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2, 1998 • 37
remember being told that computers were suitable Ior banking
and accounting but not Ior endeavors that involved creativity,
such as the design process. I argued that, on the contrary, the
iterative aspect oI the design process made computers particularly
appropriate and, Iurther, that interactive graphics was even more
in line with the design process. I Ielt that rather than being a threat
to the creative process as computers were viewed at the time,
computers instead could lend a helping hand (or should I say a
helping 'digit¨?), multiplying the power and productivity oI a
designer and enabling him or her to develop and consider a wider
range oI potential designs than would otherwise be possible.
I was particularly intrigued intellectually at how computer
graphics Iormed a synthesis oI many disciplines and provided
motivation and applications oI many theoretical Iields. I had been
deeply involved in photography since childhood, and thus the
study oI and research in computer graphics provided me the
opportunity to comprehend the mathematics and physics involved
in modeling the photographic process. As a photographer, I was
well aware oI the interplay oI light and material that, oI course,
Iorms much oI modern computer graphics rendering algorithms
research. The other component oI computer graphics consists oI
shape (Iorm), which translates to geometry, Irom the
mathematical point oI view.
I recall my delight in writing a computer
program that could display a 2D
perspective image of a 3D object
viewed from an arbitrary vantage point.
I recall being intrigued with the geometric optics involved in
the photographic process, with such concepts as the role oI I-stops
in depth oI Iield and depth oI Iocus. The mathematical elegance oI
the perspective proiection captured my imagination. I recall my
delight in writing a computer program that could display a 2D
perspective image oI a 3D obiect viewed Irom an arbitrary
vantage point. When coupled with the notion oI Iorming a
sequence oI such images to produce the illusion oI smooth motion
in animation and simulation, the Iull power oI this new medium
could be unleashed.
One oI the aspects oI computer graphics that has been
particularly interesting to me is geometric modeling. Obiects
must be modeled in computer graphics, which is a problem that
also underlies computer-aided design and manuIacture.
Eurthermore, the Iundamentals draw Irom areas oI mathematics
such as approximation theory and numerical analysis. It has
been rewarding over the past 20 years to see the interplay
among these various related disciplines.
My own work in introducing the idea oI geometric continuity
and developing the Beta-spline based on this measure intended to
provide a curve and surIace model explicitly developed Ior
computer graphics, rather than adapting methods that had been
created in other contexts. My use oI shape parameters had the
goal oI improving the user interIace compared to requiring the
user to speciIy shape through less intuitive means such as
derivatives and points that do not lie on the curve or surIace.
In recent years, due to my own eyesight problem, I have
become interested in the biomedical role oI computer graphics.
Having a cornea with a somewhat irregular shape has meant that
eyeglasses do not Iully correct my vision; contact lenses can
provide a signiIicant improvement, but ironically the same
irregularity oI the corneal shape that impedes sharp vision
exacerbates the Iitting process. It then occurred to me that the
problem oI measuring and modeling the shape oI patients`
corneas and the design oI contact lenses to properly Iit them could
beneIit Irom the ideas oI geometric modeling. Eurthermore, with
the recent interest in surgery intended to correct vision through
modiIication oI the shape oI the cornea, this topic is very current
and oI great interest in the optometry and ophthalmology
The evolution oI computer graphics over the past 25 years has
been nothing short oI mind-boggling. Erom the primitive
wireIrame images oI that period have come images and
animations with incredible Iidelity. The old commercial tag line oI
'Is it real or is it Memorex?¨ is now transIormed to 'Is it real or is
it computer graphics?¨ I must conIess that, sometimes, I cannot be
%ULDQ$%DUVN\ has been a proIessor oI computer science at the
University oI CaliIornia at Berkeley since 1981. He introduced
the Beta-spline, has contributed numerous articles on computer
graphics, and was Siggraph papers chair in 1985. He is coauthor
oI Making Them Move. Mechanics. Control. ana Animation of
Articulatea Figures and An Introauction to Splines for Use in
Computer Graphics and author oI Computer Graphics ana
Geometric Moaeling Using Beta-Splines; he also serves as editor
Ior Morgan KauImann`s book series on computer graphics.
