From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
2D CGI was first used in movies in 1973's Westworld, though the first use of 3D Wireframe imagery was in its sequel, Futureworld (1976), which featured a computer-generated hand and face created by then University of Utah graduate students Edwin Catmull and Fred Parke. The third movie to use this technology was Star Wars (1977) for the scenes with the Wireframe Death Star plans. The first two films to make heavy investments in Solid 3D CGI, Tron (1982) and The Last Starfighter (1984), were commercial failures, causing most directors to relegate CGI to images that were supposed to look like they were created by a computer.
The first real CGI character was created by Pixar for the film Young Sherlock Holmes in 1985 (not counting the simple polyhedron character Bit in Tron).The technology emerged from New York Institute of Technology. It took the form of a knight composed of elements from a stained glass window. CGI did not win over the motion picture industry until 1989, however, when The Abyss won the Academy Award for Visual Effects. Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) produced complex CGI visual effects, most notably a seawater creature dubbed the pseudopod, featuring in one scene of the film. CGI then took a central role in Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), in which the T-1000 Terminator villain wowed audiences with liquid metal and morphing effects fully integrated into action sequences throughout the film. Terminator 2 also won ILM an Oscar for its effects.
It was the 1993 film Jurassic Park, however, in which dinosaurs created with CGI were seamlessly integrated into live action scenes, that revolutionized the movie industry. It marked Hollywood’s transition from stop-motion animation and conventional optical effects to digital techniques. The following year, CGI was used to create the special effects for Forrest Gump. The most noteworthy effects shots were the digital removal of actor Gary Sinise's legs. Other effects included a napalm strike, the fast-moving Ping-Pong balls, and the digital insertion of Tom Hanks into several scenes of historical footage.
2D CGI increasingly appeared in traditionally animated films, where it supplemented the use of hand-illustrated cels. Its uses ranged from digital tweening motion between frames, to eye-catching quasi-3D effects such as the ballroom scene in Beauty and the Beast.
In 1993, Babylon 5 became the first television series to use CGI as the primary method for its visual effects (rather than using hand-built models). It also marked the first TV use of virtual sets. That same year,Insektors became the first full length completely computer animated TV series. Soon after, in 1994, the hit Canadian show ReBoot was aired.
In 1995, the first fully computer-generated feature film, Pixar's (The Walt Disney Company) Toy Story, was a resounding commercial success. Additional digital animation studios such as Blue Sky Studios (Fox), DNA Productions (Paramount Pictures and Warner Bros.), Omation Studios (Paramount Pictures), Sony Pictures Animation (Columbia Pictures), Vanguard Animation (Walt Disney Pictures, Lions Gate Films and 20th Century Fox), Big Idea Productions (Universal Pictures and FHE Pictures),Animal Logic (Warner Bros.) and Pacific Data Images (Dreamworks SKG) went into production, and existing animation companies such as The Walt Disney Company began to make a transition from traditional animation to CGI.
Between 1995 and 2005 the average effects budget for a wide-release feature film skyrocketed from $5 million to $40 million. According to one studio executive, as of 2005, more than half of feature films have significant effects. Although, CGI has made up for the expenditures by grossing over 20% more than their real-life counterparts.
In the early 2000s, computer-generated imagery became the dominant form of special effects. The technology progressed to the point that it became possible to include virtual stunt doubles. Camera tracking software was refined to allow increasingly complex visual effects developments that were previously impossible. Computer-generated extras also became used extensively in crowd scenes with advanced flocking and crowd simulation software. The timeline of CGI in movies shows a detailed list of pioneering uses of computer-generated imagery in film and television.
CGI for films is usually rendered at about 1.4–6 megapixels. Toy Story, for example, was rendered at 1536 × 922 (1.42MP). The time to render one frame is typically around 2–3 hours, with ten times that for the most complex scenes. This time hasn't changed much in the last decade, as image quality has progressed at the same rate as improvements in hardware, since with faster machines, more and more complexity becomes feasible. Exponential increases in GPUs processing power, as well as massive increases in parallel CPU power, storage and memory speed and size have greatly increased CGI's potential.
In 2001, Square Pictures created the CGI film Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, which made headlines for attempting to create photo-realistic human actors. The film was not a box-office success. Some commentators have suggested this may be partly because the lead CGI characters had facial features which fell into the uncanny valley. Square Pictures produced only one more film, using a similar visual style (Final Flight of the Osiris, a short film which served as a prologue to The Matrix Reloaded).
Another production which uses CGI almost entirely is Code Lyoko, a youth television show regarding a virtual world called Lyoko, its gateway to the real world, and the computer program planning to take over the world, Xana (Code Lyoko). The show is partially 2D animated, and partially CGI animated. 2D animation describes the real world, where CGI rendering describes the virtual world of Lyoko, after the show's main characters have been scanned and converted into it.
Developments in CGI technologies are reported each year at SIGGRAPH, an annual conference on computer graphics and interactive techniques, attended each year by tens of thousands of computer professionals.
Developers of computer games and 3D video cards strive to achieve the same visual quality on personal computers in real-time as is possible for CGI films and animation. With the rapid advancement of real-time rendering quality, artists began to use game engines to render non-interactive movies. This art form is called machinima.
- Animation database
- Digital image
- Ray tracing (graphics)
- Virtual human
- VPH NoE
- Virtual Physiological Human