John Knoll is a pretty cool dude. He’s the chief creative officer at Industrial Light & Magic (the visual effects company started by George Lucas and now owned as part of Lucasfilm by Disney), has worked on movies like Avatar, Pirates of the Caribbean, and Mission: Impossible, and took the first image to ever be altered with Photoshop. Which he invented with his brother. Sheesh.
Knoll took “Jennifer in Paradise” of his then-girlfriend, now wife, in 1987 as she sat on a beach in Tahiti (or perhaps Bora Bora). Meanwhile Thomas Knoll, who in the late ’80s was working on a Ph.D. in computer vision at the University of Michigan, had started developing image manipulation software that could run on a Macintosh Plus. As the Guardian reports, before seeing his brother’s software, John Knoll had been captivated by the capabilities of the Pixar Image Computer, which could do basic image manipulations. But that system ran incredibly complicated software on a prohibitively expensive machine.
John Knoll suggested features for his brother to add to the new software, and they became co-developers on the project. But even when the software was ready to start monetizing, there weren’t a lot of digital images to demonstrate it on, and Knoll ended up using a scanner at Apple’s Advanced Technology Group lab to make a digital version of the only photo he had on him at the time, “Jennifer in Paradise.” The brothers later used the photo to demo Photoshop for companies like, oh, you know, Adobe, or whatever.
For the 20th anniversary of Photoshop in 2010, Adobe made a video (above) of John Knoll working with “Jennifer in Paradise” on Photoshop 1.0.7. Now Photoshop is closer to its 25th birthday, but the program’s backstory is just as amazing today. Plus, with vacation season underway we’re all kind of wishing we were in Tahiti right now. No wonder Photoshop got so much mileage out of one image.