Brian A. Barsky can be contacted at
Computer Science Division
Universitv of California
Berkelev. CA 94720-1776. U.S.A.
A View of the CAD/CAM Development
by Pierre Bézier
The advent oI CAD/CAM has been, without any doubt, one oI the
maior events in mechanical industry during this halI century.
Describing its present state and Ioreseeable Iuture would
require quite an encyclopedia; hence, this text aims to show only
the origins oI CAD/CAM, its cause and means, especially in the
car industry, and precisely in the deIinition, tooling, and
production oI car bodies.
When a system is used worldwide by millions oI people, as
CAD/CAM is now, one is prone to Iorget, or even not to have
known, the basic idea behind it.
Maybe remembering a long past period will help those who
are, or will be, in charge oI shaping the Iuture oI industry.
38 • IEEE Annals of the Historv of Computing, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1998
Origin and Development
Initiating a radical change, and CAD/CAM undoubtedly was one,
generally needs two conditions:
1) the perception oI a more or less urgent requirement and
2) the advent oI new means able to help solve the relevant
problem or problemsthe laser and the transistor have been
two such means, Ior example.
In the mechanical industry, circa 1950, most oI the very accurate
surIaces were deIined by lines and circles (i.e., planes, cylinders,
cones, spheres, and tori); some exceptions (such as cams or gear
teeth Ilanges) were manuIactured by machine tools specially
designed Ior that purpose: copy-grinding or gear-cutting
machines. The dimensions were expressed with numbers
complete with limits and included straightness, out oI round, etc.;
the limits sometimes amounted to 10 or 20 µm (0.4 or 0.8
thousandth oI an inch) and sometimes less. Other Iaces were leIt
rough Irom the Ioundry or Iorge; their dimensions were only
approximately deIined, and much was leIt to pattern or die
makers. Lines, circles, and some templates were quite convenient
in such cases, but when the Iield oI Iluid dynamics became very
important, the shape oI aircraIt or boat hulls needed greater
accuracy. In the automotive industry, the deIinition oI a car body
was entirely dependent on the taste, experience, and skill oI
people such as stylists, designers, draItsmen, methods workers,
and tool makers. As it was, things were running smoothly,
according to a tradition that, in Western Europe, was Iour
Some mechanical engineers did
endeavor to inject some mathematics
into the process.... But this would have
required a large amount of computing
at a time when the only equipment was
crank- or motor-operated
OI course, the transmission oI data Irom style to drawing
oIIice, clay building, Iinal drawing, production master, production
engineering, etc. required the help oI drawings, templates, and
copies oI the 3D master. These were not very accurate or even
consistent; each operator could introduce a change, so long as it
was diIIicult to detect and small enough so as not to alter the
stylist`s basic conception. This was liable to create diIIiculties,
but, lacking a more stable deIinition, nothing could be done to
improve the system. It was considered unavoidable, as were
measles and whooping cough, though it entailed delays, haggling,
and lead time.
Some mechanical engineers did endeavor to iniect some
mathematics into the process, translating some tricks oI the trade.
But this would have required a large amount oI computing at a
time when the only equipment was crank- or motor-operated
adding machines, derived Irom cash registers, not to speak oI
Bollée or Babbage`s machines. Eurthermore, had a system been
devised, the reaction oI operators-to-be would hardly have been
Looking at the situation coolly, nothing useIul could be done
until computing speed could be increased by Iive or six orders oI
The computing-speed increase was triggered by some problems
posed to the armament industry. The result was ENIAC, which
was a powerIul machine, but subiect to breakdowns; it was not
totally reliable; and very Iew companies could have aIIorded it.
Regarding some industrial applications, it had taken part in the
deIinition oI some vital but very diIIicult parts, such as 3D cams
and turbine Ioils.
AIter 1950, some machine tools were equipped with numerical
control, but the mechanical industry was not very interested. The
Iederal government ordered 200 oI these machine tools equipped
with numerical control to be lent, Ior a symbolic rental Iee, to a
Iew companies, hoping to iump-start that technique, which had
strategic importance during the cold war. In 1955, a score oI such
machines were displayed at the International Machine Tool
Exhibition, held in Chicago. The number oI those machines
signiIicantly increased aIter the Chicago exhibition.
