History of Computer Graphics
December 29, 2005 7:32 PM   Subscribe

A Critical History of Computer Graphics and Animation is a reasonably interesting academic-esque survey of computer graphics history, up to the year 2000 at least. via
posted by Heywood Mogroot (12 comments total)

Does anyone remember a 3D software called 'DGS', circa early 90s, supposedly ahead of its time? Reputedly ran on PCs as well. I just remember 3DS, Crystal & Topas for PCs.
posted by Gyan at 7:38 PM on December 29, 2005

I still think the graphics for Tron are the shizznit.
posted by maxsparber at 7:47 PM on December 29, 2005

pretty interesting article -thanks.
that headset in section 4 looks somewhat sinister though!
posted by Flamingoroad at 7:49 PM on December 29, 2005

Max, a couple of years ago, they released a PC game, "Tron 2.0". It got somewhat mixed reviews, though I liked it very much. On a high-res display, I think the real-time generated graphics looked MUCH better than the original movie.

We can now render, on our desktops at 60 frames per second, what it once took months and months to do. If you have any kind of a recent graphic card, you have more power under the hood than probably existed in the entire world in 1982 (when Tron was released.)

And yes, the original still looks darn good, even so.
posted by Malor at 8:38 PM on December 29, 2005

Although CGI is my field, I seem to be pretty alone in believing that it's not ready for prime time. In other words, I think 3D animation looks fake. It works well for the stylized, cartoonish "Toy Story" stuff, but I was unimpressed by Gollum and similar "realistic" animation. I often feel like I'm living in an Emperor's New Clothes scenario, because almost everyone else RAVES about this stuff.

(I know some people think it's okay for these effects to look fake, but I don't buy that. Gollum actually hurt my enjoyment of the film. I was able to totally buy that the hobbit actors were four feet tall, and I stopped thinking about it, but with Gollum/Yoda/etc., I can't stop thinking about "the man behind the curtain", so I'm unable to get as aroused by the action.)

Once, at a conference, we were shown a bit of "Final Fantasy" right before it came out. The audience reaction was really interesting. No one said, before the screening, that it was CGI.
After the screening, people were saying, "Wow, that was amazing! That was so realistic. Etc." Then one guy, who looked really confused, said, "What do you mean 'realistic'? What's everyone talking about?" When someone pointed out to him that it was all animated, he rufused to believe it. He was SURE he had been watching human actors. And then this woman had trouble believing HIM. To her -- as to me -- the "actors" looked so obviously fake, it was impossible to conceive of how they could have fooled anyone.

So it seems like different people notice different things. I think I tend to stare about mouths, and I've noticed mouths are hard to get right. The lip-syncing animation ALWAYS looks too smooth or something.

I'm not a "Star Wars" fan, and I haven't even seen the new movies, but I remember the old ones. I remember the original puppet Jabba character. And I saw the scenes from the re-edited version when an earlier-scene CGI Jabba was added. The puppet looked SO much more real to me. It looked tactile. The CGI looked cold and lifeless.

I like the work in "Walking with Dinosaurs" and "A.I." -- in those films, CGI was used for longshots; puppets were used for closeups.

By the way, though I WISH people would stop relying on CGI (until it gets better), I totally understand the drive to do so. Having dabbled in 3D modelling and animation, I know how powerful it feels to have a model on your PC that you can manipulate however you want. It's SO easy to get wrapped up in that delight and stop caring how real it looks. And since most people don't care, they'll support your decision.

My guess is this issue has been around since the beginning of SFX. Most people saw "Jason and the Argonauts" (or whatever) and got totally caught up in the story. So the effects seemed real to them. A few others -- probably deeply visual people -- watched it and cried "FAKE!" What seems different to me is the current insistence that CGI is the best thing since sliced bread and that it looks utterly real.
posted by grumblebee at 7:05 AM on December 30, 2005

grumblebee, what you're talking about is generally referred to as the Uncanny Valley. Apparently you're not alone.
posted by ab3 at 9:27 AM on December 30, 2005

I'd never want CGI actors to look real. It'd be like the difference between a painting of a person and a photograph of a person (and I'm not saying that there isn't art in photograhy).

I admire the effort put into making CGI characters looks a particular way, and in contrast to 10 years ago, the tools available have increased the options for 3D artists in terms of model complexity and rendering. If it ever comes to a case of making human and animal characters look exactly like real human and animal characters it'd be technologically interesting but we'd lose that CGI feel.
posted by juiceCake at 9:53 AM on December 30, 2005

juiceCake, I understand your sentiment, but I'm not sure we're talking about the same thing (or maybe you watch movies for totally different reasons than I do).

I LOVE stylized work. But when I'm watching -- say -- a WWII movie, I want to really BELIEVE that the hero is riding in a tank. If the tank looks fake, I can't believe it. THAT'S what I'm talking about: when the CGI is used to make effects that blend in seamlessly with everything else. You wouldn't dislike this if it was done well, because you wouldn't even notice it -- just like you don't notice many other effects in movies.

On the other hand, if you're talking about cartoon animation, I agree with you. It saddens me that CGI has completely taken over the field, to the point that Disney is no longer using hand-drawn work. I don't want cartoons to look real.

But there's something perverse about all these CGI people trying really hard to achieve realizim and people like you saying that you hope they don't succeed. Surely the best world would be one in which filmmakers had a tool which could output realism if they wanted it to and stylization if that's what they wanted. I want "Cops" AND "Dick Tracy." I don't want fake-looking characters in "Cops" and I don't want realism in "Dick Tracy"
posted by grumblebee at 10:16 AM on December 30, 2005

juiceCake : "If it ever comes to a case of making human and animal characters look exactly like real human and animal characters it'd be technologically interesting but we'd lose that CGI feel."

