube Computer Animation," and "Basilar Membrane" are available at YouTube by "computerartist".

Shows (1965-1975) :

Howard Wise Gallery, New York City: April 8 to April 24, 1965 (with Bela Julesz) "Computer-Generated Pictures" (early USA digital computer art exhibit).

Fall Joint Computer Conference, Las Vegas: November 30 to December 1, 1965 (with Vaughn Mason's analogue computer art) "Computer-Art Exhibit."

Galarie im Hause Behr, Stuttgart, Germany: 1967 "Computergrafik" (organized by M. Krampen).

Studio f, Ulm, Germany: 1967 "Computergrafik" (organized by M. Krampen).

Summit Art Center, Summit, New Jersey: 1967 "Computer Sight and Sound."

House of Art, Brno, Czechoslovakia: 1968 "Computer Graphic."

Gallery, Jihlava, Czechoslovakia: 1968 "Computer Graphic."

Gallery, Cottwaldov, Czechoslovakia: 1968 "Computer Graphic."

Institute for Contemporary Arts, London, England: 1968 "Cybernetic Serendipity."

Galerije Grada Zagreba, Zagreb, Yugoslavia: 1968 "Tendencije 4."

Kubus Gallery, Hanover, Germany: 1969 "Computer-Kunst" (sponsored by Clarissa Contemporary Art and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Gellellseheft).

University of Madrid, Madrid, Spain: 1979 "Generacion Automatica de Eormas Plasticas."

Pinacoteca do Estado de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, Brasil: 1971 "Arteonica."

National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, India: 1972 "Computer Art."

Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin, Ohio: 1972 "Computer Art."

Watson Art Gallery, Wheaton College, Amherst, Massachusetts: 1975 "Computer Art Exhibit."

Permanent Collections:

Large prints of "Gaussian-Quadratic" and "Computer Composition With Lines" are in the permanent collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (unframed) and of the Fisher Gallery at the University of Southern California (framed).

Movie prints (16 mm) of computer animation are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (New York City) and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (Los Angeles). The Academy has converted the movies to a digital format.

A 16 mm print of a "Computer-Generated Ballet" is in the permanent collection of the Dance Division of the Performing Arts Library at Lincoln Center (New York City) [call #: MGZHB 2-54].

Copies of various published papers by A. Michael Noll about his early computer art are in the permanent collection of the Huntington Library in San Marino, CA.

Quotations on Computer Art by A. Michael Noll:

 "As the technology progresses, increasing numbers of scientists, animators, artists, and others will use the graphic capabilities of computers coupled with devices for producing visual output." ["Computer-Generated Three-Dimensional Movies," Computers and Automation, Vol. 14, No. 11, (November 1965), pp. 20-23.]

“The results of this experiment would seem to raise some doubts about the importance of the artist’s milieu and emotional behavior in communicating through the art object.” [“Human or Machine: A Subjective Comparison of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Composition with Lines’ and a Computer–Generated Picture,” The Psychological Record, Vol. 16. No. 1, (January 1966), pp. 1-10.]

“The computer may be potentially as valuable a tool to the arts as it has already proven itself to be in the sciences." [“Choreography and Computers,” Dance Magazine, Vol. XXXXI, No. 1, (January 1967), pp. 43-45.]

“Computers … will become more readily accessible with the net result that many more people, including artists, will become computer oriented. In time this new artistic medium will be exploited to produce previously unknown effects combining color, depth, motion, and randomness in creative combinations.” [“Computers and the Visual Arts,” Design Quarterly No. 66/67, (1967), pp. 65-71.]

“In the computer, man has created not just an inanimate tool but an intellectual and active creative partner that, when fully exploited, could be used to produce wholly new art forms and possibly new aesthetic experiences.” [“The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium,” IEEE Spectrum, Vol. 4, No. 10, (October 1967), pp. 89-95.]

“… the end result, no matter through what medium it was produced, should be judged for its own artistic merit. … I am quite excited by the prospects for the new artistic effects and beauty which will surely result from creative collaborations between artists and the computer.” [“Computer Animation and the Fourth Dimension,” AFIPS Conference Proceedings, Vol. 33, 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, Thompson Book Company: Washington, D.C. (1968), pp. 1279-1283.]

“What we really need is a new breed of artist-computer scientist.” [“Art Ex Machina,” IEEE Student Journal, Vol. 8, No. 4, (September 1970), pp. 10-14.]

