A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation

Section 10:

As is the case with most of computer graphics, the Computer-Aided Design (CAD) discipline can trace its beginnings to the Sketchpad system developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1963. Sutherland was able to connect the display capabilities of the CRT, with the computational abilities of the computer, and the interactive process made possible with the light pen to create a system for designing mechanical parts. His system was described in a 1963 conference paper. At the same conference, his advisor, Prof. Steven Coons of MIT published an article that laid out the relationship of the computer-aided design system as it evolved from the automatic programmed tool (APT) that was developed from the milling machine that was designed for use with the Whirlwind computer.

As was discussed in a previous section the work of Sutherland prompted the automotive and aerospace companies to take notice and start their own projects to try to harness the power of the computer for their design needs. One of the most notable programs was the DAC (Design Augmented by Computer) project at General Motors, which was a joint project with IBM. Two of the main individuals involved in this project were Fred Krull and Dr. Patrick Hanratty, whose contributions will be discussed later.

The late 60s saw a flurry of activity in the CAD-related sector. Besides the turnkey companies described below, several other companies started creating and marketing software or hardware for this industry. David Evans and Ivan Sutherland founded Evans and Sutherland Computer Corporation (E&S), which was one of the leaders in high end graphics workstations used in the CAD arena. Other equipment was developed by IBM, Adage, GE, DEC, CalComp and others (see section 3 in this course series.) One of the main players at this time was Calma, originally a manufacturer of digitizers used in mapping and integrated circuit manufacturing. (In the mid-80s Calma was acquired by General Electric and then sold to Prime Computer.)

On the software side, MAGI released its SynthaVision solids software, which is considered by many to be the first commercial solid modeler program. Charles Eastman, at the Institute for Physical Planning at Carnegie Mellon, developed the GLIDE system with Max Henrion and the General Space Planner (GSP) System, a software system for solving space planning problems. Eastman and Kevin Weiler also published a seminal paper on the use of Euler operators for geometric modeling. Pierre Bezier and Steven Coons contributed important approaches to free-form surface applications for the CAD industry. The CSG modeler PADL-1 , and later PADL-2 were developed by the Production Automation Project at the University of Rochester. Bruce Baumgart introduced a data structure, called the Winged Edge data structure, that provided an efficient representation for 3D objects.


The following text introduces some of the important contributors to this new area of graphics. Companies include:

Click on the images below to view a larger version (when available).

Sutherland, Ivan, SKETCHPAD: A Man-Machine Graphical Communication System, AFIPS, SJCC 23 (1963), pp 329-346.

Coons, Steven, An Outline of the Requirements of a Computer-Aided Design System, AFIPS, SJCC 23 (1963), pp 299-304.


CAD - computer-aided design     
The use of computer programs and systems to design detailed two- or three-dimensional models of physical objects, such as mechanical parts, buildings, and molecules.

CAM - computer-aided manufacturing
The process of using specialized computers to control, monitor, and adjust tools and machinery in manufacturing.

CAE - computer-aided engineering
Use of computers to help with all phases of engineering design work. Like computer aided design, but also involving the conceptual and analytical design steps.

CADD - Computer Aided Drafting and Design, Computer-Aided Design & Drafting, or Computer-Aided Design Development
The use of the computer to help with the drafting of product plans.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition


CAD system from Apollo Computer


See Pierre Bezier's remembrances of the early CAD activities in the IEEE Annals of the History of Computing.






Hanratty's contributions began in 1957 with PRONTO, the first commercial numerical-control programming system. After the completion of the DAC program, Hanratty started his own company, focused on the development of integrated and interactive computer aided drafting, design and manufacturing. His company, MCS (Manufacturing and Consulting Services, Inc.) was instrumental in the early evolution of the commercial software CAD environments. In addition to selling products under its own name, in its early years MCS also supplied the CADD/CAM software used by such companies as McDonnell Douglas (Unigraphics), Computervision (CADDS), AUTOTROL (AD380), and Control Data (CD-2000) as the core of their own products. In fact, according to MCS web site, industry analysts have estimated that 70% of all the 3-D mechanical CADD/CAM systems available today trace their roots back to MCS's original code.The company's first product, ADAM (Automated Drafting and Machining), was released in 1972, ran on 16-bit computers, and was one of the first commercially available mechanical design packages. Dr. Hanratty founded United Computing in 1969. More will be said of United Computing contributions later in this section.

