Bui Tuong Phong

Bui Tuong Phong bigraphy, stories - Computer graphics researcher and pioneer

Bui Tuong Phong : biography

December 14, 1942 – 1975

Bùi Tường Phong (December 14, 1942–1975) was a Vietnamese-born computer graphics researcher and pioneer. His publications are most often referred to using his family name, Bui, which comes before his given name by Vietnamese convention. His inventions are remembered under his given name Phong, since it is conventional to address Vietnamese persons by their given name.


Phong was born in Hanoi, then French Indochina. After attending the Lycée Albert Sarraut there, he moved with his family to Saigon in 1954, where he attended the Lycée Jean Jacques Rousseau. He went to France in 1964 and was admitted to the Grenoble Institute of Technology. He received his from Grenoble in 1966 and his Diplôme d’Ingénieur from the ENSEEIHT, Toulouse, in 1968. In 1968, he joined the (then IRIA) as a researcher in Computer Science, working in the development of operating systems for digital computers.

He went to the University of Utah College of Engineering in September 1971 as a research assistant in Computer Science and he received his Ph.D. from the University of Utah in 1973.

Phong knew that he was terminally ill with leukemia while he was a student. In 1975, after his tenure at the University of Utah, Phong joined Stanford University as a professor. He died not long after finishing his dissertation.

Phong was married to Bùi Thị Ngọc Bích from Nha Trang, Vietnam, in 1969 in Paris, France. He and his wife had one daughter.

According to Professor Ivan Sutherland and Phong’s friends, Phong was intelligent, affable and modest. About improving the quality of synthesized images he wrote, "We do not expect to be able to display the object exactly as it would appear in reality, with texture, overcast shadows, etc. We hope only to display an image that approximates the real object closely enough to provide a certain degree of realism." http://www.cs.northwestern.edu/~ago820/cs395/Papers/Phong_1975.pdf

Work on computer graphics

Phong was the inventor of the Phong reflection model and the Phong shading interpolation method, techniques widely used in computer graphics. Bui Tuong published the description of the algorithms in his 1973 PhD dissertationBui Tuong Phong, Illumination of Computer-Generated Images, Department of Computer Science, University of Utah, UTEC-CSs-73-129, July 1973. and a 1975 paper.Bui Tuong Phong, "Illumination for Computer Generated Pictures," Comm. ACM, Vol 18(6):311-317, June 1975.

He developed the first algorithm for simulating specular phenomena. When working on his doctorate, he was very focused on selecting a topic and completing his dissertation very fast. Professor David C. Evans very enthusiastically supported him in this project. Professor Ivan Sutherland worked with him for improving the previous Mach banding problems, and on using normals for shading. His fellow students also supported him very much, as James H. Clark, Franklin C. Crow, George Randall, Dennis Ting and John Riley. He finished his dissertation much faster than other students of the time did.

Phong, Robert McDermott, Jim Clark and Raphael Rom had created the very first computer graphics generated picture that looked like its physical model: the Volkswagen Beetle. As a computer graphics icon, it still crops up in highly respected journals and animated features.