“Creative persons from the artistic community – not technologists – must continue to appear who are expert in the use of the computer medium.” [“Computers and the Visual Arts: A Retrospective View,” Catalog of the SIGGRAPH ’82 Art Show (July 1982).]

“Computers might actually be the single common tool that will lead to an integration of various arts, such as music, animation, sculpture, drama, architecture, design and dance.” [“The Beginnings of Computer Art in the United States: A Memoir,” Leonardo, Vol. 27, No. 1, (1994), pp. 39-44.]

Early papers on computers and the visual arts by A. Michael Noll:

Below is a list of early writings and published papers on computers and the visual arts by A. Michael Noll. The link is a pdf version of the original publication which can be downloaded. The pdf's range from 1 MByte to 9 MByte in size, which will affect download time depending upon your Internet speed. Most of the papers are from the 1960s and are not otherwise available.

"Patterns by 7090," Bell Telephone Laboratories Technical Memorandum, MM-1234-14, August 28, 1962.

Computer Art Contest First Prize, Computers and Automation, Vol. 14, No. 8, (August 1965).

"Computer-Generated Three-Dimensional Movies," Computers and Automation, Vol. 14, No. 11, (November 1965), pp. 20-23.

Human or Machine: A Subjective Comparison of Piet Mondrian’s ‘Composition with Lines’ and a Computer–Generated Picture,” The Psychological Record, Vol. 16. No. 1, (January 1966), pp. 1-10.

Choreography and Computers,” Dance Magazine, Vol. XXXXI, No. 1, (January 1967), pp. 43-45.

Computers and the Visual Arts,” Design Quarterly No. 66/67, (1967), pp. 65-71.

The Digital Computer as a Creative Medium,” IEEE Spectrum, Vol. 4, No. 10, (October 1967), pp. 89-95.

Computer Animation and the Fourth Dimension,” AFIPS Conference Proceedings, Vol. 33, 1968 Fall Joint Computer Conference, Thompson Book Company: Washington, D.C. (1968), pp. 1279-1283.

Art Ex Machina,” IEEE Student Journal, Vol. 8, No. 4, (September 1970), pp. 10-14.

Computers and the Visual Arts: A Retrospective View,” Catalog of the SIGGRAPH ’82 Art Show (July 1982).

"The Beginnings of Computer Art in the United States: A Memoir," Leonardo, Vol. 27, No. 1, (1994), pp. 39-44.


There has been confusion over the dates of specific works of my computer art and animation. My earliest works were done during the summer of 1962, and this is documented in a Bell Laboratories Technical Memorandum "Patterns by 7090" dated August 28, 1962 (TM-62-1234-14). The term "patterns" was used because the management was concerned that "art" would be too flossy and imply a judgment as to artistic merit. A number of examples were shown, all involving elements of randomness, sometimes combined with order. "Gaussian-Quadratic" was created as early as the sumer of 1962, but probably no later than 1963, and was a variation on one of the themes shown in the Technical Memorandum. "Computer Composition With Lines" was created during 1964.

The confusion about the dates was created because many of the works were copyrighted with a date of 1965, thereby leading to the assumption that this was the year of creation. The 1965 date came from the year of the exhibition of many of the pieces (along with works by Bela Julesz) at the Howard Wise Gallery in New York City in April 1965. A number of stereographic (3D) works were also exhibited then, along with such famous pieces as "Gaussian-Quadratic," "Vertical-Horizontal Number Three," "Computer Composition With Lines," and "Ninety Parallel Sinusoids."

Computer-Art Memoir & Vignettes

by A. Michael Noll


I created my first digital computer art during the summer of 1962 at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey. This early date is confimred by a Technical Memorandum, dated August 28, 1962, that I wrote describing the experiments.

As a child, I was always doing drawings of space ships. Some examples of my early teenager drawings are here. In high school, I took drawing classes and also developed an interest in modern art. The use of the digital computer with the microfilm CRT plotter was a natural, in my mind, and I foresaw its use as a new medium for artists.

Because of a childhood interest in 3D stereo viewers, I used the digital computer and microfilm plotter to create 3D stereo pairs of random shapes and also scientific data.

Frank Sinden and Ed Zajac used the plotter to create movies of scientific topics. I used the computer and plotter to create 3D stereo animated movies of such topics as a rotating 4D hypercube, random shapes, and a computer-generated ballet. The 4D technique was used to animate title sequences for an AT&T film and also a TV special in the late 1960s.

Ken Knowlton developed a programming language for moving large blocks of data, BEFLIX. He used the program to create animated sequences which were edited together by Stan Van Der Beek for “Man and His World” in Montreal – a very early computer-animated art film.

