CS781 - Colour in Computer Graphics

About the Course

Computer graphics software is, in essence, all about how to make three choices:

  1. geometry, which pixels are effected by parts of the model;
  2. animation, how the pixels change from frame to frame as the model evolves over time; and
  3. colour, which red/green/blue values to assign to each pixel.

Introductory courses on 3D computer graphics, like cs488/688, provide much details on geometry, because the spaces and transformations used in computer graphics, and the techniques used to put them into software, are prior to the other two choices: temporal variation without geometric logic is Norman McLaren; colour in the wrong place is the Fauvism. The goal of this course, which assumes that you have already taken an introductory course like cs488/688, is to teach you as much about colour as the introductory course did about geometry.

Colour is probably the most interdisciplinary part of computer graphics. The properties of sources of light, the propagation of light in the environment, and the interaction of light with matter lie mainly in the domain of physics. The quantification, measurement and control of light lie within optical and illumination engineering. The interaction of light with the human visual system, which produces the sensation and appearance of colour, is studied in psychology. The production and use of devices that render images in colour is the domain of graphics arts. How to use colour effectively is best understood by artists and graphic designers. Necessarily, this course contains portions of all these disciplines, but no prior knowledge of them is assumed beyond what is taught in secondary school.

This is a graduate course, but not a seminar course. It has a somewhat structured curriculum, which should give students a broad background in the basics of colour as it is used in computer graphics. This should be extensive enough to allow students access to the computer graphics research literature that focusses on colour. Because it is a graduate course students are expected to discover parts of the subject that are of particular interest to them, and to study it in greater depth, which will form the basis of a project that provides a significant part of the grade for the course.


  1. Sources of light
  2. Transmission of light
  3. Interaction of light with surfaces
  4. Visual response to light
  5. Measuring light and colour
  6. Devices that produce coloured images
  7. Producing calibrated images
  8. Colour appearance
  9. Modelling colour
  10. Perceptual properties of colour
  11. Designing with colour

Other Introductory Material


Reference Material

Students in this course frequently require additional reference material. Here are a few of my favourite colour references.

Return to: