Course Title: A Critical History of Computer Graphics

Course Number: AC 732

Prerequisites: Permission of Instructor


This course is an historical overview of the development of the discipline of computer-generated imagery, including CAD, computer animation, computer art, virtual reality and scientific visualization.

Course Objectives:

Course Methodology:

The course will be taught online. Students will be responsible for completing all class sections and viewing all video contributions, as well as visiting all assigned external pages. All reading assignments and other projects must be successfully completed. Several critical reviews will be used to assess the level of understanding of the material. Students are required to do a research paper that is related to the historical purpose of the course. Participation in online class discussions is expected. Evaluation of a student's work will be based on the following criteria:


Related materials:

List of Topics to be covered:

The Pioneers

Early pioneers include artists (such as Chuck Csuri and John Whitney) and researchers (such as Ivan Sutherland and Ken Knowlton). These visionaries saw the possibilities of the computer as a resource for making and interacting with pictures, and pushed the limits of an evolving technology to take it where computer scientists never imagined it could go. Their work motivated the work of others as they tried to realize the potential of this new vision.

Films and videos:

History of Computer Graphics Compilation (1956 — present ) - 1999, CsuriVision -1995 , Sketchpad - 1963 , Interview with John Whitney, Sr. - 1984 , Permutations - Whitney - 1968 , Arabesque - Whitney, Cuba - 1975 , Real Time - Csuri - 1970 , Hummingbird - Csuri - 1968 , The Artist and the Computer - Schwartz - 1976 , Kinesis - Schwartz, Knowlton - 1975


Spalter pp. 2-36, Appendix A; Auzenne pp. 11-69; Masson pp. 387-427;

Readings: Csuri/Shaffer paper, Beverly Jones editorial, Michael Noll article, "Toward a Machine with Interactive Skills" article

The Innovators

Many of the innovators were housed in universities and research labs, and were working toward solving fundamental problems of making "pictures" of data using the computer. Work from many of these facilities, including Bell Labs, Ohio State, University of Utah, New York Institute of Technology, Evans & Sutherland and several aerospace and automotive companies, MIT, and others will be surveyed. Individual work of Nelson Max, Jim Blinn, Loren Carpenter, Turner Whitted, and others will also be reviewed.

Films and videos:

Keyframe Animation - National Research Council of Canada — 1971, Hunger - Peter Foldes - 1974 , Electronic Visualization Event - DeFanti — 1979, Bally Zgrass demo - Defanti - 1982 , Skippy Peanut Butter Jars - Copper Giloth - 1980 , Not Just Reality - Barry Wessler - U of Utah - 1973 , Halftone Animation - Catmull, Parke - 1972 , E&S CT5 Simulator - The Technical Edge , E&S CT6 Simulator Simulation Excellence, Grumman Non-edge CGI and Beethoven's 6th in CGI , Singer Link flight simulation , Anima II - OSU - 1975 , Pong Man - Van Hook — 1977, P.M. Magazine - 1978 , The Head - Van Hook - 1977 , Interacting Galaxies - Reynolds - 1977 , Teaching Deaf Children - 1978 , The Circus - OSU - 1978 , Cornell in Perspective - 1974 , Sunstone - New York Institute of Technology - Ed Emshwiller , The Works - NYIT , Inside a Quark - NYIT - Ned Greene, NYIT overview (S '80 footage) - 2D paint and 3D (Rebecca Allen), Jim Blinn retrospective - Voyager , Saturn, Mechanical Universe, Mathematics!, Blobby Man, Turner Whitted retrospective - The Complete Angler, lighting stills, ray trace animation, Vol Libre - Loren Carpenter


Spalter pp. 86-115, 159-180, Appendix B; Goodman pp. 18-44

Readings: New York Times Retrospective article, Burtnyk-Wein article, Machover History article, Morrison excerpt, Joan Collins article

The Early Adapters

The early adapters included pioneering CGI production facilities, artists, researchers, and research labs and industries with an interest in converting much of this early work into a viable tool for realizing their disparate goals. Notable companies include Robert Abel and Associates, Digital Effects, MAGI, Information International Inc., and others. Artists include more from Whitney Sr., Yoichiro Kawaguchi, David Em, Jane Veeder, and others.

Films and videos:

Yoichiro Kawaguchi - Growth: Mysterious Galaxy, Growth III:Origin, Embryo, Nelson Max retrospective - DNA , Light beams, Carla's Island, Information International Inc(III), Digital Effects, MAGI


Weinstock pp. 231ff; Auzenne pp. 70-129; Goodman pp. 152-183

The Adapters

The late seventies and early to mid-eighties saw the second wave of adapters, which were primarily special effects production companies, equipment and software developers, universities, motion picture companies, etc. We will survey work from various universities and labs, and industry adapters PDI, Cranston/Csuri Productions, Digital Productions, Omnibus, LucasFilms, and others.

Films and videos:

Robert Abel and Associates , Omnibus, Digital Productions, Clips from Tron

Hiroshima University - Eihchiro Nakamae - Light and Shadow, Feast of Lights, Still Life Etude I, Visitor on a Foggy Night, Works of a Landscape Painter, Osaka / Toyo Links - '83 demo, Bio-sensor (1984), Sio-Benbor (1988) parody (Fantome), '86 demo, '88 demo, JCGL - '83 Demo, Stained Story, '87 Demo, CGRG - 1980-1987, ACCAD - 1987-1991, Cranston-Csuri Productions, Pacific Data Images


Masson pp. 212-347

Readings: ReBoot article, "Science and the Silver Screen", National Geographic article

The Followers

As the technology advanced and the acceptance of this new approach to image making increased, the industry likewise evolved, and many of the current contributors, or followers came into being. These include effects production companies such as Pixar, Disney, Metrolight, Rhythm and Hues, ILM, Sony, Digital Domain and others. We will also look at work from universities such as Cal Tech, Ringling, Cornell, Ohio State, UNC, Brown, Utah, etc., and companies and research labs such as Apple, SGI, Microsoft, Alias, Softimage, Interval Research, and others. We will also look at the impact on related areas, such as HCI, design, multimedia, virtual reality, scientific visualization, etc.

Films and videos:

Sogitec / Ex Machina, JCGL , Kroyer Films, Rhythm and Hues, Metrolight, RezN8, Kleiser/Walzcak Construction Co., Santa Barbara Studios, Karl Sims retrospective - Particle Dreams, Panspermia, Primordial Dance, Chris Landreth retrospective - Franz K, The End, The Listener and Bingo, The Advanced Computing Center for Art and Design - 1991-present, Pixar ,ILM ,Lamb & Co., Boss Films, Xaos, Blue Sky/VIFX


Readings: CGW "Read My Lips" paper, Jacquelyn Morie article, Landreth interview, Salon Toy Story article, "Poof! They’re Gone" article, Wired "Toy Story Story" article, Videography "Uncovering the Secrets of Luxo Jr." article


Final Research Paper Due


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