At the beginning, those machines perIormed point-to-point
drilling, reaming, boring, or tapping; then, partial milling
appeared. In Iact, this was not actual CAD/CAM, but a case oI
preparing a simple program Ior a rather elementary batch oI
One can state that, about 1955, numerical control could be
transIormed into CAM, since the components were available (i.e.,
sensors, computers, motors, CRT, servocontrollers, machine tools,
It remained, with those components, to create a complete
system and build up the relevant soItware.
In 1960, in the European automotive industry, the accepted
practice was that the Styling Department had, Iirst, to trace
sketches oI Iuture models, then develop them into Iull-scale
drawings and small-scale (1/5 to 1/8) clay mockups. On the
selected model or models, oIIsets were measured Ior a large
number oI points located on cross-sections; then, on a large
drawing board, 2 × 8 meters (7 × 27 Ieet), these points were
traced Iull-scale and, with the help oI sweeps, templates, lathes,
and Erench curves, lines were traced and then converted into
plywood templates to make the 'ribs,¨ or skeleton, oI the clay
model. These models were then hand-Iinished by highly skilled
plasterers. The models could be modiIied at the request oI the
Style, Sales, or Management Department, etc. Then it was
considered 'Irozen,¨ as the saying was, the Iinal expression oI
the shape oI the 'skin¨ oI the car body. Next, the drawing oIIice
issued the drawing oI each part oI the body, including Irame,
inner panels, locks, hinges, seals, and the brackets holding the
mechanical parts: power station, gearbox, steering system,
axles, etc. Einally, a master model was built, to become the only
standard Ior as long as the car would be in production.
As one can easily imagine, it was a long, diIIicult, and
painstaking task, requiring skill, experience, taste, and
IEEE Annals of the Historv of Computing, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1998 • 39
Tool engineering and manuIacturing were not any easier,
mainly because the deIinitions were expressed by drawings and
by copies oI the master, which was liable to warp as time passed.
To put it in a nutshell, it was a rather Iuzzy and hazy process,
and it yielded discrepancies, discontinuities, delays, and added
Two ways are available to those who endeavor to improve a
1) A) Consider the diIIerent steps involved in the entirety oI
the system and improve one item or another, taking
advantage oI techniques or recently developed means. Eor
instance, consider the case Ior measuring oIIsets, tracing
some curves, or milling stamping tools.
2) B) Eorget the past, clean the blackboard, and start Irom
scratch to build a complete and consistent solution, taking
Iull advantage oI the power oI recently developed
techniques, oI which the computer was the most striking
OI course, Solution A is reasonably saIe and can be adapted
according to diIIiculties and successes met as time evolves.
Solution B is much more risky, but it can yield rich results; it
reminds us oI 'Iirst oI Cav¨ |the Eirst Cavalry Regimented.]
and the highly respected General G.S. Patton.
This would mean that stylists would
use computers to obtain drawings and
3D models, be they small or large. Top
management, including the Style
Department, considered this point
unrealistic and insane, to say the least.
6ROXWLRQ$: The basic idea was to let the stylists draw sketches
and build small-scale mockups. Then, the drawing oIIice would
trace curves running through measured points, and computer
experts would express these curves with numbers (i.e., vector
coeIIicients). These curves would deIine a net covering the clay
model. Then, they would express the points contained in each
mesh, or patch, ensuring the continuity between adiacent patches.
The solution was invented by Steven Coons and published in
Proiect MAC-TR-41 (1967), but it cannot be totally automatic. It
is widely used and is Iamous worldwide.
One important task was to get an automatic solution to the
problem oI running a curve through given points. The solution
was invented by mathematicians such as Bill Gordon, Rich
RiesenIeld, Elaine Cohen, Even Mehlum, Robin Eorrest, Charles
Lang, Malcolm Sabin, Andrew Armit, Gerald Earin, Robert
Barnhill, Les Piegl, and Brian Barsky and, oI course, by Coons.
