The Pioneers of 3D Rendering and Computer 3D Graphics

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The Pioneers of 3D Rendering and Computer 3D Graphics

3D rendering is an important tool in many industries today. Its application is vast and versatile as it is intensively used in construction, architecture, interior design and consumer product designs.  This graphics technology at its current state pushes boundaries and empowers graphics artists from just simple vector graphics and raster graphics manipulators into creators of photo-realistic pictures. But how did this amazing technology start? Who are the pioneers of 3D rendering?

The birth of computer graphics

One day in 1960, a graphic designer named William Fetter set out to find a way to optimize the interior of Boeing airplane cockpits. His effort led him to a technique that set off a revolution in computer drawings.  He created a computerized orthographic human form that he called “computer graphics.”

The first computer graphic software

A contemporary of William Fetter named Ivan Sutherland submitted as his Ph.D. thesis, which he called sketchpad. It was the first software that allowed people to interactively draw digitally on the computer monitor. This is the very foundation of graphics software today. It was not yet perfect but it already had many of the basic features of a graphics software as we know today. Sketchpad has the ability to zoom, make straight lines, and joints. You can argue that it was the first ever GUI (Graphics User Interface), although the term will not be coined until many years later.

Sutherland was not done yet, after his stint in the army, he began teaching at the University of Utah and made its computer science program into a research program, which greatly influenced the future of computer graphics.  By then, 3D images were just composed mostly of wire frame images of geometric shapes. But that’s about to change.

Scan line HSR developed

Some of Sutherland’s contemporaries Evans, Wylie, Romney, and Erdahl developed Scan line HSR (Hidden Surface Removal) algorithm to make solid object renderings. This was a big step that paved the way for the next improvements and developments. Fueled by this scan line HSR, many algorithms were forwarded through the year’s back-face detection, depth sorting, ray casting, Z-Buffer and area subdivision algorithms are just a few of them.

Shading: Gouraud and Phong

The point of course in all these research was to create realistic images. However, for a long time, it seemed almost impossible, especially in adding shades and depth into graphics. That was, untilHenry Gouraud came to the rescue. He developed a shading model that became widely used and is still popular today, the Gouraud shading model. Gouraud’s model was further enhanced and improved by a researcher named Phong Bui-Tuong. Realism is at hand.

Ray tracing: Appel and Whitted

Shading of course plays a great part in making a picture realistic but there is a problem—how to accurately place the shades. The problem is solved by ray tracing, which was a concept first created by an IBM researcher known as Appel.  However, computers during Appels days (1968) were not strong enough to make his concept a reality. Then in 1980, Turner Whitted published a research paper called An Improved Illumination Model for Shaded Display, which was considered ground-breaking at that time.  With ray tracing, the basic ingredients for the subsequent improvement of 3D rendering technology were completed.

After Whitted, the wheel of improvement in 3D rendering continued rolling, as more and more people see the importance of this technology. Now we have almost perfected it, but we wouldn’t reach this level if not for these geniuses, the pioneers in 3D graphics technology.

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