The ViDi Center


One of the outstanding immediate opportunities for “Penn Integrates Knowledge” is to establish a Research Center that merges the power and visual impact of modern Computer Graphics with research questions in the Humanities and Social Sciences. Historically, the visual arts have embraced computer technology as a means for creating visual effects for art, movies and games. But the Humanities have generally lagged in exploiting computer technology except in fields such as architectural reconstruction, textual analysis, digital photographic archiving, and databases. Computer Graphics capabilities are often tacked on and based on commercial software tools without deep consideration for whether the associated reconstructions and visualizations are sufficiently accurate, materially honest or visually correct. For example, the indiscriminate use of simple shading models makes 3D object models look like plastic, whereas real materials have complex surface reflectance properties that may be further complicated by age, patina, erosion, physical damage and other degradations. Similarly, lighting is a crucial component of “how things look”, yet naïve use of the standard point lighting models renders inaccurate colors, poor global illumination, and insufficient account for material reflectance properties. Conversely, Computer Graphics is often concerned with overt outward appearance, without specific regard for historical, material, construction, or aesthetic accuracy. Modern Computer Graphics, through new procedures for Physics-Based modeling, rendering (image synthesis) and animation, is now poised to add scientific credibility to the reconstruction, portrayal, virtual preservation and even reconstruction (via 3D printing) of human artifacts.



The ViDi Center will fundamentally address the connections between visual analysis and re-synthesis problems, primarily involving 3D objects and environments that pose significant and interesting questions in the Humanities (but also in Medicine and Engineering). The ViDi Center will bring together Engineering and Humanities faculty to embark on deeply collaborative investigations to discover new Computer Graphics modeling and animation methods and apply the best and most appropriate techniques to modeling and visualization challenges presented by human artistic, structural, and cultural artifacts.

  • To support an interdisciplinary mission as emphasized in the 2020 Penn Compact: “…integrate knowledge across academic disciplines with emphasis on innovative understanding and discovery.” []
  • To assist with the development and adoption of digital visualization techniques and tools among Penn faculty through collaborative and integrative research projects, and through education, professional, and other intellectual stimuli.
  • To foster the incorporation and use of digital visualization techniques across the spectrum of arts, sciences, medicine and engineering at Penn.
  • To invite industry and academic speakers periodically to address digital visualization topics, their use and deployment, especially in the arts and sciences.
  • To periodically sponsor non-credit workshops and seminars on digital visualization tools and topics.
  • To provide undergraduate and graduate students opportunities to engage with Penn research through digital visualization projects.

    Integrated Vision

    The ViDi Center mission is primarily to foster the incorporation and use of digital visualization techniques across the spectrum of arts, sciences, medicine and engineering at Penn. In this role, ViDi will help identify, coordinate and investigate the problems, prospects and use of visualization across Penn through collaborative research projects, invited speakers, workshops and tutorials and connections to undergraduate and graduate educational programs.

    The ViDi Center will absolutely support the “Penn Integrates Knowledge” mission, and create an identifiable entity for focus and promote digital visualization across the university. Computer Graphics is an historic strength in SEAS, and ViDi will link existing SEAS expertise with other Penn pursuits that can serve mutual intellectual and academic interests. The size and scope of the Steering Committee pool demonstrates the breadth and depth of this interest and excitement.



  • The ViDi Center will have a faculty Director. Norm Badler is the inaugural Director.
  • The Steering Committee will consist of about 6 members selected by the Director on the basis of their interest and activity in the ViDi domain.
  • The Steering Committee will meet with the ViDi Director(s) at least once a term to review and track progress, formulate funding plans, explore proposal opportunities, and insure communication across the disciplines.
  • A SEAS Center Oversight Committee will periodically review ViDi activities and accomplishments.

    Research Environment

    SIG Center for Computer Graphics


    Educational Mission

    DMD Minor
    CIS Department
    Summer Internship Program


    Steering Committee

    Norman Badler Computer and Information Science School of Engineering and Applied Science
    Clark Erikson Anthropology School of Arts and Sciences
    Ladislav Kavan Computer and Information Science School of Engineering and Applied Science
    Holly Pittman History of Art School of Arts and Sciences
    Steve Tinney Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations School of Arts and Sciences



    Past Events