Saturday, December 3, 2011

Those triangles...the films of Bruce and Katharine Cornwell

Bruce and Katharine Cornwell are primarily known for a series of remarkable animated films on the subject of geometry. Created on the Tektronics 4051 Graphics Terminal, they are brilliant short films, tracing geometric shapes to intriguing music, including the memorable 'Bach meets Third Steam Jazz' musical score in ‘Congruent Triangles.’ Their work, distributed by the defunct International Film Bureau, is now out of distribution.

As a World War II WAC, Katharine Cornwell was involved in investigating the ENIAC computer for bomb survey analysis, which fueled her interest in mathematics. Bruce Cornwell did graphics work for a television station in Madison, WI, where he was also engaged with the local public radio station. The Cornwells were married in 1956. Bruce has stated that his interest in math films was influenced by his seeing Disney’s ‘Donald in Mathmagic Land,’ which prompted his comment "anyone with half a brain and one hand tied behind his back could make a better film."

Like many other makers of quality academic film, the Cornwells found it made better financial sense to have additional careers. Katharine became a consultant specializing in executive compensation, while Bruce taught at Brooklyn Polytechnic. They live in Brooklyn.


For Houghton Mifflin, the Cornwells, in conjunction with Duane W. Bailey, made a series called 'Calculus in Motion,' consisting of eight 3 minute, color, animated, silent 8mm loops. They were available as either Technicolor Magicartridges or Kodak Cassettes. They are: Functions, Limits, Derivatives, Concavity and Points of inflection, Rolle's Theorem and the Mean Value Theorem, The Definite Integral, The Fundamental Theorem, and Taylor Polynomials.

For the Mathematical Association Of America in conjunction with Stanford University, a number of films were produced at the Cornwells' studio for the MAA Calculus series, under various directors. We do not have the names of most of these films, but among them are:

Limit [1965]
Theorem of the Mean Policeman [1966]
Volume of a Solid of Revolution [1965]

Cornwell films distributed by the International Film Bureau [IFB]:

The London Of William Hogarth [1956]
Similar Triangles [1962]
How Do You Count? [1963]
Possibly So, Pythagoras! [1963]
Seven Bridges Of Koenigsberg [1965]
Newton's Equal Areas [1968]
Trio For Three Angles [1968]
Congruent Triangles [1976]
Journey To The Center Of A Triangle [1976]
Circle Circus [1979]
Dragon Fold - and Other Ways to Fill Space [1979]

Here are two examples...

Congruent Triangles


Journey To The Center Of A Triangle


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