The curves were splines, but diIIerent varieties appeared: uniIorm
or nonuniIorm splines, Beta-splines, Nu-splines, and, somewhat
later, nonuniIorm rational B-splines (NURBS). Since no
algorithm is 100 percent robust, piecewise curves had to be
smoothed by the arbitrary decision oI an operator trying to make
curves 'sweet,¨ 'clean,¨ and 'Iair.¨ The use oI so many words Ior
expressing the same idea generally means that the idea is not very
clear; in this case, it shows that a system cannot be totally
To give credit to whom credit is due, it should be noted that, as
early as 1958, Paul de Casteliau, an outstanding and true
mathematician, had invented a perIectly correct system based on
Bernstein`s Iunctions; but Citroën, Ior which he worked at that
time, was very secretive, and the results were not disclosed until
1972, depriving him oI his legitimate reputation and Iame.
6ROXWLRQ %: At Renault, a small group, very small indeed, oI
mechanical and electrical engineers thought that throughout the
process oI car-body production (Irom the Style Department down
to inspection at the exit station oI the assembly line), inIormation
and data should be carried exclusively by numbers; oI course,
drawings and 3D models would remain useIul, but only as a
complement and an explanation Ior the beneIit oI operators.
This would mean that stylists would use computers to obtain
drawings and 3D models, be they small or large. Top
management, including the Style Department, considered this
point unrealistic and insane, to say the least.
The system needed to IulIill the Iollowing conditions:
• deIine space curves directly and not iust by couples oI
• be easily understood and grasped by stylists, designers,
draItsmen, and methods people having a Iair knowledge oI
• trace a curve in a matter oI seconds, a couple oI minutes at
the most (it should be remembered that laying a lath Iive
meters (17 Ieet) long with 'ducks¨ might have taken two to
• carve StyroIoam at the rate oI one square meter (10 square
Ieet) an hour on a specially devised milling machine, the
Ieed oI which would be about 300 mm/second (60
• work in an interactive mode.
This last requirement meant that a medium-scale computer would
need to be available 24 hours a day. Circa 1960, such a viewpoint
was considered totally heterodox, since the accepted practice in a
company was to have a very large computer working Ior diIIerent
services, Iirst Ior administrative services (accounting, mail,
invoicing, statistics, and personnel) and then later Ior technical
development 'when time permitted.¨
The cost oI the minimal prototype equipment (i.e., a drawing
machine, a special milling machine, a simple computer, and
elementary soItware) was supposed to amount to $500,000.
Renault limited its risk to $100,000, and the proiect carried Iorth
with help Irom a company producing medium-size computers and
Irom D.G.R.S.T. (Erance`s General Agency Ior ScientiIic and
To design a drawing machine and a milling machine was a
trivial problem Ior well-trained mechanical engineers; the
servocontroller conditions were more exacting, but the problem
was Iinally solved. The mathematical problem, however,
remained. The company staII included some proIessional
mathematicians who could, no doubt, solve itbut they were
not interested. So, the problem was dealt with by engineers who
were not bad at math but were Iar Irom 'chartered¨
40 • IEEE Annals of the Historv of Computing, Vol. 20, No. 2, 1998
mathematicians. The mathematical solution was developed and
tested with the help oI a small plotter.
In 1965, the required amount oI money became available, and
so the manuIacturing oI the equipment began; it was delivered in
April 1968 and then took about a semester to adiust and debug. In
1970, it was concluded that it could be used in the drawing oIIice
and in methods. Eive drawing machines and as many milling
machines were ordered, built, and commissioned in 1972.
During three years, the system was operated in parallel with
the traditional method, so as to make a sound comparison. In
1975, it was decided to make the big change, aIter having looked
twice or thrice.
In Iact, designers and draItsmen were rapidly convinced that
the system was easy to use and more comIortable. It took much
more time Ior the staII, especially the stylists, to admit that it was
But, as Rudyard Kipling said, 'That is another story.¨
The system, at that time named UNISURE, was oIIicially
accepted and since then has been expanded more than 10-Iold.
One can saIely admit that it totally replaced the previous method;
it leaves the stylists Iree to express their Iirst intentions with
handmade sketches, drawings, and small-scale mockups, but Irom
that state on, any precise inIormation or datum is expressed
exclusively by numbers.