In 1976, MCS introduced AD-2000, a design and manufacturing system for the first 32-bit computers. In 1986 they introduced ANVIL-5000, a 3-D mechanical CADD/CAM/CAE system that, for over a decade, was the most powerful, fully integrated CADD/CAM/CAE software available, running on all classes of engineering computers from high-end workstations to personal computers.


California Computer Products, Inc. (CalComp) was a manufacturer of digital plotters, disk drives and other "plug compatible" computer equipment. CalComp  was incorporated Sept. 17, 1958, and introduced the world's first drum plotter (the Model 565) in 1959. They were involved primarily with the production plotters until about 1968, when they began selling disk drives manufactured by Century Data Systems of Anaheim, California. The legendary CalComp 1040-series pen plotter was introduced in 1984. For a while, CalComp distributed IsiCAD software, now owned by FIT Systems. CalComp was bought by Sanders Associates in 1980. In 1986, CalComp became a unit of Lockheed after the company purchased Sanders Associates. (See more information at Note 1.)

Because of its special internal needs, the aircraft industry has produced some of the world's leading CAD programs. These include proprietary software developed at Boeing, CADAM by Lockheed, McAuto by McDonnell Douglas and CATIA by Marcel Dassault in France.

McDonnell Douglas Automation Company (McAuto) was founded in 1960. Their engineers closely watched the DAC program and the ITEK Electronic Drafting Machine optics design efforts, the latter resulting in the Control Data Digigraphics commercial CAD system. McAuto played a major role in CAD development with the introduction of the sophisticated CADD program. CADD was the primary product of McAuto, and it was only available on large IBM mainframes using expensive Evans & Sutherland Picture System display terminals. The software was optimized for the design of aircraft structural components, and even though CADD was possibly the most sophisticated CAD/CAM system available at the time, it had a few major problems that prevented it from being widely used.  Besides the obvious reliance on very expensive hardware, McAuto was also prevented from selling CADD to anyone who might be considered a competitor of any of the various aerospace divisions of the parent corporation.  The few commercial CADD customers included companies like Timex and Cessna Aircraft (they built aircraft, but not in competition with MDC).  The biggest non-MDC user of CADD was the Northrop Corp., but even they were restricted from using the software for anything other then the F-18 program, a joint development with McDonnell Aircraft. In 1976 McDonnell Douglas acquired United Computing, developer of the Unigraphics CAD/CAM/CAE system.


Auto-trol was one of several companies that crossed the Computer-Aided Design and Computer-Aided Design & Drafting boundaries. Established in the Denver area in 1962, Auto-trol’s first product was a digitizer manufactured in the garage of the company founder, Bill Barnes. Mr. Barnes named the company Auto-trol as a shortened version of automated control, which he had called a product he developed in the 1950s. In its early years, Auto-trol manufactured hardware and software for drafting, marrying its original digitizer and flatbed plotter with minicomputers and display terminals.

In 1973, the Hillman Trust purchased Auto-trol. That same year, Auto-trol emerged as a pioneer in the fledgling CAD industry by announcing Auto-Draft, one of the first turnkey graphics systems available. Throughout the 1970s, the CAD industry expanded at a rapid rate, and Auto-trol expanded along with it. In January 1979, Auto-trol’s initial public offering was completed. Also in 1979, Auto-trol became the first company to market technical publishing applications to be used to produce the complex technical illustrations needed for service manuals, parts catalogs, and engineering documentation.