In the 1960s, I showed my 3D films and computer art at a number of places. I recall visiting MIT to show the work to Prof. Coombs and his student Nick Negroponte. I recall visiting Rhode Island School of Design to show the work there.

In 1965, Howard Wise asked Bela Julesz to exhibit his random-dot stereograms at the Wise Gallery in NYC on West 57th Street. Bela asked me to join the exhibit with my computer art and 3D images. A few months later, my work was shown at the Fall Joint Computer Conference in Las Vegas, along with work by Vaughn Mason.

I remember a conference in Canada at the University of Watrerloo. It was there that I heard of the work at Lawrence Livermore Laboratories (George Michael) and at Boeing (Bill Fetter). Canadians very early recognized the significance of digital computer art and animation. I visited the University of Toronto to see the computer art being done there by Leslie Mezei and also to speak about my work.

I wrote and had published many papers describing my computer art and animation. One paper was in Dance Magazine, although most of the other papers were in technical journals. I spoke to the dance community in NYC about the prospects for computers in choreography.

I saw the possibilities for digital images in investigations of aesthetics. Accordingly, I created images and used them in early investigation. One investigation compared an image by Mondrian with a computer version. Another investigation compared 2D and 3D images. Papers were published describing all this research.

Later I heard of the work in Germany by Nake and Nees. I also met and heard of the work by John Whitney who took images created at IBM and edited them skillfully into artistic films. Others joined the computer-art cause, such as Chuck Csuri in Ohio. My 4D animation attracted others too. I promoted the use of computers in architecture to visualize artistic designs.

By 1968, I had ceased computer art and was investigating 3D interactive displays and input devices. We used a TV set to display graphics with scan conversion of the X-Y data. I created a 3D force feedback device for my doctoral dissertation at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, obtaining the degree in 1971 and then leaving Bell Labs to work at the White House Science Advisor’s office.

In the 1950s and 1960s, Bell Labs was doing research into computer music. I believed it was natural to extend this into computer art and animation, although the music somehow received more attention and credit then and even today.


Computer Art. In the early days of digital computers, tables of numbers were the result of many programs. These numbers then had to be plotted by hand. With the coming of the CRT-based microfilm plotter, graphs were the result. During the summer of 1962 I had been assigned to the research department at Bell Labs and was using the plotter to graph speech spectra. A summer intern Elwyn Berlekamp was also using the plotter, but an error in his program produced a graphical mess, which he comically called computer art since it looked so abstract. I then realized that the digital computer could be programmed to produce such works deliberately combining mathematical order with programmed randomness – and did so based on my knowledge of modern art. I wrote a technical memorandum dated August 28, 1962 to document my preliminary efforts.

Mondrian. Piet Mondrian’s paintings are geometric in shape and thus struck me as appropriate material to use as stimulants for a computer created version. His “Composition With Lines” was black and white with many horizontal and vertical bars of varying lengths in a somewhat circular pattern. I programmed the IBM digital computer in FORTRAN to generate a version placing horizontal and vertical bars at random in a circular pattern with a reduced density in an elliptical region at the top. The result looked similar to the Mondrian but much more random. I then made paper copies of both the Mondrian and the computer pattern and showed them to 100 people at Bell Labs. The majority preferred the computer version and thought it was the Mondrian! To some extent this experiment was Turing’s test of human intelligence since not only could people not tell which work the computer did but the majority thought the computer was the human.

Aesthetics. I believed that computer-generated patterns combining various amounts of order with disorder could be used as stimuli in investigations of aesthetics – people’s preferences for art. The Mondrian experiment was expanded to use patterns ranging from total order to complete randomness. The people who viewed them preferred something in between. People with artistic education had preferences similar to those with none. I also examined preferences for three-dimensional and two-dimensional versions of the same patterns. The use of computer-generated patterns is still an area that could have interesting impact on experimental aesthetics.

Hypercube. I was looking for objects that would be good subjects for my computer-generated three-dimensional movies. Doug Eastwood, who worked in the computer center at Bell Labs, suggested a movie of a rotating four-dimensional hypercube. My colleague Mohan Sondhi helped me with the mathematics of perspective projection from 4D to 3D and I programmed the computer to generate the movie. It did not give us 3D creatures any insight into a fourth spatial dimension, but the motion was very smooth and intriguing. I then used the technique to animate letters and words placed in four dimensions. I then used this technique in the late 1960s to create the title sequence for a 1968 documentary about Bell Labs called “Incredible Machine” produced for AT&T by Owen Murphy Productions. A year or so later I used the technique to create the title sequence for the TV special “The Unexplained” produced by Walt Defaria and written by Arthur C. Clarke. These were perhaps the first uses of digital computer animation to create title sequences.

