In 1986, John joined ILM as a Technical Assistant and was soon promoted to Motion Control Camera Operator for Captain EO. Three years later, John was called upon to work on the ground breaking digital effects for The Abyss, a film that saw the first use of Photoshop (which he had co-developed with his brother Thomas). Since then, John has supervised the visual effects on more than twenty feature films and commercials and serves as Chief Creative Officer of the studio. His film background coupled with an advanced understanding of digital technologies has made John a much sought-after virtuoso, and he has been lauded with an Oscar, a BAFTA, and nearly a dozen additional nominations for Oscars and BAFTA awards.
John’s supervisory credits also include the Star Wars Prequels, Episodes I, II, and III, Mission to Mars, Deep Blue Sea Star Trek: First Contact, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and the Academy Award™-winning Rango among others. He served as the Visual Effects Supervisor on Guillermo del Toro’s science fiction epic, Pacific Rim. John was nominated for an Academy Award, a BAFTA, and a Visual Effects Society Award for Visual Effects for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first film in the Star Wars stand-alone series and one for which John served as both an Executive Producer and Visual Effects Supervisor. That film is based on a concept John created.
John’s interest in filmmaking began at an early age. He was mesmerized by the original Star Wars film. During a visit to ILM in 1978 he saw first-hand the world of visual effects. Inspired, John attended the USC School of Cinema and earned a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema Production, while freelancing as a Modelmaker at a variety of Los Angeles-based production facilities.
During his last year at USC, John took an advanced animation class where he built a motion control system from an Oxberry animation stand, an Apple II computer, a CNC milling machine controller, and a bunch of industrial surplus stepper motors. Impressed by the student film that was generated from this class project, ILM hired John as a Technical Assistant for motion control photography.
Greatly impressed by ILM's newly founded computer graphics department, John took up computer graphics as a hobby. Teaming up with his brother (who was working on his Doctoral Thesis in computer vision at the University of Michigan), the Knoll brothers created Photoshop in 1987.
John is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and currently serves on the Board of Governors representing the Visual Effects Branch.