Thomas Albert "Tom" DeFanti (born September 18, 1948) is an American computer graphics researcher and pioneer. His work has ranged from early computer animation, to scientific visualization, virtual reality, and grid computing. He is a distinguished professor of Computer Science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a research scientist at the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology (Calit2).[1]

Education and early life

Born September 18, 1948 in Queens, New York City, New York and attended Stuyvesant High School.[2] In 1969, DeFanti received a B.A. in Mathematics from Queens College, and in 1970 he received a M.S. in Computer Information Science from Ohio State University.[3] In 1973 he received a Ph.D. in Computer Information Science from Ohio State University, studying under Charles Csuri in the Computer Graphics Research Group.[3] For his dissertation, he created the GRASS programming language, a three-dimensional, real-time animation system usable by computer novices.[4]


In 1973, he joined the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) and with Daniel J. Sandin, he founded the Circle Graphics Habitat, now known as the Electronic Visualization Laboratory (EVL).[5]

At UIC, DeFanti further developed the GRASS language, and later created an improved version, ZGRASS, implemented on the low-cost Datamax UV-1.[4] The GRASS and ZGRASS languages have been used by a number of computer artists, including Larry Cuba, in his film 3/78 and the animated Death Star sequence for Star Wars.[6] Later significant work done at EVL includes development of the graphics system for the Bally Technologies home computer, invention of the first data glove,[7] co-editing the 1987 NSF-sponsored report Visualization in Scientific Computing that outlined the emerging discipline of scientific visualization,[8] invention of PHSColograms, and invention of the CAVE Automatic Virtual Environment.[9] DeFanti's current work includes heading the TransLight/StarLight international multi-gigabit networking project[10] and co-directing the OptIPuter optical networking and visualization project.[11]

DeFanti contributed greatly to the growth of the SIGGRAPH organization and conference. He co-organized early film and video presentations (which became the Electronic Theatre) beginning in 1973, started the SIGGRAPH Video Review archive of computer graphics research in 1979, and served as Chair of the group from 1981 to 1985.[12][13]

DeFanti is a Fellow of the Association for Computing Machinery. He has received the 1988 ACM Outstanding Contribution Award, the 2000 SIGGRAPH Outstanding Service Award, and the UIC Inventor of the Year Award.[12]

In 2018 DeFanti's work and contribution were included in the Chicago New Media 1973-1992 exhibition, curated by jonCates.[14][15]


Select books

Select articles and papers


  1. ^ "People > Staff and Academic Personnel > Tom DeFanti". Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  2. ^ Jones, Steve (2002). Encyclopedia of New Media: An Essential Reference to Communication and Technology. SAGE Publishing. p. 125. ISBN 978-1452265285 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ a b "Future of VR Conference". UCSD. 2015.
  4. ^ a b Magnenat-Thalmann, Nadia; Thalmann, Daniel (1985). Computer Animation: Theory and Practice. Spring-Verlag Tokyo. pp. 26–33. ISBN 978-4-431-70005-0.
  5. ^ Jones, Steve (2002). Encyclopedia of New Media: An Essential Reference to Communication and Technology. SAGE Publishing. p. 398. ISBN 978-1452265285 – via Google Books.
  6. ^ Masson, Terrence (1999). CG 101: A Computer Graphics Industry Reference. New Riders. pp. 410–412. ISBN 978-0-7357-0046-8.
  7. ^ Sturman, D.J., Zeltzer, D. (January 1994). "A survey of glove-based input". IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications. 14 (1): 30–39. doi:10.1109/38.250916. S2CID 7119184.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  8. ^ Nielson, Gregory M.; Shriver, Bruce; Rosenblum, Lawrence J. (1990). Visualization in Scientific Computing. IEEE Computer Society Press. pp. 3, 19. ISBN 978-0-8186-8979-6.
  9. ^ Sherman, William R.; Craig, Alan B. (2003). Understanding Virtual Reality: Interface, Application, and Design. Morgan Kaufmann. p. 14. ISBN 978-1-55860-353-0.
  10. ^ "TransLight/Starlight: About". Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  11. ^ "OptIPuter". Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  12. ^ a b "2000 ACM SIGGRAPH Awards". Archived from the original on 22 November 2009. Retrieved 13 October 2009.
  13. ^ "Dig This! SIGGRAPH's Electronic Theater Celebrates 25 Years of Discovery by Wendy Jackson". Retrieved 21 June 2022.
  14. ^ Picard, Caroline (November 28, 2018). "'Chicago New Media 1973-1992' pays tribute to the city's contribution to video games and digital art". Chicago Reader. Retrieved September 26, 2018.
  15. ^ Cates, Jon (2018). Chicago New Media, 1973-1992. Illinois, United States: University of Illinois Press. pp. 9, 21. ISBN 978-0-252-08407-2.