It came from the ability to work, think,
and react in the rigid Cartesian world of
machine tools and, at the same time, in
the more flexible, n-dimensional
The original soItware, which was limited by the power oI the
second- (or third-?) hand computer, has been greatly expanded;
NURBS have been incorporated with other solutions.
Many systems now exist, some oI which have some similarity
with that oI Renault. They are used the world over and in various
Instead oI looking at them in detail, it seems more convenient
to consider the reasons Ior which a minute makeshiIt proiect,
initiated by a very small group oI mechanical and electrical
engineers, has been somewhat successIul.
Looking back at those years (19601985), it is possible to
perceive some salient points:
• Mechanical engineers deIine shapes with dimensions and limits
that leave no place Ior discussion; they thought that it would be
a good thing to use the same principle Ior car bodies.
• They Iigured that it was urgent to do away with a centuries-old
system, scrap it, clean the blackboard, and start Irom scratch.
• They had been in most oI the trades that would be involved
in the system-to-be: pattern makers, Ioundry and Iorge
hands, tool setters, machine tool operators, draItsmen,
designers, electricians, servocontrol specialists, etc.
Consequently, they could imagine the reactions oI people
who would take part in the new process and could take their
reactions into account. The only people they had not met
because oI the need to keep new designs secretwere
stylists, but body designers had explained their behavior,
iudgment, and, sometimes, whim and superstition.
• Any solution would require a certain amount oI math. The
problem was to deIine space curves and, then, patches. The
basic idea had been to choose a not-too-complicated curve
and modiIy it to obtain a convenient shape. ModiIication oI
a curve was accomplished not by altering the deIinition oI
the curve, but by distorting the Cartesian cube in which it
was originally deIined. Eor the sake oI simplicity, the
distortion oI the cube would be linear (or aIIine). Hence, the
cube would become a parallelepiped (pppd), into which the
coordinates oI a point would remain the same as those oI
the corresponding point oI the initial curve.
• A pppd is deIined by three vectors having the same origin.
Hence, distorting a pppd requires moving only Iour points.
The new set oI coordinates (i.e., the pppd) is related to the
Cartesian set oI the machine through a 4 × 4 matrix; the
operator is Iree to choose in which set he wants to work.
• Instead oI deIining a pppd with three vectors issued Irom
the same point, it seemed simplehow simpleto put
those vectors end to end, thus building an open polygon, the
shape oI which mimics that oI the corresponding curve.
• It became evident that the new vectors were not compelled
to be linearly independent. It was possible to increase the
number oI polygon legs, thus increasing the variety oI
• DeIining surIaces, or patches, as Ioci oI parametric curves
was straightIorward. The whole system was expanded to
provide slope or curvature continuity between adiacent
patches. Now, no day passes without texts or books
describing new possibilities oI CAD/CAM.
To sum up the basic ideas oI the system, it can be said that it
came Irom the ability to work, think, and react in the rigid Cartesian
world oI machine tools and, at the same time, in the more Ilexible,
n-dimensional parametric world. It is even possible to imagine that
an obiect deIined in a Cartesian 3D space could be inserted into a
triparametric space that can be twisted and warped, exactly as a
patch is a twisted square inscribed in a diparametric space. This
notion should be handled with care, because it is liable to raise the
Iinal Cartesian deIinition to an unmanageable order.
Migration between two diIIerent worlds is reminiscent oI the
story oI Alice in Wonaerlana. The mirror is the border between her
sound home world and the senseless world in which she meets the
Snark, the Queen oI Spades, the Mad Hatter, and the Cheshire Cat.
AIter all, Lewis Carroll was the nom de plume oI Charles
Dodgson, who was also a proIessor oI mathematics.
3LHUUH%p]LHU is one oI a very Iew people whose name resides in the
lexicon oI computer graphics. He has taught, authored books, directed
the Renault car company, and, oI course, provided the world with the
Iirst robust method Ior Iree-Iorm surIace design. In 1985, he received
the Steven Coons award, Siggraph`s highest honor.
Pierre Bézier can be contacted at
2. av. Gourgaua
75017 Paris. France
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