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Utah Teapot

Computer History Museum

The model behind the iconic 3D test model. 

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At the Computer History Museum in Mountain View, California, a rather out-of-place artifact is exhibited. To those unfamiliar, it’s only an ordinary Melitta-brand teapot—but if you know, you know.

In the world of computer graphics, this item, usually referred to as the Utah teapot or Newell teapot, is recognized as a 3D test model that has become a standard reference object and a popular in-joke within the community, sometimes making an appearance in movies and TV shows (especially in the 1990s) such as Toy Story and The Simpsons.

The original model was created in 1975 by Martin Newell, a pioneering computer graphics researcher at the University of Utah. It was his wife Sandra’s suggestion, which turned out to be perfect for the project; the teapot was round, contained saddle points, had a genus greater than zero because of the hole in the handle, could project a shadow on itself, and could be displayed accurately without a surface texture. It couldn’t have been more ideal. Newell modeled it using bézier curves, one of the first examples in history.

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October 31, 2023

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