IS machines often filled entire buildings. Also

IS 490 SPECIAL TOPICSComputer GraphicsMay 6, 1996Table of ContentsIntroduction3How It Was3How It All Began4Times Were Changing6Industry””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s First Attempts7The Second Wave10How the Magic is Made11Modeling12Animation13Rendering13Conclusion15Bibliography16Introduction Hollywood has gone digital, and the old ways of doing things are dying. Animation andspecial effects created with computers have been embraced by televisionnetworks,advertisers, and movie studios alike. Film editors, who for decadesworked by painstakinglycutting and gluing film segments together, are now sitting in front ofcomputer screens. There, they edit entire features while adding sound that is not onlystored digitally, butalso has been created and manipulated with computers. Viewers arewitnessing the results ofall this in the form of stories and experiences that they never dreamedof before.

Perhapsthe most surprising aspect of all this, however, is that the entiredigital effects andanimation industry is still in its infancy. The future looks bright.How It WasIn the beginning, computer graphics were as cumbersome and as hard tocontrol as dinosaursmust have been in their own time. Like dinosaurs, the hardware systems,or muscles, ofearly computer graphics were huge and ungainly. The machines oftenfilled entire buildings.Also like dinosaurs, the software programs or brains of computergraphics were hopelesslyunderdeveloped.

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Fortunately for the visual arts, the evolution of bothbrains and brawn ofcomputer graphics did not take eons to develop. It has, instead, takenonly three decadesto move from science fiction to current technological trends. Withcomputers out of thestone age, we have moved into the leading edge of the silicon era.

Imagine sitting at acomputer without any visual feedback on a monitor. There would be nospreadsheets, no wordprocessors, not even simple games like solitaire. This is what it waslike in the earlydays of computers. The only way to interact with a computer at thattime was through toggleswitches, flashing lights, punchcards, and Teletype printouts.

How ItAll Began In 1962, all this began to change. In that year, Ivan Sutherland, aPh.D. student at (MIT),created the science of computer graphics. For his dissertation, hewrote a program calledSketchpad that allowed him to draw lines of light directly on a cathoderay tube (CRT). Theresults were simple and primitive. They were a cube, a series of lines,and groups ofgeometric shapes. This offered an entirely new vision on how computerscould be used.

In1964, Sutherland teamed up with Dr. David Evans at the University ofUtah to develop theworld””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s first academic computer graphics department. Their goal was toattract only the mostgifted students from across the country by creating a unique departmentthat combined hardscience with the creative arts.

They new they were starting a brand newindustry and wantedpeople who would be able to lead that industry out of its infancy. Outof this unique mix ofscience and art, a basic understanding of computer graphics began togrow. Algorithms forthe creation of solid objects, their modeling, lighting, and shadingwere developed. Thisis the roots virtually every aspect of today””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s computer graphicsindustry is based on. Everything from desktop publishing to virtual reality find theirbeginnings in the basicresearch that came out of the University of Utah in the 60””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s and 70””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s.During this time,Evans and Sutherland also founded the first computer graphics company.Aptly named Evans &Sutherland (E&S), the company was established in 1968 and rolled out itsfirst computergraphics systems in 1969.

Up until this time, the only computersavailable that couldcreate pictures were custom-designed for the military and prohibitivelyexpensive. E&S””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””scomputer system could draw wireframe images extremely rapidly, and wasthe first commercial”workstation” created for computer-aided design (CAD). It found itsearliest customers inboth the automotive and aerospace industries.

Times Were Changing Throughout its early years, the University of Utah””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s Computer ScienceDepartment wasgenerously supported by a series of research grants from the Departmentof Defense. The1970””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s, with its anti-war and anti-military protests, brought increasingrestriction to theflows of academic grants, which had a direct impact on the Utahdepartment””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s ability tocarry out research. Fortunately, as the program wound down, Dr.Alexander Schure, founderand president of New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), steppedforward with his dream ofcreating computer-animated feature films. To accomplish this task,Schure hired EdwinCatmull, a University of Utah Ph.D.

, to head the NYIT computer graphicslab and thenequipped the lab with the best computer graphics hardware available atthat time. Whencompleted, the lab boasted over $2 million worth of equipment. Many ofthe staff came fromthe University of Utah and were given free reign to develop both two-and three-dimensionalcomputer graphics tools. Their goal was to soon produce a full -lengthcomputer animatedfeature film. The effort, which began in 1973, produced dozens ofresearch papers andhundreds of new discoveries, but in the end, it was far too early forsuch a complexundertaking. The computers of that time were simply too expensive andtoo under powered, andthe software not nearly developed enough. In fact, the first fulllength computer generatedfeature film was not to be completed until recently in 1995.

By 1978,Schure could no longerjustify funding such an expensive effort, and the lab””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s funding was cutback. The ironicthing is that had the Institute decided to patent many more of itsresearcher””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s discoveriesthan it did, it would control much of the technology in use today.Fortunately for thecomputer industry as a whole, however, this did not happen.

