GDC History Geometric Design and Computation

Almost every influential person in the modern computer-graphics community either passed through the University of Utah or came into contact with it in some way.

- Robert Rivlin
The Algorithmic Image: Graphic Visions of the Computer Age

The University of Utah has a proud tradition of computer graphics. Its graduates and faculty have gone on to found such companies as Silicon Graphics, Pixar, Adobe, and Evans & Sutherland. Many of the basic techniques of 3D computer graphics were developed here in the early 1970's with DARPA funding. Research results included Gouraud, Phong, and Blinn shading, texture mapping, hidden surface algorithms, curved surface subdivision, real-time line-drawing and raster image display hardware, and early virtual reality work.

The Geometric Design and Computation Group has championed the use of B-spline surfaces for modeling and design. Richard Riesenfeld's 1972 Ph.D. dissertation from Syracuse University pioneered the use of B-splines in computer-aided design and manufacturing, after which he joined the Utah graphics faculty.

In 1979, Richard Reisenfeld and Elaine Cohen, while on sabbatical in Norway, developed the Oslo Algorithms along with Tom Lyche. This family of algorithms made many computations with NURBS (generalized B-splines) practical for the first time, unleashing the power of NURBS for design and computation.

The founders of the GDC group were both mathematicians and software engineers. Riesenfeld and Cohen, along with Russ Fish, wrote a proposal to the NSF in late 1979 for seed money to demonstrate Oslo-algorithm based geometric and shaded rendering computations. In the summer of 1980, the Alpha_1 software project got underway, with Riesenfeld and Cohen as faculty, Fish as research staff, and grad students Beth Cobb, Spencer Thomas, and Brian Barsky. The software architecture emphasized object-oriented generic method dispatching from the start and was implemented in C and Unix, somewhat radical decisions at that early time.

In the 1980s the group developed methods for the representation and display of solid models using NURBS as a boundary representation; boolean operations on NURBS solid models; automated manufacture of computer models; and more intuitive shape design techniques. In addition, the group added to the mathematical underpinnings of modeling with work on approximation, degree raising, and rendering techniques.

In the 1990s the group became part of the Science and Technology Center for Computer Graphics and Visualization. The Center has worked on core problems in computer graphics and has more recently tackled issues for telecollaboration and telepresence. Our group's research has ranged from tackling problems in designing large-scale models to interface issues in modeling using such devices as a SARCOS force-feedback arm. We are actively continuing research into the mathematics of surfaces, modeling, human-computer interfaces, and design.

Last update: November 26, 2000