Isn't that the intent? Then auteurs can make what they want without worrying about stunts, production costs, taking the whole crew on remote locations, other logistical obstacles. The only real constraint (besides the business ones) will be plausible and compelling storytelling.
posted by Gyan at 7:01 PM on December 30, 2005

To make it look real is one of the intentions, and I'm sure their are budgetary and health concerns, however, I don't believe that fully CGI films are done in CGI just for the looks. The art of motion is important as well and I have no problem with it actually looking entirely real. I simply don't have a problem that it doesn't look real in many cases, at the moment. Nor would I if it didn't in the future. In the case of some of the all CGI films we've seen in the last few years, I don't believe any were done with thought that they look entirely realistic. They were done for the art of making an animated film. The tools are different than traditional animation, but I think some of the objections we're seeing are similar to the objections that may have occured when photography came along (in perceived oppostion to painting.)

In the case of animals, I'd argue that in some cases they do look real (sets and other things that aren't animal in nature have looked real for quite some time). I have no problem with that nor with the objective. In some cases realistic motion is achieved and in some cases it isn't. The motion of expression is extremely difficult and I imagine we're very much tuned into the tiniest expressive indicators which makes facial animation with realistic or close to realistic looking visuals a little odd at times, particularly in humans. Nonetheless, I couldn't care less.

I simply don't understand the objection to CGI as opposed to other types of animation in general, unless of course, you simply don't like it, which is fine. Traditional animation is alive and well (Venture Brothers...) and animation in general continues to evolve, rather nicely it seems to me.

It takes a lot of talent and imagination, as it does in every field, to achieve what has been achieved thus far. That it isn't always perfect is also the case, and I haven't a problem with that either. I agree, the story is key, as is the acting (both voice talent and motion.) Melies and Keaton for example, are a couple of early pioneers, among many, that used celluloid to make illusions. Some of which, are sadly lacking by today's standards. Nonetheless, they gave it a shot, attempting to use tools to express their imagination.

As for worrying about production costs. Rendering, assisstant artists, voice-talent, scouting for textures, etc. would still be rather large to make a film entirely in CGI that looked completely real.

We once had a gig to do an animation of a drop of water dropping into water and forming the usual ripple effect. It was way cheaper and faster to just film one up close and do some colour effects in post. Creating an animation was an option however.
posted by juiceCake at 8:22 PM on December 30, 2005

Interesting post, juiceCake. I suspect we watch films differently. Several times, you meantion that it doesn't bother you when CGI isn't 100% realistic. You talk about how difficult it is to do it well, and how the field of animation keeps improving. I wonder if this is WHY it doesn't bother you. In other words, I wonder if while you're watching a movie, you notice small imperfections and you think, "Well, that's forgivable, because it's really hard to blah blah blah...." This naturally implies that you think about the filmmakers and the filmmaking procress WHILE you're watching the film." There's nothing wrong with doing this (many people do), but it's the exact opposite of what I do (or what I want to do).

I watch movies to FORGET that they are fictions. I only enjoy them when I completely sink into their worlds, as I do in dream worlds. Anything that bursts the bubble, anything that reminds me that the dream is "just a dream" ruins the experience for me. I'm not claiming that this is the "right" way to watch movies -- there IS no write way. But it's my way.

Right or wrong, it's IMPOSSIBLE to watch my way and the other way (you way?) at the same time. You CAN'T be thinking about the technicalities and, at the same time, believe that the movie is real. Maybe some people can go back and forth -- think of it as real in one scene and as a fiction in others -- but that wouldn't be fun for me, and I doubt I could do it. Anyway, these people STILL aren't watching in those two ways at the same time. They're just flipping back and forth really quickly.

So when you see something that is less-than-technically perfect, it MUST remind you that you're watching a fiction that has been CRAFTED BY SOMEONE (someone who is grappling with new, difficult technology). The only way this COULDN'T happen to you is if you never, not even for a moment, thought of the film as real to begin with. If you're not dreaming, you can't awaken. For the sake of argument, I'll imagine this ISN'T the case. I'll imagine you watching "Star Wars" and falling into the belief that it's all real. Then you see some small imperfection in Yoda and realize that it's not real. THIS doesn't bother you. Why not?

Am I right that it doesn't bother you because you then can have a fun time thinking about the technology and the history or animation? Or does it not bother you because you never believed in the first place -- or maybe you did, but that belief isn't really important to you (it's not why you go see movies)?

Let me be clear that I'm NOT championing realism. I liked "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles." Sure, those movies don't look real, but after the first few minutes, my brain assimilates to their conventions -- I get the rules of their cartoonish worlds -- and they too seem real. (Jupiter has different gravity than Earth.) If a totally realistic character strolled into "The Incredibles," this would burst the bubble just as effectively as if a cartoony character walked into "War of the Worlds." (Which is, in fact, what happened. I thought the CGI aliens in the Spielberg version were terrible and TOTALLY fake-looking.) The "rules" of certain fictive worlds demand realism (and my argument is that CGI is often failing to follow these rules).
posted by grumblebee at 7:48 AM on December 31, 2005

grumblebee : "If a totally realistic character strolled into 'The Incredibles,' this would burst the bubble just as effectively as if a cartoony character walked into 'War of the Worlds.'"

Rather than a specific style and its boundaries, this points out how tolerant you are of the extendibility & reorientation of your conception. Upon seeing a cartoon in WotW, some people would think, "Oh, I guessed the conventions wrong" and some would think, "Hey, that's out of place".
posted by Gyan at 5:52 PM on December 31, 2005

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