.. Starfighter in 1984, the answer was still a decided no. Both of these films were touted as a technological tour-de-force, which, in fact, they were. The films’ graphics were extremely well executed, the best seen up to that point, but they could not save the film from a weak script. Unfortunately, the technology was greatly oversold during the film’s promotion and so in the end it was technology that was blamed for the film’s failure. With the 1980s came the age of personal computers and dedicated workstations.
Workstations are minicomputers that were cheap enough to buy for one person. Smaller was better, aster, an much, much cheaper. Advances in silicon chip technologies brought massive and very rapid increases in power to smaller computers along with drastic price reductions. The costs of commercial graphics plunged to match, to the point where the major studios suddenly could no longer cover the mountains of debt coming due on their overpriced centralized mainframe hardware. With their expenses mounting, and without the extra capital to upgrade to the newer cheaper computers, virtually every independent computer graphics studio went out of business by 1987.
All of them, that is, except PDI, which went on to become the largest commercial computer graphics house in the business and to serve as a model for the next wave of studios. The Second Wave Burned twice by TRON and The Last Starfighter, and frightened by the financial failure of virtually the entire industry, Hollywood steered clear of computer graphics for several years. Behind the scenes, however, it was building back and waiting for the next big break. The break materialized in the form of a watery creation for the James Cameron 1989 film, The Abyss. For this film, the group at George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) created the first completely computer-generated entirely organic looking and thoroughly believable creature to be realistically integrated with live action footage and characters.
This was the watery pseudopod that snaked its way into the underwater research lab to get a closer look at its human inhabitants. In this stunning effect, ILM overcame two very difficult problems: producing a soft-edged, bulgy, and irregular shaped object, and convincingly anchoring that object in a live-action sequence. Just as the 1982 Genesis sequence served as a wake-up call for early film computer graphics, this sequence for The Abyss was the announcement that computer graphics had finally come of age. A massive outpouring of computer-generated film graphics has since ensued with studios from across the entire spectrum participating in the action. From that point on, digital technology spread so rapidly that the movies using digital effects have become too numerous to list in entirety.
However they include the likes of Total Recall, Toys, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 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, and Rendering. Modeling is the process by which 3-dimensional objects are built inside the computer; animation is about making those objects come to life with movement, and rendering is about giving them their ultimate appearance and looks. Hardware is the brains and brawn of computer graphics, but it is powerless without the right software. It is the software that allows the modeler to build a computer graphic object, that helps the animator bring this object to life, and that, in the end, gives the image its final look. Sophisticated computer graphics software for commercial studios is either purchased for $30,000 to $50,000, or developed in-house by computer programmers.
Most studios use a combination of both, developing new software to meet new project needs. Modeling Modeling is the first step in creating any 3D computer graphics. Modeling in computer graphics is a little like sculpting, a little like building models with wood, plastic and glue, and a lot like CAD. Its flexibility and potential are unmatched in any other art form. With computer graphics it is possible to build entire worlds and entire realities. Each can have its own laws, its own looks, and its own scale of time and space.
Access to these 3-dimensional computer realities is almost always through the 2-dimensional window of a computer monitor. This can lead to the misunderstanding that 3-D modeling is merely the production perspective drawings. This is very far from the truth. All elements created during any modeling session possess three full dimensions and at any time can be rotated, turned upside down, and viewed from any angle or perspective. In addition, they may be re-scaled, reshaped, or resized whenever the modeler chooses. Modeling is the first step in creating any 3-dimensional computer animation. It requires the artist’s ability to visualize mentally the objects being built, and the craftsperson’s painstaking attention to detail to bring it to completion.
To create an object, a modeler starts with a blank screen an sets the scale of the computer’s coordinate system for that element. The scale can be anything from microns to light years across in size. It is important that scale stays consistent with all elements in a project. A chair built in inches will be lost in a living room built in miles. The model is then created by building up layers of lines and patches that define the shape of the object.
Animation While it is the modeler that contains the power of creation, it is the animator who provides the illusion of life. The animator uses the tools at his disposal to make objects move. Every animation process begins essentially the same way, with a storyboard. A storyboard is a series of still images that shows how the elements will move and interact with each other. This process is essential so that the animator knows what movements need to be assigned to objects in the animation.
Using the storyboard, the animator sets up key points of movements for each object in the scene. The computer then produces motion for each object on a frame by frame basis. The final result when assembled, gives the form of fluid movement. Rendering The modeler gives form, the animator provides motion, but still the animation process is not complete. The objects and elements are nothing but empty or hollow forms without any surface. They are merely outlines until the rendering process is applied. Rendering is the most computational time demanding aspect of the entire animation process.
During the rendering process, the computer does virtually all the work using software that has been purchased or written in-house. It is here that the animation finally achieves its final look. Objects are given surfaces that make it look like a solid form. Any type of look can be achieved by varying the looks of the surfaces. The objects finally look concrete.
Next, the objects are lighted. The look of the lighting is affected by the surfaces of the objects, the types of lights, and the mathematical models used to calculate the behavior of light. Once the lighting is completed, it is now time to create what the camera will see. The computer calculates what the camera can see following the designs of the objects in the scene. Keep in mind that all the objects have tops, sides, bottoms, and possibly insides. Types of camera lens, fog, smoke, and other effects all have to be calculated.
To create the final 2-D image, the computer scans the resulting 3D world and pulls out the pixels that the camera can see. The image is then sent to the monitor, to videotape, or to a film recorder for display. The multiple 2D still frames, when all assembled, produce the final animation. Conclusion Much has happened in the commercial computer graphics industry since the decline of the first wave of studios and the rise of the second. Software and hardware costs have plummeted.
The number of well-trained animators and programmers has increased dramatically. And at last, Hollywood and the advertising community have acknowledged that the digital age has finally arrived, this time not to disappear. All these factors have lead to an explosion in both the size of existing studios and the number of new enterprises opening their doors. As the digital tide continues to rise, only one thing is certain. We have just begun to see how computer technology will change the visual arts. BIBLIOGRAPHY How Did They Do It? Computer Illusion in Film & TV , Alpha Books 1994; Christopher W.
Baker Computer 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.