Ballet. I attended a performance of Stravinsky’s ballet “Les Noces” at the New York City Ballet at Lincoln Center. The interrelationship of the dances inspired me to imagine computer-created stick figures that could be programmed by a choreographer. The young lady who had accompanied me to the ballet was a dances and told me about various dance notation methods. I envisioned the choreographer using the computer to program stick figures on the screen in 3D and then having the computer create notated scores for the dancers. I programmed the computer to create a short ballet with very simple stick figures in 3D as a crude example of what might be possible. The movie was shown around New York City to various dance groups, choreographers, and the dance notation bureau. I even wrote an article for Dance Magazine about the idea. A version of the computer-generated ballet is at the Dance Library at Lincoln Center.

Wise Show. Howard Wise had a gallery on West 57th Street in New York City and an interest in new art – particularly op-art. Somehow he saw the computer-generated patterns that Bela Julesz was using at Bell Labs to investigate three-dimensional depth perception. Howard invited Bela to exhibit these patterns at the Gallery, and Bela invited me to join him with my computer-generated art. Since some of our patterns were in 3D, we used Polaroid versions and glasses for the visitors to the Gallery to see the works. Enlargements of our works were hung on the walls of the Gallery in 1965 – and not a one was sold! But this was the first exhibit of digital art in the United States. The announcement for the show was a small deck of IBM cards, prompting one reviewer to write about the holes in the cards, although I doubt whether the reviewer actually went to the Gallery. AT&T heard about the show in advance and wanted to cancel it because of concerns that some would not think this was appropriate for a regulated company. Howard threatened to sue, and AT&T ordered Bela and me to avoid publicity. To do so, we placed copyright symbols on all the works. Later I registered “Gaussian-Quadratic” at the copyright office – perhaps the first registered piece of digital computer art.

Bigger Picture. There is a sequence of innovation at Bell Labs. It begins with digital art and animation at Bell Labs in the 1960s (Knowlton, Noll, Sinden, Zajac). It broadens to include digital computer music (Max Mathews and John Pierce). It then broadens yet again to include today’s digital era – Nyquist sampling, pulse code modulation, UNIX, MP3, and on. And at the broadest level is the industrial research laboratory – mostly of the past with the demise or diminution of so many (such as RCA, Polaroid, Kodak, IT&T, etc.).

A complete list of Technical Memoranda from my days at Bell Telephone Laboratories follows as documentation of my work and the timeframes when it was performed.

Bell Telephone Laboratories Technical Memoranda

by A. Michael Noll Regarding Computer Graphics/Art Research

(Filing Case No. 38794-23)





August 28, 1962

Patterns by 7090


Describes use of digital computer to generate random algorithmic computer art.

March 27, 1964

Stereographic Projections by Digital Computer


Describes use of digital computer to perform 3D projections to create stereoscopic pairs.

April 14, 1965

Human or Machine


Describes experiment comparing a computer-generated patterns with a Mondrian painting.

January 20, 1966

Computer-Generated Three-Dimensional Movies and Pictures


A manual for the use of computer software to perform 3D projections to create movies and pictures.

April 15, 1966

Computers and the Visual Arts


Broad description of the use of digital computers in the visual arts.

February 21, 1967

A Computer Technique for Displaying n-Dimensional Hyperobjects


Describes use of digital computer to show rotating 4D and n-D hyperobjects.

May 15, 1967

A 3-D Glimpse of the Hearing Process [with R. C. Lummis and M. M. Sondhi]



Describes use of digital computer to simulate and display motion of the basilar membrane in the human ear.

April 10, 1968

Man-Machine Tactile Communication


Describes 3D input and output in an interactive environment and proposes tactile investigations.

June 6, 1968

Software Package for Real-Time Interactive Computer Graphics


A manual for the use of 3D input and display output in an interactive computer environment.

November 21, 1969

Scanned-Display Computer Graphics


Describes use of a TV-like scanned display for interactive computer graphics.

December 11, 1970

Real-Time Interactive Stereoscopy


Describes 3D input and 3D output in an interactive computer environment.

June 8, 1971

Man-Machine Tactile Communication


Describes 3D tactile device in an interactive computer environment.