Visual Thinking/Visual Computing

Syllabus for
Visual Thinking/Visual Computing

Spring 2005

  • Instructors: Spalter/van Dam (,
  • TAs: Amanda Cheung ( and Neil Mehta (
  • Location: CIT 477 (Lubrano) and MS Lab (CIT 167)
  • Time: J hour (Tues, thurs. 1-2:20)

Required Reading

  • [Rose 2001] = Visual Methodologies, Gillian Rose
  • [Hoffman 1998] = Visual Intelligence, Donald Hoffman
  • [Williams 2003] = The Non-Designers Design Book, Robin Williams
  • [Spalter 1999] = The Computer in the Visual Arts, Anne Morgan Spalter

Recommended Reading

  • [Arnheim 2004] = Visual Thinking, Rudolf Arnheim

The Human Dimension

Week 1
  Thursday, January 27

Course Overview
Welcome, genesis of course and goals, course structure, nature of assignments and grading.

Images Slideshow (to be linked in soon)
The Power of Images: An Overview of Visual History and Theory, part1
Historical attitudes toward the visual, the visual canon, suspicion of the visual, the role of computer graphics, the need for visual digital literacy.

for course admittance



.Week 2

  Tuesday, February 1
The Power of Images: An Overview of Visual History and Theory, part 2
in-class projects
  1. The Reality of Photographs
  2. Visual Memory Exercise (Be sure to run the flash software via link on this page. You'll need a blank piece of paper to write your answers on.)


Thursday, February 3




Overview of Visual Research Methods
A brief overview of methods from the Visual Methodologies book, and more, including Connoisseurship, Art History, Content Analysis, Semiotics, Discourse Analysis, and Perception and Computer Vision Research.

readings due
[Rose 2001] Introduction and Chapter 1: Researching Visual Materials, pp.1-32.
readings on iconoclasm

The Destruction and Reconstruction of the Buddhas at Bamiyan description


Week 3
  Tuesday, February 8
Theory: Looking at and "Reading" Visual Materials
The main tenets and concepts/terminology in Semiology, with examples.
readings due
[Rose 2001] Chapter 4: Semiology, pp.69-99.
in-class and take-home project

Make Your Own Car Ad (due Tues. Feb 15)


Thursday, February 10
guest lecture
The Making of Shrek 2
Guest Lecturer: Jeff Beall, Brown ScB and MA, Lead Technical Director for Shrek 2, currently in charge of production pipeline for Dreamworks. short bio


The Technical Dimension

Week 4
Tuesday, February 15
Introduction to Vision Science and Perception
The mystery of vision, historical theories, ecological approaches, high-level perception concepts (figure-ground, frame of reference, and more), lower-level rules for image "construction" (interpreting shading, T- and Y-junctions, depth cues, etc.).
reading due
[Hoffman 1998] Chapter 1: A Creative Genius for Vision and Chapter 2: Inflating an Artist's Sketch [rules 1-10], pp. 1-46.
in-class projects
  1. Pop-outs (parallel visual processing)
  2. Disassembling a face (invariance)
  3. The depth of realism (depth cues)


Thursday, February 17
Introduction to Vision Science and Perception
Part 2
reading due
[Hoffman 1998] Chapter 3: The Invisible Surface that Glows [rules 11-13], pp. 47-77.
Critique of car ads
in-class projects
  1. Automatic birds (invariance and surface types)


Week 5

Tuesday, February 22


no class
Long weekend for President's Day
Thursday, February 24

Introduction to Vision Science and Perception
Part 3

Design Concepts
History of design and basic design concepts for 2D work and the Web.

reading due
[Williams 2003] All Chapters
in-class projects
  • Pre-instruction drawing of hand
  • Line styles
  • Upside-down drawing
  • Non-dominant hand drawing
  • Rapid drawing
  • Blind contour drawing
  • Negative space drawing
  • Post-instruction drawing of hand


Week 6
Tuesday, March 1

2D Computer Graphics Concepts (Part 1, Raster Graphics)

  • Overview of types of data representation and the distinction between model and image, i.e., geometric vs. raster graphics.
  • Introduction to raster graphics (analog (continuous) vs. digital (discrete, sampled)) representations, pixels, bit-depth, "paint" tools, antialiasing and filters, use in photoediting, and image-processing.
reading due

