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The Most Important Object in Computer Graphics History Is This Teapot

Martin Newells original drawing of the Utah Teapot.

A humble teapot is one of the most influential objects in the history of computer graphics.

Credit: Computer HIstory Museum

A teapot has the distinction of being one of the most influential objects in the history of computer graphics, dating back to 1974, when computer scientist Martin Newell sought a digitized object to test algorithms for realistically rendering three-dimensional (3D) shapes while a student at the University of Utah.

The teapot Newell used was ideal for his experiments thanks to its unique configuration, and for having such characteristics as being able to cast shadows on itself.

After precisely sketching the teapot on a graph, Newell entered the coordinates on an early text and graphics computer terminal, and then his colleague Jim Blinn adjusted the object so it was a little flatter.

The digital teapot's shape was sufficiently rudimentary to input and for computers to process. Moreover, its surface could maintain realism without overlaying an artificial pattern.

The computer model of the teapot was released publicly so other researchers could use it as a testbed for 3D objects, and the computer graphics community has used it widely and liberally in the intervening decades. Today, the teapot is an embedded shape in many 3D graphics software packages employed for testing, benchmarking, and demonstration.

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