Computer Graphics


IS 490
SPECIAL TOPICS
May 6, 1996


Table of Contents
Introduction 3
How It Was 3
How It All Began 4
Times Were Changing 6
Industry's First Attempts 7
The Second Wave 10
How the Magic is Made 11
Modeling 12
Animation 13
Rendering 13
Conclusion 15
Bibliography 16

Introduction

Hollywood has gone digital, and the old ways of doing things are dying. Animation and
special effects created with computers have been embraced by television networks,
advertisers, and movie studios alike. Film editors, who for decades worked by painstakingly
cutting and gluing film segments together, are now sitting in front of computer screens.
There, they edit entire features while adding sound that is not only stored digitally, but
also has been created and manipulated with computers. Viewers are witnessing the results of
all this in the form of stories and experiences that they never dreamed of before. Perhaps
the most surprising aspect of all this, however, is that the entire digital effects and
animation industry is still in its infancy. The future looks bright. How It Was

In the beginning, computer graphics were as cumbersome and as hard to control as dinosaurs
must have been in their own time. Like dinosaurs, the hardware systems, or muscles, of
early computer graphics were huge and ungainly. The machines often filled entire buildings.
Also like dinosaurs, the software programs or brains of computer graphics were hopelessly
underdeveloped. Fortunately for the visual arts, the evolution of both brains and brawn of
computer graphics did not take eons to develop. It has, instead, taken only three decades
to move from science fiction to current technological trends. With computers out of the
stone age, we have moved into the leading edge of the silicon era. Imagine sitting at a
computer without any visual feedback on a monitor. There would be no spreadsheets, no word
processors, not even simple games like solitaire. This is what it was like in the early
days of computers. The only way to interact with a computer at that time was through toggle
switches, flashing lights, punchcards, and Teletype printouts. How It All Began

In 1962, all this began to change. In that year, Ivan Sutherland, a Ph.D. student at (MIT),
created the science of computer graphics. For his dissertation, he wrote a program called
Sketchpad that allowed him to draw lines of light directly on a cathode ray tube (CRT). The
results were simple and primitive. They were a cube, a series of lines, and groups of
geometric shapes. This offered an entirely new vision on how computers could be used. In
1964, Sutherland teamed up with Dr. David Evans at the University of Utah to develop the
world's first academic computer graphics department. Their goal was to attract only the most
gifted students from across the country by creating a unique department that combined hard
science with the creative arts. They new they were starting a brand new industry and wanted
people who would be able to lead that industry out of its infancy. Out of this unique mix of
science and art, a basic understanding of computer graphics began to grow. Algorithms for
the creation of solid objects, their modeling, lighting, and shading were developed. This
is the roots virtually every aspect of today's computer graphics industry is based on.
Everything from desktop publishing to virtual reality find their beginnings in the basic
research 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 its first computer
graphics systems in 1969. Up until this time, the only computers available that could
create pictures were custom-designed for the military and prohibitively expensive. E&S's
computer system could draw wireframe images extremely rapidly, and was the first commercial
"workstation" created for computer-aided design (CAD). It found its earliest customers in
both the automotive and aerospace industries. Times Were Changing

Throughout its early years, the University of Utah's Computer Science Department was
generously supported by a series of research grants from the Department of Defense. The
1970's, with its anti-war and anti-military protests, brought increasing restriction to the
flows of academic grants, which had a direct impact on the Utah department's ability to
carry out research. Fortunately, as the program wound down, Dr. Alexander Schure, founder
and president of New York Institute of Technology (NYIT), stepped forward with his dream of
creating computer-animated feature films. To accomplish this task, Schure hired Edwin
Catmull, a University of Utah Ph.D., to head the NYIT computer graphics lab and then
equipped the lab with the best computer graphics hardware available at that time. When
completed, the lab boasted over $2 million worth of equipment. Many of the staff came