We love shaders, we love maths and we love coffee, but why the hell did the Utah Teapot became the Utah Teapot as a standard in renderer?

But what is a renderer?

  1. (computer graphics) A software or hardware process that generates a visual image from a model.

Looking at the official source of common Wikipedia, we have this very large description. We would therefore needs to define some of the terms there to have a bit more precise context to play with. But because this is a series on rendering I will explain in my own terms, and easy terms what is actually a renderer, how it works, and what are the generals idea under the hood of rendering.

Rendering is the process of taking some information and data from a context, that could pretty much be anything you could imagine. A file with information about your shapes, context, colors etc… But when it comes to rendering, you will usually have a bit more complex thing that a simple green square with a blue background to render on the screen. So rendering is the process of taking all the infos of a scene or a context and handling the generation of a final pixel.

But damn boi we know that a simple pixel can have a lot under the hood logic and complexity. Rendering is actually the step to handle of these complex logic and simply focus on the state of the image, do you won’t really think about how moving will occurs and stuff. That the context in time, start the rendering to produce the snapshot in time on what will actually be the final image.

Once we have all our information define in a certain software, the rendering process will use all these infos. And there starts the real magic! Rendering has a lot of different ways to be made, and this is what we are about to explore in this series of posts. As time goes by, and as we have more and more computing powers, it seems like we sometimes forget that at the end of the day, you can write your own Ray-Tracer on a quite shitty machine.

Let’s dive into history!

University of Utah and the famous Teapot — 1975

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Talking about rendering and 3D modelling without talking about Utah University would be a massive turnover. First, because this University holds one of the most prestigious research center in the field of computer graphics, but also because a lot happened there. The famous Utah Teapot takes his name from the research of Martin Newell who was one of the pioneer in the field of graphics, notably representing the first 3D model numerically.

The Utah Teapot has become an inside and sometime references in some 3D movies, but it is still nowadays the Hello World of 3D programming. The reason the teapot stays accurate with time, is based on the properties of the item itself, having various shapes and shadows. The reason Newell decided to model this object is quite simple and not the most exciting reason, therefore worth mentioning. Being from the UK, his wife and him were taking the tea and her wife simply mentioned the object they were having in front of each other being a good model. So there was selected the world most famous Teapot.

A references for the artists and developers

Chance is, if you look closely in some Simpsons or Pixar movie, will meet the Utah Teapot. Usually included as a wink to the original Newell Teapot.

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David Evans and the real first rendered

David Evans is a PHD who worked at the University of Utah and could be considered as the grand-father of the field of computer graphics, notably by being on of the first to work and found a research center in this field of research and including a lot of his graduate student to join and make research with him. Evans wanted to work with real 3D image and produce some result on the a screen using photo realism.

His research lab quickly became one of the best spot to study in the field of computer graphics, attracting young talents from both sides of the oceans, notably Alan Erdahl who was actually the first one to render something on a screen using The PDP-8 12-bit minicomputer.

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Erdahl implemented a photographic recording system that provided a digital-to-analog conversion system that displayed rendered raster scan-lines on a monochrome Tektronix oscilloscope.

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