IS 490


Computer Graphics

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


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 from