Computer Graphics

Computer graphics is a sub-field of computer science and is concerned with digitally synthesizing and manipulating visual content. Although the term often refers to three-dimensional computer graphics, it also encompasses two-dimensional graphics and image processing. Computer graphics is often differentiated from the field of visualization, although the two have many similarities.

A broad classification of major subfields in computer graphics might be:

  1. Geometry: studies ways to represent and process surfaces
  2. Animation: studies with ways to represent and manipulate motion
  3. Rendering: studies algorithms to reproduce light transport
  4. Imaging: studies image acquisition or image editing


Artistic rendering

Rendering in visual art and technical drawing means the process of creating, shading and texturing of an image, especially a photorealistic one. It can also be used to describe the quality of execution of that process. This is synonymous with illustrating.

The emphasis of the term is on the correct reproduction of light-and-shadow and the surface properties of the depicted objects, not on the emotional impact, composition, or other more generic qualities. Unsurprisingly, most often it is used in relation to the more exacting, meticulous techniques like pencil or airbrush.

In an artistic rendering visual information is interpreted by the artist and displayed accordingly using the chosen medium. The non-photorealistic rendering area of computer graphics develops tools and techniques to enable interpretive rendering in digital media.


3D computer graphics


3D computer graphics (in contrast to 2D computer graphics) are graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data that is stored in the computer for the purposes of performing calculations and rendering 2D images. Such images may be for later display or for real-time viewing.

 Despite these differences, 3D computer graphics rely on many of the same algorithms as 2D computer vector graphics in the wire frame model and 2D computer raster graphics in the final rendered display. In computer graphics software, the distinction between 2D and 3D is occasionally blurred; 2D applications may use 3D techniques to achieve effects such as lighting, and primarily 3D may use 2D rendering techniques.

3D computer graphics are often referred to as 3D models. Apart from the rendered graphic, the model is contained within the graphical data file. However, there are differences. A 3D model is the mathematical representation of any three-dimensional object (either inanimate or living). A model is not technically a graphic until it is visually displayed. Due to 3D printing, 3D models are not confined to virtual space. A model can be displayed visually as a two-dimensional image through a process called 3D rendering, or used in non-graphical computer simulations and calculations.


History of 3D Graphics

One of the first displays of computer animation was Futureworld (1976), which included an animation of a human face and hand — produced by Ed Catmull and Fred Parke at the University of Utah.

There are several international conferences and journals where the most significant results in computer graphics are published. Among them are the SIGGRAPH and Eurographics conferences and the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) Transactions on Graphics journal. The joint Eurographics and ACM SIGGRAPH symposium series features the major venues for the more specialized sub-fields: Symposium on Geometry Processing,Symposium on Rendering, and Symposium on Computer Animation. As in the rest of computer science, conference publications in computer graphics are generally more significant than journal publications (and subsequently have lower acceptance rates).


3D computer graphics software

3D computer graphics software refers to programs used to create 3D computer-generated imagery. There are typically many stages in the "pipeline" that studios use to create 3D objects for film and games, and this article only covers some of the software used. Note that most of the 3D packages have a very plugin-oriented architecture, and high-end plugins costing tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars are often used by studios. Larger studios usually create enormous amounts of proprietary software to run alongside these programs.

If you are just getting started out in 3D, one of the major packages is usually sufficient to begin learning. Remember that 3D animation can be very difficult, time-consuming, and unintuitive; a teacher or a book will likely be necessary. Most of the high-end packages have free versions designed for personal learning.

