Реферат: Film Production

Film Production – Computer Graphics Essay, Research Paper

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

the University of Utah and were given free reign to develop both two- and three-dimensional

computer graphics tools. Their goal was to soon produce a full -length computer animated

feature film. The effort, which began in 1973, produced dozens of research papers and

hundreds of new discoveries, but in the end, it was far too early for such a complex

undertaking. The computers of that time were simply too expensive and too under powered, and

the software not nearly developed enough. In fact, the first full length computer generated

feature film was not to be completed until recently in 1995. By 1978, Schure could no longer

justify funding such an expensive effort, and the lab’s funding was cut back. The ironic

thing is that had the Institute decided to patent many more of its researcher’s discoveries

than it did, it would control much of the technology in use today. Fortunately for the

computer industry as a whole, however, this did not happen. Instead, research was made

available to whomever could make good use of it, thus accelerating the technologies

development. Industry’s First Attempts

As NYIT’s influence started to wane, the first wave of commercial computer graphics studios

began to appear. Film visionary George Lucas (creator of Star Wars and Indiana Jones

trilogies) hired Catmull from NYIT in 1978 to start the Lucasfilm Computer Development

Division, and a group of over half-dozen computer graphics studios around the country opened

for business. While Lucas’s computer division began researching how to apply digital

technology to filmmaking, the other studios began creating flying logos and broadcast

graphics for various corporations including TRW, Gillette, the National Football League, and

television programs, such as “The NBC Nightly News” and “ABC World News Tonight.” Although

it was a dream of these initial computer graphics companies to make movies with their

computers, virtually all the early commercial computer graphics were created for television.

It was and still is easier and far more profitable to create graphics for television

commercials than for film. A typical frame of film requires many more computer calculations

than a similar image created for television, while the per-second film budget is perhaps

about one-third as much income. The actual wake-up call to the entertainment industry was

not 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 exciting full-color computer

graphics yet seen. Called the “Genesis Effect,” the sequence starts out with a view of a

dead planet hanging lifeless in space. The camera follows a missiles trail into the planet

that is hit with the Genesis Torpedo. Flames arc outwards and race across the surface of

the planet. The camera zooms in and follows the planets transformation from molten lava to

cool blues of oceans and mountains shooting out of the ground. The final scene spirals the

camera back out into space, revealing the cloud-covered newly born planet. These sixty

seconds may sound uneventful in light of current digital effects, but this remarkable scene

represents many firsts. It required the development of several radically new computer

graphics algorithms, including one for creating convincing computer fire and another to

produce realistic mountains and shorelines from fractal equations. This was all created by

the team at Lucasfilm’s Computer Division. In addition, this sequence was the first time

computer graphics were used as the center of attention, instead of being used merely as a

prop to support other action. No one in the entertainment industry had seen anything like

it, and it unleashed a flood of queries from Hollywood directors seeking to find out both

how it was done and whether an entire film could be created in this fashion. Unfortunately,

with the release of TRON later that same year and The Last 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 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.


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



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.

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”


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