Instead,research was madeavailable to whomever could make good use of it, thus accelerating thetechnologiesdevelopment. Industry””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s First AttemptsAs NYIT””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s influence started to wane, the first wave of commercialcomputer graphics studiosbegan to appear. Film visionary George Lucas (creator of Star Wars andIndiana Jonestrilogies) hired Catmull from NYIT in 1978 to start the LucasfilmComputer DevelopmentDivision, and a group of over half-dozen computer graphics studiosaround the country openedfor business. While Lucas””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s computer division began researching how toapply digitaltechnology to filmmaking, the other studios began creating flying logosand broadcastgraphics for various corporations including TRW, Gillette, the NationalFootball League, andtelevision programs, such as “The NBC Nightly News” and “ABC World NewsTonight.” Althoughit was a dream of these initial computer graphics companies to makemovies with theircomputers, virtually all the early commercial computer graphics werecreated for television.It was and still is easier and far more profitable to create graphicsfor televisioncommercials than for film. A typical frame of film requires many morecomputer calculationsthan a similar image created for television, while the per-second filmbudget is perhapsabout one-third as much income.

The actual wake-up call to theentertainment industry wasnot to come until much later in 1982 with the release of Star-Trek II:The Wrath of Kahn.That movie contained a monumental sixty seconds of the most excitingfull-color computergraphics yet seen. Called the “Genesis Effect,” the sequence starts outwith a view of adead planet hanging lifeless in space. The camera follows a missilestrail into the planetthat is hit with the Genesis Torpedo. Flames arc outwards and raceacross the surface ofthe planet. The camera zooms in and follows the planets transformationfrom molten lava tocool blues of oceans and mountains shooting out of the ground. Thefinal scene spirals thecamera back out into space, revealing the cloud-covered newly bornplanet.

These sixtyseconds may sound uneventful in light of current digital effects, butthis remarkable scenerepresents many firsts. It required the development of severalradically new computergraphics algorithms, including one for creating convincing computer fireand another toproduce realistic mountains and shorelines from fractal equations. Thiswas all created bythe team at Lucasfilm””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s Computer Division. In addition, this sequencewas the first timecomputer graphics were used as the center of attention, instead of beingused merely as aprop to support other action.

No one in the entertainment industry hadseen anything likeit, and it unleashed a flood of queries from Hollywood directors seekingto find out bothhow it was done and whether an entire film could be created in thisfashion. Unfortunately,with the release of TRON later that same year and The Last Starfighterin 1984, the answerwas still a decided no.Both of these films were touted as a technological tour-de-force,which, in fact, theywere. The films”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” graphics were extremely well executed, the best seenup to that point, butthey could not save the film from a weak script. Unfortunately, thetechnology was greatlyoversold during the film””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s promotion and so in the end it wastechnology that was blamedfor the film””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s failure. With the 1980s came the age of personalcomputers and dedicatedworkstations.

Workstations are minicomputers that were cheap enough tobuy for one person.Smaller was better, aster, an much, much cheaper. Advances in siliconchip technologiesbrought massive and very rapid increases in power to smaller computersalong with drasticprice reductions.

The costs of commercial graphics plunged to match,to the point wherethe major studios suddenly could no longer cover the mountains of debtcoming due on theiroverpriced centralized mainframe hardware. With their expenses mounting, and without the extra capital to upgradeto the newer cheapercomputers, virtually every independent computer graphics studio went outof business by1987. All of them, that is, except PDI, which went on to become thelargest commercialcomputer graphics house in the business and to serve as a model for thenext wave ofstudios. The Second Wave Burned twice by TRON and The Last Starfighter, and frightened by thefinancial failure ofvirtually the entire industry, Hollywood steered clear of computergraphics for severalyears. Behind the scenes, however, it was building back and waiting forthe next big break.

The break materialized in the form of a watery creation for the JamesCameron 1989 film,The Abyss. For this film, the group at George Lucas”””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””” Industrial Lightand Magic (ILM)created the first completely computer-generated entirely organiclooking and thoroughlybelievable creature to be realistically integrated with live actionfootage and characters.This was the watery pseudopod that snaked its way into the underwaterresearch lab to get acloser look at its human inhabitants. In this stunning effect, ILMovercame two verydifficult problems: producing a soft-edged, bulgy, and irregular shapedobject, andconvincingly anchoring that object in a live-action sequence. Just asthe 1982 Genesissequence served as a wake-up call for early film computer graphics,this sequence for TheAbyss was the announcement that computer graphics had finally come ofage. A massiveoutpouring of computer-generated film graphics has since ensued withstudios from acrossthe entire spectrum participating in the action. From that point on,digital technologyspread so rapidly that the movies using digital effects have become toonumerous to list inentirety. However they include the likes of Total Recall, Toys,Terminator 2: JudgmentDay, The Babe, In the Line of Fire, Death Becomes Her, and of course,Jurassic Park.