Fontaine Richardson was one of the first graduates of the University of Illinois computer science program, after which he went to MIT to join the Lincoln Labs group. In the summer of 1969, Richardson and three of his colleagues left Lincoln Labs and founded a company to commercialize computerized electrical engineering design tools. They called the new company Applicon. "Starting an application software company at the time was kind of crazy, kind of half-cocked," recalled Richardson. Only a handful of companies, including the Norden Division of United Aircraft, GM, and Lockheed, were doing this sort of work.

Applicon built a suite of four products: one was for designing IC photomasks, one was for digital circuit simulation, one was for frequency domain circuit synthesis, and one for microwave circuit analysis. All were to be sold via timeshare, except for the IC photomask program, which required a stand-alone workstation or computer. They decided, because of economic concerns, to concentrate on the IC program, called the Design Assistant. Its first customer was Matsushita in Japan. The company grew from there, expanding to include printed circuit boards and hybrid circuits. Another package was added for three-dimensional designs (mainly for the automotive industry). They produced more and more applications, using the interactive screen design concept, and when Richardson left in 1980, after selling the company to Schlumberger and then merging it with MDSI which Schlumberger had acquired earlier, it was running at revenues of $100 million per year.


Computervision was created in 1969 to produce systems for production drafting and in the same year it sold the first commercial CAD system to Xerox. In 1978, Computervision introduced the first CAD terminal using raster display technology. In the late 1970s, Computervision made a costly decision to build their own computer system. Once the new 32-bit computer systems replaced the old systems, Computervision stopped their proprietary hardware development and switched to Sun Microcomputers. Prime Computer bought Computervision and their CAD software for mainframes and workstations in 1988. Just after the purchase Prime ran into financial trouble, canceling projects and making staff reductions. Prime tried to change into a UNIX workstation producer but the company was dying. VersaCAD Corp., previously known as T&W Systems, was also bought out by Prime Computer, Inc. In 1997, Computervision was purchased by Parametric Technologies, becoming a wholly owned subsidiary, and its CADDS 5 software joined the Pro/ENGINEER CAD/CAM/CAE software as a Parametric offering.














CAD systems from CalComp, a Sanders company





In 1967, after leaving his teaching position at the University of Cincinnati's mechanical engineering program, Jack Lemon established the Structural Dynamics Research Corporation (SDRC). "I established the company to help solve problems that plagued manufacturers," said Lemon. "At the time, Computervision and Applicon were the software leaders, but they focused their efforts on the 2-D drafting marketplace. Our vision was to integrate design, FEA [Finite Element Analysis], testing, and systems to overall product design. We were among the first to integrate 2-D drafting with CAE. This effort prompted the need for solid modeling. This was the impetus behind Geomod, a product that provided capabilities to do FEA more efficiently to increase productivity."

Later, while still with SDRC, Lemon's development team introduced Superb FEA, Modal Plus, a modal testing analysis and analysis program, and SuperTAB, the first commercial modeling package that ran on DEC workstations. SDRC first brought their products to market in the early 1970’s. At that time, both Ford Motor Company and General Motors started using SDRC software for pre and post process analysis. SDRC first introduced their I-DEAS software in 1982. Developed by SDRC’s internal product development organization, I-DEAS was created to address the growing MCAE (Mechanical Computer-Aided Engineering) marketplace.

In 1993, after eleven years of continued growth, SDRC introduced the I-DEAS "Master Series." This new generation of software products for mechanical design automation was completely re-architectured. Automotive manufacturers in particular used I-DEAS to design any automotive component or assemblies that were beneath the Class 1 surfaces of an automobile. The product also proved itself valuable for designing other aspects of automobiles, such as drive trains, engines, transmissions, chassis components (such as brakes and suspensions, etc.), and seats. In addition to the automotive/transportation industry, I-DEAS was also used in aerospace and defense, electronics and consumer products, industrial equipment, and energy and process. But the lion’s share of the users (and SDRC revenue) came from the automotive industry. In 2001 news was released that EDS intended to purchase all of the assets of SDRC.  EDS wanted to build a new business unit around SDRC and their previous acquisition UGS, which continued to be known as UGS and operates as an EDS subsidiary.


