Detail from an animated, visual representation of Greenberg’s former students, developed by Autodesk software engineer Eric Haines, M.Arch. ’86, underscores Greenberg’s impact on the careers of hundreds of alumni.

Who is Don Greenberg, and why is he pixelated?

It is Aug. 29, 2019, and Don Greenberg ’55 — the Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Computer Graphics in the College of Architecture, Art and Planning (AAP) — has just returned from a yearlong sabbatical leave.

While away, he worked at Disney Research-Zurich, taught at the Swiss ETH, researched at Nvidia and visited Stanford, as well as the University of California, Berkeley, where he worked on foveated rendering with computer scientists, perception psychologists and neuroscientists.

On this late-summer day he stands in front of an audience of undergraduates in AAP’s Abby and Howard Milstein Auditorium for the first session of Visual Imaging in the Electronic Age, a fall semester survey and introduction to computer graphics class open to students enrolled in architecture, computer science or engineering. Greenberg has taught the class nearly every year since the early 1980s.

“There is no simple book that covers all these topics, that covers both sides of the brain,” he tells the audience. “I’m no longer qualified to teach the programming details but I know enough about many applications and hardware and coming software innovations to teach a first- or second-year survey class.”

This is a surprising admission from someone whose career has spanned the computer graphics revolution from its genesis in the 1960s. Greenberg moves around the podium, smiling, hands lifted. Projected above him is a simple computer-generated 3D perspective rendering of the I.M. Pei-designed Herbert F. Johnson Museum of Art in twilight.

He talks about how stunningly far the field has moved since he and a few architecture students created some of the first computer-simulated images, and how this rendition graced the May 1974 cover of Scientific American.

He also talks in a language that many Cornell students understand – hockey – when he invokes the name of one of the game’s all-time greats in urging his students to look ahead: “Remember what hockey champ Wayne Gretzky said –  ‘Look where the puck will be!’”

Read the full version of this story on the School of Architecture, Art and Planning website.

Patti Witten is a writer for the College of Architecture, Art and Planning.

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