Timothy O'Neill was educated at The Citadel, Charleston, gaining a bachelor's degree in political science; the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, studying MACT and experimental psychology; and after joining the army, the University of Virginia, where he gained his PhD in visual biophysics, writing his dissertation on "visual attraction of Blumian symmetry axes of visual forms". He served in the U. S. Army for 25 years from 1966. He served initially as a commander of tank and armoured cavalry units. He gained a doctorate in camouflage, testing his ideas in the field at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In 1976, this work gained him a post as instructor at the West Point military academy, where he founded and was the first director of the program in engineering psychology. His work on digital camouflage led to the camouflage used on Army Combat Uniform. He reached the rank of lieutenant colonel. He retired from the army in 1991.
He then worked in industry, in Provant, Inc, and in U. S. Cavalry Security Gear and Systems, Inc. From 2001, he has frequently served as a camouflage consultant, working for the U. S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps; the FBI; and the armed forces of Afghanistan, Canada, New Zealand, and Qatar. He assisted in the design of hunting camouflage for W. L. Gore Associates, creating the Optifade pattern, based for the first time on study of the vision of deer, i.e. the animals that are to be fooled by the camouflage: it combines macro- and micro-patterns, and is said to work "amazingly well". For Hyperstealth Corp., he and the company's founder Guy Cramer designed the Razzacam pattern, said by David Rothenberg to be based on World War I dazzle camouflage "with pixelated and dithered patterns that are dizzying to look at, confounding our ability to parse their organizational structure". Also with Cramer, O'Neill developed a snow camouflage pattern for the U. S. Marine Corps.
In 1976, O'Neill created a pixellated pattern named "Dual-Tex". He called the digital approach "texture match". The initial work was done by hand on a retired M113 armoured personnel carrier at the Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland; O'Neill painted the pattern on with a 2-inch (5 centimetre) roller, forming squares of colour by hand. Field testing showed that the result was good compared to the U. S. Army's existing camouflage patterns. At a distance, the squares merged into a larger pattern, breaking up the vehicle's outline and making it blend into the background of trees. Closer up, the pattern successfully imitated smaller details of the landscape, appearing as leaves, grass tufts, and shadows.
O'Neill was quoted in a report by an American government watchdog, the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, which was critical of wasteful Pentagon spending. O'Neil is reported as stating of the camouflage pattern then in use: "Desert designs don't work well in woodland areas and woodland patterns perform poorly in the desert." In O'Neill's view, "it is best to tailor the spatial characteristics and color palette of a camouflage pattern to the specific environment and tactical position where those using the camouflage would be inclined to hide."
O'Neill is married to Eufrona O'Neill and they live in Alexandria, Virginia.
O'Neill has been called the father of digital camouflage. He is featured in the 2015 Australian documentary film Deception by Design.
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- Rothenberg, David (2013). Survival of the Beautiful: Art, Science, and Evolution. A&C Black. pp. 149–150. ISBN 978-1-4088-3056-7. https://books.google.com/books?id=Le0_AQAAQBAJ&pg=PA149.
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- Kennedy, Pagan (10 May 2013). "Who Made That Digital Camouflage?". The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/12/magazine/who-made-that-digital-camouflage.html?mcubz=0.
- Ortiz, Erik (21 June 2017). "Pentagon Accused of Wasting Up to $28M on ‘Inappropriate’ Afghan Soldier Uniforms". NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/pentagon-accused-wasting-28m-inappropriate-afghan-soldier-uniforms-n775081.
- "Afghan National Army : DoD May Have Spent Up To $ 28 Million More Than Needed To Procure Camouflage Uniforms That May Be Inappropriate For The Afghan Environment". SIGAR. June 2017. https://www.sigar.mil/pdf/special%20projects/SIGAR-17-48-SP.pdf. , which cites also O'Neill, Timothy. Innovative camouflage measures for the United States Marine Corps. MARCORSYSCOM under Sverdrup Technology Agreement Number 0965-36-01-C1. p. 36.
- Rindfuss, Bryan (19 July 2017). "Blue Star Sheds Light on the History of Camouflage with a Screening of 'Deception by Design'". San Antonio Current. https://www.sacurrent.com/ArtSlut/archives/2017/07/19/blue-star-sheds-light-on-the-history-of-camouflage-with-a-screening-of-deception-by-design. Retrieved 24 August 2017.
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