United Computing was founded by John Wright in Torrance, California. The first product released by United Computing was UNIAPT, which was a minicomputer based version of APT (Automatic Programmed Tool), a part programming language used to compute tool paths for milling machines.  The unique thing about UNIAPT was that is was one of the first CAM products that was sold to the actual end users.  Up until this time most companies created their NC programs using time-sharing services from large providers such as McAuto.

In 1973 United purchased the ADAM (Automated Design and Manufacturing) code from Hanratty's MCS. United paid for exclusive rights to the software for both the U.S. and the rest of the world, except for Japan.  (However, Hanratty also sold "exclusive" ADAM licenses to both Computervision and Gerber.)  MCS updated the software, calling it AD-2000.  Licenses for AD-2000 were sold to Autotrol, Graftek, and Control Data, among others.
In 1973 the ADAM software was ported to a General Automation SPC-16 (an early 16 bit mini-computer) with a Tektronix display and an added menu-driven user interface.  This was implemented as a single-user system and given the name Uni-graphics (the hyphen was removed in 1974). In 1981, Unigraphics introduced the first solid modeling system, Uni-Solids. It was based on the University of Rochester's PADL-2, and was sold as a stand-alone product to Unigraphics. It provided basic 2D modeling & drafting functionality and supported 14 layers.  One of the selling points was that it was a graphical "front-end" for the UNIAPT system. 

In 1976 United Computing was acquired by McDonnell Douglas.  The company remained in Carson, California but was operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of St. Louis based McAuto, the Automation division of MDC. That same year the GRIP programming language was introduced.  It was originally intended to address a request for support of parametric modeling.  While it would be years before there were tools that adequately addressed this need, GRIP turned out to be one of the most popular and widely used modules ever offered with Unigraphics.  For many years GRIP was considered by many customers to be the most significant differentiator between Unigraphics and the other CAD systems available.

After the problems with getting a stable version of Unigraphics released, McDonnell Douglas decided to close down United Computing and make formal financial arrangements with John Wright and the other founders.  The remainder of the organization became part of the newly formed CAD/CAM division of McAuto.

In 1979 Unigraphics Solutions acquired Engineering Animation Inc. (EAI) of Ames, IA.  EAI products included the line e-Vis and Vis-View software.  EAI had been a longtime partner with Unigraphics Solutions, supplying tools used in Unigraphics' ProductVision software.

In 1988 Unigraphics acquired Cambridge, England based Shape Data Ltd. (developers of Romulus, Romulus-D, and Parasolid) and began commercializing the Parasolid kernel as a stand-alone product. Parasolid was an extremely powerful B-rep solid modeling kernel that allowed the joining of boundary represented surfaces together as a solid. In 1999 Unigraphics Solutions Inc. announced that it had reached an agreement to purchase Applicon, Inc.




In 1970 M&S Computing was founded by two engineers from the NASA space program. It became known as Intergraph (from Interactive Graphics) in 1980. Intergraph became a publicly owned company in 1981. In the beginning it was a consulting firm that supported government agencies in using digital technology. Among these technologies were application-oriented user interfaces that communicated with users in the language of their applications, rather than in programming terminology. The first Intergraph computer graphics system to apply these computing concepts was used by the federal government for designing printed circuit boards. Composed of unaltered stock parts from various vendors, the terminals consisted of a single-screen Tektronix 4014 display terminal with an attached keyboard and an 11-inch by 11-inch "menu" tablet that provided the operator with a selection of drawing commands.

