the history of computer graphics

The history of Computer Graphics

In the 1950’s, output are via teletypes, lineprinter, and Cathode Ray Tube (CRT). Using dark and light characters, a picture can be reproduced.

  • 1950: Ben Laposky created the first graphic images, an Oscilloscope, generated by an electronic (analog) machine.  The image was produced by manipulating electronic beams and recording them onto high-speed film.
  • 1951: UNIVAC-I: the first general purpose commercial computer, crude hardcopy devices, and line printer pictures.
  • 1951: MIT – Whirlwind computer, the first to display real time video, and capable of displaying real time text and graphic on a large oscilloscope screen.


In the 1960’s, beginnings of modern interactive graphics, output are vector graphics and interactive graphics.  One of the worst problems was the cost and inaccessibility of machines.

  • 1960: William Fetter coins the computer graphics to describe new design methods.
  • 1961: Steve Russel —  Spacewars, first video/computer game
  • 1963:
    • Douglas Englebart – first mouse
    • Ivan Sutherland  – Sketchpad, interactive CG system, a man-machine graphical communication system, it features:
      • pop-up menus
      • constraint-based drawing
      • hierarchical modeling
      • utilized lightpen for interaction

He formulated the ideas of using primitives, lines polygons, arcs, etc. and constraints on them; He developed the dragging, rubberbanding and transforming algorithms; He introduced data structures for storing.  He is considered the founder of the computer graphics.

  • 1964: William Fetter — first computer model of a human figure.
  • 1965: Jack Bresenham – line-drawing algorithm
  • 1968:
    • Tektronix – a special CRT, the direct-view storage tube, with keyboard and mouse, a simple computer interface for $15, 000, which made graphics affordable
    • Ivan Sutherland – first head-mounted display
  • 1969:
    • John Warnock – area subdivision algorithm, hidden-surface algorithms
    • Bell Labs – first framebuffer containing 3 bits per pixel


In the early 1970’s, output start using raster displays, graphics capability was still fairly chunky.

  • 1972: Nolan Kay Bushnell – Pong, video arcade game
  • 1973: John Whitney. Jr. and Gary Demos – “Westworld”, first film with computer graphics
  • 1974:
    • Edwin Catmuff –texture mapping and Z-buffer hidden-surface algorithm
    • James Blinn – curved surfaces, refinement of texture mapping
    • Phone Bui-Toung – specular highlighting
  • 1975:
    • Martin Newell – famous CG teapot, using Bezier patches
    • Benoit Mandelbrot – fractal/fractional dimension
  • 1976: James Blinn – environment mapping and bump mapping
  • 1977: Steve Wozniak —  Apple II, color graphics personal computer
  • 1979: Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle – MUD, a multi-user dungeon/Zork


In the 1980’s output are built-in raster graphics, bitmap image and pixel. Personal computers costs decrease drastically; trackball and mouse become the standard interactive devices.

  • 1982:
    • Steven Lisberger“Tron”, first Disney movie which makes extensive use of 3-D computer graphics
    • Tom Brighman – “Morphing”, first film sequence plays a female character which deforms and transforms herself into the shape of a lynx.
    • John Walkner and Dan Drake – AutoCAD
  • 1983: Jaron Lanier – “DataGlove”, a virtual reality film features a glove installed with switches and sensors to detect hand motion.
  • 1984: Wavefron tech. – Polhemus, first 3D graphics software
  • 1985:
    • Pixar Animation Studios – “Luxo Jr.”, 1989, “ Tin toy”
    • NES – Nintendo home game system
  • 1987: IBM – VGA, Video Graphics Array introduced
  • 1989: Video Electronics Standards Association (VESA) – SVGA, Super VGA formed


In the 1990’s, since the introduction of VGA and SVGA, personal computer could easily display photo-realistic images and movies. 3D image renderings are become the main advances and it stimulated cinematic graphics applications.

  • 1990: Hanrahan and Lawson – Renderman
  • 1991: Disney and Pixar – “Beauty and the Beast”, CGI was widely used, Renderman systems provides fast, accurate and high quality digital computer effects.
  • 1992: Silicon Graphics – OpenGL specification
  • 1993:
    • University of Illinois — Mosaic, first graphic Web browser
    • Steven Spielberg – “Jurassic Park” a successful CG fiction film.
  • 1995:
    • Buena Vista Pictures – “Toy Story”, first full-length, computer-generated, feature film
    • NVIDIA Corporation – GeForce 256, GeForce3(2001)
  • 2003: ID Software – Doom3 graphics engine


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