The History of Rhino 3D

Rhinoceros, commonly known as Rhino or Rhino3D, is a professional 3D CAD program for Windows and Mac developed by Robert McNeel & Associates. Rhino geometry is based on NURBS, which focuses on producing precise mathematical curves and freeform surfaces, as opposed to polygon mesh-based modelling also commonly found in 3D applications. The release of Rhino 7 introduced Subdivision Surface Modelling (SubD).

Rhino is used for CAD, CAM, rapid prototyping, 3D printing, and reverse engineering across many design disciplines including product design, architecture, and industrial design. Files created in Rhino natively use the .3dm file format, and is highly compatible with many popular 3D formats including DWG/DXF, IGES, STEP, STL, and many more. Scripting and programming is also supported within the Rhino environment in the form of Rhinoscript (based on VBScript), and Python. Many architects use Rhino for the parametric modelling/visual programming plugin called Grasshopper, due to its ease of use and ability to create complex algorithmic structures.


McNeel & Associates started out in the 80’s developing accounting software for consulting firms working in architecture and engineering. Around 1985, many of McNeels’ clients were asking for help with AutoCAD, which began the shift to McNeel becoming an AutoCAD reseller, providing related support and training. In May 1992, Applied Geometry (AG) approached McNeel for assistance with integrating their NURBS geometry library into AutoCAD. By June of that year, a prototype had been produced, and November saw McNeel and AG agree to develop a tool for NURBS modelling in AutoCAD – AccuModel. That same month, Michael Gibson was hired by McNeel, and brought with him Sculptura, a mesh modeller that he created while still in college.


The first 3D modelling program that I wrote was Sculptura, which was a project I started during summer vacation at college. A little bit after that I started working at Robert McNeel & Associates, and there I created a program which I called Rhino which was a brand new CAD system based on the Applied Geometry kernel. I worked pretty much by myself on that for a few years while others at RMA were working on bringing the AG kernel to AutoCAD as a plug-in.
– Michael Gibson speaking in 2008

Throughout 1993, McNeel took over development of AccuModel, and Sculptura was made publicly available with the nickname ‘Rhinoceros’. In the years to follow, McNeel licenced AGLib, hired the geometry expertise of Dr. Dale Lear from AG, and Alias agreed to purchase AG, which would then later be purchased itself by Silicon Graphics. Unresolvable trademark issues with AccuModel would lead Sculptura to officially be renamed Rhinoceros, which was then privately shown at SIGGRAPH.

By 1997, the last build of AccuModel for AutoCAD was delivered, and McNeel decided that it would be better to focus on Rhino for Windows. 1998 saw 100,000 beta sites and 5,000 shipments of Rhino 1.0.

The Development of Rhino

With Rhino established, work began on localisation to bring the program to other countries, with the Japanese version being the first, shortly followed by Korean. The network of support for Rhino was expanding, and the first European reseller meeting was held in Barcelona in January 1999. While Rhino was developed through versions 2.0, 3.0, and 4.0, plugins emerged including the renderer Flamingo in 2001, and animation tool Bongo in 2004.

Our users have the luxury of not having to buy upgrades until we provide something that is actually useful to them. In addition, all current users get to be involved in the development process are every stage, not just for a couple of months at the end. Since we don’t pay any attention to what other CAD companies are doing, we rely on the users to provide the direction for each new release.
– Robert McNeel speaking in 2007

Grasshopper was then introduced to Rhino for Windows in 2008, and online training launched in 2011.

Electronic shipping commenced in 2015, ending the need for physical disc shipping, and Rhino 5 was brought to the Mac OS X operating system.

Rhino 6 for Windows launched in 2018, with Rhino 6 for Mac not far behind. The latest version of Rhino was launched for both Windows and Mac at the same time in November 2020.


Rhino 8 and the Future of Rhino

Rhino 8 is the current generation of Rhinoceros, and features not only the core NURBS modelling, but also Subdivision Surface Modelling (SubD), and the QuadRemesh algorithm used to create quad mesh topology from NURBS gemoetry or meshes. Find out more here at Rhino3D.Software.

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