Intergraph grew to be the largest computer graphics company in the world with about 100 offices worldwide and corporate headquarters in Huntsville, Alabama. Its flagship CADD product, IGDS (Interactive Graphics Design Software), was developed in the 1970's. In 1983 Intergraph started shipping InterAct and InterPro. InterAct, with its sculptured surfaces, won two of the three national design awards for new products.  These terminals were powered by VAX and MicroVAX processors from DEC.  The terminals used microprocessors to control the display of the graphics image locally but still relied on the VAX processor to manage the Intergraph application products that created and manipulated the graphics database. Their first standalone workstation, the InterPro 32 was introduced in 1984.

In the 1990s, Intergraph built their products around the PC, powered with Intel processors. Intergraph claimed that after several years of mutually beneficial work, in 1996 Intel began making unreasonable demands for royalty-free rights to Intergraph patents already being used in Intel microprocessors. When Intergraph refused, Intel abused its monopoly power by engaging in a series of illegal coercive actions intended to force Intergraph to give Intel access to the patents. With no other source of suitable high-end processors available and with its hardware business under serious threat because of Intel's actions, Intergraph sought court protection by filing a lawsuit on November 17, 1997. The lawsuit asserted claims against Intel in three areas: illegal coercive behavior, patent infringement, and antitrust violations. Intel and Intergraph settled the suit in 2002. Under terms of the settlement agreement, Intel paid $300 million to Intergraph, the lawsuit was dismissed, the companies signed a cross license agreement, and Intergraph sold certain unrelated patents to Intel.

However, significantly impacted by Intel’s punitive actions, Intergraph's ability to compete in the PC and generic server market was impaired. In 1999 Intergraph exited those businesses. Intergraph completed the exit from the hardware business by selling the Zx10 workstation and server product line to SGI and the graphics accelerator business (Intense3D) to 3Dlabs. Intergraph announced its intention to structure all aspects of the company around vertically focused business units that provided technical software, systems integration, and professional services.

In 2001 Intergraph again sued Intel charging Intel with infringement on two Intergraph patents that define key aspects of parallel instruction computing (PIC). This patented technology was developed by Intergraph in 1992 when the company’s Advanced Processor Division was designing Intergraph’s next generation C5 Clipper microprocessor. In October of 2002 Intergraph won that $150M lawsuit.


Bentley Systems, Incorporated was founded by Keith and Barry Bentley in 1984. The company's first product, MicroStation was based on Intergraph's IGDS product and provided leading-edge CADD capabilities on a personal computer. Originally named PseudoStation, the software developed by Bentley Systems allowed users to view IGDS drawings files without needing Intergraph's software. In 1987, Intergraph Corporation acquired exclusive sales and marketing rights to MicroStation which became a worldwide standard for large-scale engineering projects on all platforms. After Intergraph purchased 50% of Bentley Systems, a new version of MicroStation added proprietary extensions to the IGDS and renamed it DNG. In 1994, the distribution arrangements were restructured and MicroStation marketing and sales were transferred back to Bentley, and the company grew from a software development house to a fully independent business. Their single MicroStation product has expanded into a broad family of over twenty products for plant engineering, building engineering, mechanical engineering, and GeoEngineering.


In 1975 Avions Marcel Dassault (AMD), now Dassault Systemes, purchased CADAM (Computer-Augmented Drafting and Manufacturing) software equipment licenses from Lockheed, becoming one of the very first CADAM customers. By 1977, AMD assigned its engineering team the goal of creating a three-dimensional, interactive program, the forerunner of CATIA (Computer-Aided Three-Dimensional Interactive Application). Its major advance over CADAM was the 3rd dimension. In 1984 drafting capabilities were added to CATIA, enabling it to function independently of CADAM. By 1985 CATIA Version 2 contained fully integrated drafting, solid and robotics functions, making it the aeronautical applications leader. By 1988 CATIA Version 3 contained AEC functionality and was ported to IBM's UNIX-based RISC System/6000 workstations. CATIA thus became the automotive applications leader as well.