C.V.A.: Chapter 2: Digital Painting and Photoediting, and 2D Raster Graphics, Sections 2.1 and 2.2. pp. 38-83,

in-class project

  • GTT Brush "Lab"
  • Exploratories Sampling applet
  • GTT Filter exploration
  • Exploratories Filter Shape applet
Thursday, March 3
2D Computer Graphics Concepts (Part 2, Geometric Graphics)
  • Introduction to 2D geometric graphics (geometric object description - vertices, paths, and fill , coordinate geometry, transformations, typography, use in graphic design and 2D CAD).
Reading due
Chapter 4: Digital Design and Layout-2D Geometric Graphics, pp.120-155
in-class project
  • GTT 2D Geometric Inspection
  • Exploratories Spline applet
  • Exploratories Nyquist applet
  • Exploratories Transformation Game


take-home project

Business card self-portrait (due March 10)


Week 7
Tuesday, March 8
3D Computer Graphics Concepts, Part 1
Introduction to 3D geometric graphics (3D models, Platonic solids and sweeps, hierarchy, rendering, modeling of nature, use in simulation, special effects, and 3D design).
reading due
[Spalter 1999]. Chapter 7: Building 3D Worlds, pp. 212-256
Thursday, March 10
3D Computer Graphics Concepts, Part 2
reading due
[Spalter 1999]Chapter 8: Rendering 3D Worlds, pp. 257-296
in-class project

GTT 3D Projects


Week 8
Tuesday, March 15
Business card self-portraits >

Thursday, March 17


guest lecture

Technology and Art in Hollywood
Jaron Lanier, inventor of modern virtual reality, and futurist. Short bio



Synthesis and Applications

Week 9
Tuesday, March 22

The Computer in the Fine Arts
Overview of computer art history and examples from personal collection of art works and catalogs, books, etc.

Catch up on critiques, 3D

readings due
[Rose 2001] Chapter two: The Good Eye and Chapter three: Content Analysis, pp. 54-99
[Spalter 1999]Chapter one: A Brief History pp. 1-36

Consider questions posed by Bill Seaman--to be discussed next class (Th. March 24)

Fine art project

Thursday, March 24
guest lecture
The RISD Digital Media Program
guest lecturer Bill Seaman
From biological research to operating systems, Seaman will lecture and lead discussion on provocative topics in cutting edge digital art work and environments. Short bio
March 26-April 3
no classes



Week 10
Tuesday, April 5
guest lecture

The Floating Window
James Faure Walker, UK artistic, critic, writer. Short bio


  take-home Fine art project
Thursday, April 7
field trip and lecture

Medical Scientific Visualization at Brown
David Laidlaw (Brown CS Department) short bio
Laidlaw will lead a lecture and discussion on the past, present, and future of scientific visualization. Examples of visualization by Laidlaw and others will be seen in Brown's fully immersive VR Cave.


Week 11
Tuesday, April 12

Motion from Optical Flow
Fulvio Domini, Brown University

take-home Field Integration project
take-home project due Fine Art project
Thursday, April 14

Fine art modern landscape projects


Week  12

Tuesday, April 19


Final project overview

Color: A Multidisciplinary Visual Field

Color theory draws on results from all the fields considered in this course. This lecture covers color as a perceptual phenomenon, color mixing, color matching, color specification, and finally, some color usage strategies.

  take-home project due Field Integration project
Thursday, April 21
guest lecture

The Role of Visual Communication in Math, Science, and Engineering
Includes the shift from geometric to symbolic mathematics, scientific and information visualization enabled by the computer, visual analytics
Philip J. Davis, Professor Emeritus, Brown University Department of Applied Mathematics. Short bio

Week 13
Tuesday, April 26


Dana Tenneson (PhD student) and Sascha Backer (Graphics Group staff) will present a lecture on User Interface Design

We will also do feedback forms.

Thursday, April 28


guest lecture
The Image Economy: the creation, marketing, storage, distribution, and archiving, of visual "goods" and the roles they play.
James Joaquin, Brown '87. Founder of and Short bio
Week 14

April  29-May  10


reading period
Work on final projects
Week 15
Friday, May 13
final critiques

Final critique/show

CIT 3rd Floor