  • 3ds Max (Autodesk), originally called 3D Studio MAX. 3ds Max is used in many industries that utilize 3D graphics. It is used in the video game industry for developing models and creating cinema cut-scenes. It is used in architectural visualizations because it is highly compatible with AutoCAD--also developed by Autodesk. Additionally 3ds Max is used in film production, one contemporary film being Kaena: The Prophecy[1]. With its price of around $3500 USD, it is one of the more expensive products in the market for this type of work. 3ds Max is available for Windows. 3DS Max is currently at version "2008" (v10).
  • AC3D (Inivis) is another 3D modeling application that began in the 90's on the Amiga platform. While it is used in a number of industries, MathWorks actively recommends it in many of their aerospace related articles[2] due to price and compatibility. Additionally it is the first commercial 3D modeler to integrate full support for exporting models to the metaverse platform Second Life. AC3D is priced in the range of $79 USD and is available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. While AC3D does not feature its own renderer, it can generate output files for both RenderMan and POV-Ray among others.
  • Blender (Blender Foundation) is a free, open-source, 3D studio for animation, modeling, rendering, and texturing offering a feature set comparable to high end and mid range 3D animation suites such as Maya, 3ds Max, or Cinema 4D. It includes features such as multi-resolution sculpting; retopology painting. Additionally it supports 3D view texture painting; stack based modifier system; flexible particle system with particle based hair; cloth/soft body dynamics, rigid body dynamics and fluid simulation; node based texturing and node based compositing; an integrated non linear video editor; and integrated game engine. Blender is developed under the GPL and is available on all major platforms including Windows, OS X, Linux, BSD, Sun, and Irix. It is currently the only 3D animation suite that is supported both on super computers as well as handheld computers such as the Pocket PC (Pocket Blender).
  • Cinema 4D (MAXON) is a slightly lighter package than the others in its basic configuration. The software is claimed to be artist-friendly, and is designed with the less-technical user in mind. It has a lower initial entry cost due to a modular a-la-carte design for purchasing additional functions as users need them. For example, a module called BodyPaint allows artists to draw textures directly onto the surface of models. Originally developed for the Commodore Amiga it is also available for Mac OS X, Windows and Linux. Cinema 4D is currently at version 10.5
  • Electric Image Animation System (EI Technology Group) is a 3D animation and rendering package available on both Mac OS X and Windows. Mostly known for its rendering quality and rendering speed it does not include a built-in modeler. EIAS features the ability to handle very large polygon counts. Recently, the blockbuster film "Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl"[3] and the Television hit "Lost"[4] utilized the software.
  • form-Z (autodessys, Inc.) is a general purpose solid/surface 3D modeler. Its primary usage is modeling, and it also features rendering and animation support. form-Z claims users involved in architecture, interior design, illustration, product design, and set design. Its default renderer uses the LightWorks rendering engine for raytracing and radiosity. form-Z also supports Plugins and Scripts and has rendering support via Next Limit's Maxwell Renderer. It has Import/Export capabilities and was first released in 1991. It is currently available for both Mac OS X and Windows. The price for this software ranges from $1495-$2390USD based on output quality.
  • Houdini (Side Effects Software) is used for visual effects, and character animation as well as used in Disney's The Wild[5]. Houdini uses a nonstandard interface that it refers to as a "NODE system". Commercial licenses of Houdini include unlimited copies of Side Effects Software's hybrid micropolygon-raytracer renderer, Mantra, but Houdini also has built-in support for commercial renderers like Pixar's RenderMan and mental ray. There are two versions of Houdini, Houdini Escape ($1,995 USD) and Houdini Master ($7,995 USD). For non-commercial users, Side Effects Software offers the free Houdini Apprentice personal learning edition, which places a small watermark on images, and Houdini Apprentice HD, a $99 USD package that does not watermark renders. Houdini is currently at version 9.
  • LightWave 3D (NewTek) originally developed on for the Amiga, LightWave 3D was originally bundled as part of the Video Toaster package and entered the market as a low cost way for TV production companies to create quality CG for their programming. It first gained public notoriety with its use in the TV series "Babylon 5"[6]. Contemporary use in TV and movie production can be seen with the 2004 recreated Battlestar Galactica series[7], CSI: Crime Scene Investigation[8] and the film 300 (film)[9]. It is priced at $795 USD and is available for both Wkindows and Mac OS X. Lightwave's current version is Version 9.3.1
  • Massive is a 3D animation system for generating crowd-related visual effects, targeted for use in film and television. Originally developed for controlling the large-scale CGI battles in the Lord of the Rings[10], Massive Software has become an industry standard for digital crowd control in high end animation. Recently, the software has been utilized for blockbuster feature films including Happy Feet, King Kong, and I, Robot. It is available for various Unix and Linux platforms as well as Windows.
  • Maya (Autodesk) is currently used in the film and television industry. Maya has a high learning curve but has developed over the years into an application platform in and of itself through extendability via its MEL programming language. A common alternative to using the default built in rendering system named mental ray is Pixar's Renderman. In 2005, Autodesk (makers of AutoCAD), acquired Alias--the original creator of Maya[11]. Maya comes in two versions: Maya Complete ($1999 USD) and Maya Unlimited ($6999 USD). There is also Maya Personal Learning Edition, which is for non-commercial use and puts watermarks on any rendered images. The current version of Maya is "2008" (v9)
  • Modo (Luxology) is a subdivision modeling, texturing and rendering tool. Recently, version 301 added animation capabilities for camera motion and morphs / blendshapes. It is priced in the area of 895$ USD and is available for both Windows and Mac OS X. Modo's current version is 301.
  • Silo (Nevercenter) is a subdivision-surface modeler available for Mac OS X and Windows, with a Linux version in development. Silo does not include a renderer and is priced in the area of $109 USD. Silo is the bundled in modeler for the Electric Image Animation System suite.
  • SketchUp Pro (Google) is a 3D modeling package that features a sketch-based modeling approach and is priced at $495 USD.
  • Softimage|XSI (Avid) is feature-similar Maya and is sold as a completive alternative. Prior to its acquisition by Avid, Softimage originally promoted the program (under the name Softimage 3D) for use in the video game industry and secured its promotion as part of the Nintendo N64 SDK[12]. The newer Softimage XSI has additional features and integrates with mental ray rendering. XSI's current version is version 6.5.
  • solidThinking (solidThinking Ltd) is a 3D solid/surface modeling and rendering software which features a Construction Tree method of development. This is explained as the history of the model construction process allowes real-time updates when modifications are made to points, curves, parameters or entire objects. solidThinking is available in four versions: MODELER, MODELER XL, DESIGN, and VANTAGE.
  • trueSpace (Caligari Corporation) is another 3D program available for Windows, although the company Caligari first found its start on the Amiga platform. trueSpace features modeling, animation, 3D-painting, and rendering capabilities. It is priced in the range of $199 USD for Version 5.2 through $595 USD for Version 7. The current version is 7.5
  • Vue 6 (E-on Software) Vue 6 is a tool for creating, animating and rendering natural 3D environments. It was most recently used to create the background jungle environments in the 2nd and 3rd Pirates of the Caribbean films[13]. The current version is v6.5
  • ZBrush (Pixologic) is a digital sculpting tool that combines 3D/2.5D modeling, texturing and painting tool available for Mac OS X and Windows. It is priced at $489 USD.The current version of Zbrush is V3.


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