How the Magic is Made Creating computer graphics is essentially about three things: Modeling,Animation, andRendering. Modeling is the process by which 3-dimensional objects arebuilt inside thecomputer; animation is about making those objects come to life withmovement, and renderingis about giving them their ultimate appearance and looks.Hardware is the brains and brawn of computer graphics, but it ispowerless without theright software. It is the software that allows the modeler to build acomputer graphicobject, that helps the animator bring this object to life, and that, inthe end, gives theimage its final look.

Sophisticated computer graphics software forcommercial studios iseither purchased for $30,000 to $50,000, or developed in-house bycomputer programmers. Most studios use a combination of both, developing new software to meetnew project needs.Modeling Modeling is the first step in creating any 3D computer graphics.Modeling in computergraphics is a little like sculpting, a little like building models withwood, plastic andglue, and a lot like CAD. Its flexibility and potential are unmatched inany other art form.With computer graphics it is possible to build entire worlds andentire realities. Eachcan have its own laws, its own looks, and its own scale of time andspace.

Access to these 3-dimensional computer realities is almost alwaysthrough the 2-dimensionalwindow of a computer monitor. This can lead to the misunderstandingthat 3-D modeling ismerely the production perspective drawings. This is very far from thetruth. All elementscreated during any modeling session possess three full dimensions andat any time can berotated, turned upside down, and viewed from any angle or perspective. In addition, theymay be re-scaled, reshaped, or resized whenever the modeler chooses.Modeling is the firststep in creating any 3-dimensional computer animation. It requires theartist””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s ability tovisualize mentally the objects being built, and the craftsperson””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””spainstaking attention todetail to bring it to completion.

To create an object, a modeler startswith a blank screenan sets the scale of the computer””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s coordinate system for that element.The scale can beanything from microns to light years across in size. It is importantthat scale staysconsistent with all elements in a project. A chair built in inches willbe lost in a livingroom built in miles. The model is then created by building up layers oflines and patchesthat define the shape of the object.

AnimationWhile it is the modeler that contains the power of creation, it is theanimator whoprovides the illusion of life. The animator uses the tools at hisdisposal to make objectsmove. Every animation process begins essentially the same way, with astoryboard. A storyboard is a series of still images that shows how the elementswill move and interactwith each other.

This process is essential so that the animator knowswhat movements needto be assigned to objects in the animation. Using the storyboard, theanimator sets up keypoints of movements for each object in the scene. The computer thenproduces motion foreach object on a frame by frame basis. The final result when assembled,gives the form offluid movement. RenderingThe modeler gives form, the animator provides motion, but still theanimation process is notcomplete. The objects and elements are nothing but empty or hollowforms without anysurface. They are merely outlines until the rendering process isapplied.

Rendering is themost computational time demanding aspect of the entire animationprocess. During therendering process, the computer does virtually all the work usingsoftware that has beenpurchased or written in-house. It is here that the animation finallyachieves its finallook. Objects are given surfaces that make it look like a solid form. Any type of look canbe achieved by varying the looks of the surfaces.

The objects finallylook concrete. Next,the objects are lighted. The look of the lighting is affected by thesurfaces of theobjects, the types of lights, and the mathematical models used tocalculate the behavior oflight. Once the lighting is completed, it is now time to create what thecamera will see.

The computer calculates what the camera can see following the designs ofthe objects in thescene. Keep in mind that all the objects have tops, sides, bottoms, andpossibly insides.Types of camera lens, fog, smoke, and other effects all have to becalculated. To createthe final 2-D image, the computer scans the resulting 3D world and pullsout the pixels thatthe camera can see. The image is then sent to the monitor, tovideotape, or to a filmrecorder for display. The multiple 2D still frames, when all assembled,produce the finalanimation.ConclusionMuch has happened in the commercial computer graphics industry since thedecline of thefirst wave of studios and the rise of the second. Software and hardwarecosts haveplummeted.

The number of well-trained animators and programmers hasincreased dramatically.And at last, Hollywood and the advertising community have acknowledgedthat the digital agehas finally arrived, this time not to disappear. All these factors havelead to an explosionin both the size of existing studios and the number of new enterprisesopening their doors.

As the digital tide continues to rise, only one thing is certain. Wehave just begun to seehow computer technology will change the visual arts.BIBLIOGRAPHYHow Did They Do It? Computer Illusion in Film & TV , Alpha Books 1994;Christopher W. BakerComputer Graphics World, Volume 19, Number 3; March 1996;Evan Hirsch, “Beyond Reality”Computer Graphics World, Volume 19, Number 4; April 1996;Evan Marc Hirsch, “A Changing Landscape”Windows NT Magazine, Issue #7, March 1996;Joel Sloss, “There””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””””s No Business Like Show Business”Cinescape, Volume 1, Number 5; February 1995;Beth Laski, “Ocean of Dreams”16


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