Founded in December 1993, SolidWorks Corporation introduced the first powerful 3D CAD software available for a native Windows® environment.The product was based on the Parasolid kernal. They have released new major product lines every year since 1995, most recently SolidWorks 2004 software, representing over 285,000 software seats to date. Solidworks received a U.S. patent for the SolidWorks FeatureManager™,now the standard CAD user interface found in every CAD application today.The company was acquired by Dassault Systemes in 1997 for $300M in stock. SolidWorks serves customers in industrial, medical, scientific, consumer educational, technology, and transportation markets.

In 1998, Dassault acquired the Italian Matra Datavision company, creators of the EUCLID systems for free-form surface modeling, NC control and injection molding simulation. The EUCLID Styler, Machinist, Strim and Strimflow products enhanced the CATIA product in these areas. They later partnered with IBM as a strategic international business partner.




Intergraph IGDS (Ohio Dep't of Transportation)

Intergraph InterPro32c


See Intergraph's history at



For more about the Intel/Intergraph legal actions see












Autodesk was founded in 1982 by John Walker. He and the other 15 co-founders set off to develop five different desktop automation applications. They did this with the notion that one of the applications would take off and be developed further. That product turned out to be AutoCAD, which was based on a CAD program written in 1981 by Mike Riddle called MicroCAD, changed later to Interact. It was shown at the COMDEX trade show in Las Vegas as the first CAD program in the world to run on a PC.

AutoCAD is a Computer Assisted Design (CAD) software package for 2D and 3D design and drafting. It currently runs only on Microsoft operating systems. Versions for Unix and Apple Macintosh were released, but these met with limited market acceptance and were later dropped. Initially for mechanical engineers, it has been extended and is very widely used by architects and other design professionals. Its file formats (DWG and its ASCII equivalent, AutoCAD DXF) have become the default standard for CAD packages. Version 1.0 was released in December 1982. The current version is AutoCAD 2004, which was released in March 2003. A lower-cost version, AutoCAD LT was first introduced in 1993. Compared with its more expensive sibling, LT lacks the AutoLISP programming language and other programming interfaces, some 3D capability, and a few other features.

In 1986 CADENCE magazine was established for the AutoCAD user community. It would become the world's largest independent CAD publication. In 1989 Autodesk purchased Generic Software and the Generic CADD program.


In 1985 Peter Smith and Livingston Davies founded Micro-Control Systems and released CADKEY, the first 3D PC CAP product. 3D was still very hard to work with on a PC and it was not until a later release that CADKEY was able to become a serious player as a 3D wireframe layout tool and for drafting. That same year Diehl Graphsoft, Inc. was founded and the first version of MiniCAD was shipped. MiniCAD became the best selling CAD program on the Macintosh.


Some other relevant CAD items:

  • In 1978 the Computer Graphics Newsletter, a 2 year old publication, became Computer Graphics World magazine.
  • In 1979 Boeing, General Electric and NIST developed a neutral file format as a contract from Air Space called IGES (Initial Graphic Exchange Standard). It became the industry standard format and the most widely accepted format for transferring complex surface information, such as NURBS curves. (see Section 7 for more information)
  • CoCreate Software Inc., was established in 1984 as a division of Hewlett-Packard Company with the charter to expand the scope and focus for development of computer-aided design (CAD) and computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) software products. In 1996, CoCreate became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hewlett-Packard Co. and expanded its product offerings to include collaboration software solutions
  • In 1988 Martin Newell (formerly of the University of Utah) founded Ashlar Incorporation and release Ashlar Vellum CAD software.



The founders of Autodesk

Autodesk products

Autodesk workstation

CADENCE magazine, the AutoCAD professionals magazine


1. In 1973, CalComp filed a claim against IBM for preventing CalComp from competing in the disk drive market. The company claimed that IBM had monopolized the market through premature introduction of new central processing units and disk drives, price cuts on existing disk products, leasing policies and other unfair marketing practices over a period of ten years (1963 - 1972). The courts eventually ruled in 1977 that IBM's pricing, marketing and design changes did not constitute an attempt to monopolize the market.





Next: The expansion of the CGI production industry

<<Back to Section Index