Lance Joseph Williams, PhD
Computer Graphics Pioneer
Lawrence High School
Lance Williams grew up at 641 Louisiana Street. While at Lawrence High School he was part of the Debate and Chess clubs and developed a love of chess. In 1967 he was lucky enough to be
able to represent Lawrence High School at the National Science Fair in San Francisco at the height of the Hippie movement. After graduating Lawrence High School, Lance went to the
University of Kansas as an Honors student majoring in English and minoring in Asian Studies.
After graduating KU (8.A. 1972) he studied at the Institute for Humanistic Computing then at KU. From there he became aware of the innovative work being done at the University of Utah in the soon to be known field of 'computer graphics" (1973-76). Many of the graduate students would go on to develop famous companies such as Adobe, Silicon Graphics, Netscape (pre cursor to AOL), and Pixar. It was an exciting time. Lance would eventually get his PhD by submitting three of his published "seminal papers" in lieu of a thesis. He was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from the University of Utah in 2000. Working as a visionary Scientist at Apple, Google, Nokia, Nvidia, DreamWorks and Disney, Lance led teams in the development of groundbreaking technologies of his own design particularly in facial animation. Those that knew him remember his unfailingly polite manner; his gentle, erudite, and wickedly funny sense of humor; his creative insights on technological problems; and his seemingly encyclopedic knowledge of science, engineering, history, and art.
In 2001, he joined the less than two dozen renowned scientist ever to be honored with The Steven Anson Coons Award for Outstanding Creative Contributions to Computer Graphics, considered to be the field’s most prestigious award (thru ACM SIGGRAPH) honoring his "lifetime contribution of pioneering developments in the emergence of computer graphics and visual effects." He became Chief Scientist at the Disney Corporation and in 2002 received a Technical Achievement Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognizing his "pioneering influence in the field of computer generated animation and special effects for motion pictures."
He was married to Amber Denker for 25 years and had two sons, Mane and Zephraim Williams. Lance considered his time in Lawrence to be nothing short of magical and even though he lived many miles away, he would always visit. The sons loved coming during July 4th weekend because fireworks are legal in Kansas! Lance's family has shared its love and support of KU by fundraising for the KU athletic department since 1949. The athletic fund is now named "The Williams Fund" in their honor.
Simply said, Lance was a giant in the field of computer graphics. He contributed such fundamental ideas to the computer graphic techniques of reflection mapping, texture mapping and shadow rendering that they are now built into the hardware of all graphics processing units (GPUs). This means that every single computer generated image you see today has a contribution from Lance Williams. The Lance J. Williams Opportunity Fund has been created at the University of Kansas to continue his legacy of integrating art and technology.
Lance J. Williams Opportunity Fund KU Endowment
Lawrence, KS 66044