Martin Newell's Original Teapot

This is the original Utah Teapot, as presented by its creator in his PhD dissertation in the summer of 1975. The teapot became a benchmark model for image synthesis programs and an icon in the SIGGRAPH research community.

In 1975, shaded rendering of simple faceted 3D polygon models was new, and the next frontier was finding ways to increase the visible complexity of images. Curved shapes could be approximated by a large number of polygons, but such models were laborious to create and taxed the small memory capacity of the computers of the day.

It is far more elegant to represent smooth objects with a naturally smooth curved-surface representation such as bicubic Bézier patches. But there were few curved-surface objects available to computer graphics researchers in the 1970s.

Martin Newell modeled and rendered this table setting scene, including a teapot, tea cups, saucers and spoons, and a milk pitcher, all on a table top with a draped curtain as a background. The Bézier control points of the teapot and other objects were made available within the close-knit DARPA-Net computer graphics research community of the time and later posted to Usenet newsgroups and the internet, where they can still be found.

Technical Overview
This image is Figure 29 from Dr. Newell's PhD dissertation, which was published as a DARPA research technical report and distributed to numerous universities. All of the image pages in both the archival and distribution copies of these documents were original photographic prints.

This artifact is an archived original publication print. A high-precision CRT camera station generated 4 x 5-inch negatives, and Mike Milochik, the official photographer of the Utah computer graphics project, printed the publication pages from these negatives.

The Bézier curved-surface object models of the tea set, of which the teapot became the most well known, are distinguished by their graceful curved shapes and thrifty use of computer memory. The object were modeled before there were interactive 3D computer-aided-design programs for curved surfaces. Indeed, creation of such programs was an active topic of research. Each physical tea-set object was sketched on graph paper. Control-point coordinates were estimated and typed into a computer terminal, with geometric continuity constraints implied mathematically.

The teapot with its lid, handle, and spout comprise only 28 bicubic Bézier patches, each with 16 3D control points in a 4 x 4 grid. In the circular directions of the teapot body and lid, each patch covers 1/4 of a circle. The control points on and next to the edges of all adjacent patches are collinear, so that there are no sharp edges between the patches.

Ann Torrence
University of Utah School of Computing
Torrence (at)