Issue No. 01 - January-February (1998 vol. 18)
Fewer than 20 years ago the application of computer graphics to entertainment could be comprehensively reported in a single article. 1 In those days image synthesis had just begun to come into its own as a method of creating flying logos for video and simple, cartoon-like special effects for feature films. Today the use of computer graphics in entertainment reaches far and wide. It has become routine in producing special effects that range from unimaginably dazzling to so realistic as to be completely unnoticeable. Computer graphics forms the core of computer games for play at home and in arcades. Increasing power in both general-purpose and special-purpose processors has brought three-dimensional interactivity to children's playrooms.
As computer graphics progressed from an expensive studio tool to a feature of a common home appliance, the business aspects of its application have taken on greater significance. According to the Interactive Digital Software Association, the outlook for strong growth of the PC and video game software business is bright, fueled in part by the growing installed base of hardware: Currently there are six million advanced video game systems in American homes, and the number should reach 30 million by 1998. 2 The IDSA estimates 21.9 million multimedia PCs in the US, growing to 75.6 million by 2001. Excellent prospects in overseas markets also contribute to the positive outlook, with the report estimating a worldwide market of $10 billion for entertainment software.
Naturally, a business this big attracts much attention, in the form of publications and conferences. A recent issue of Computer Graphics, a quarterly publication of the Association of Computing Machinery, had a focus on "Entertaining the Future" including brief articles by writers from Industrial Light and Magic, Pixar, Jim Henson's Creature Shop, Pacific Data Images, New Wave Entertainment, Digital Domain, and Rhythm & Hues Studios. The Computer and Telecommunications Board of the National Research Council just published a 181-page report entitled "Modeling and Simulation: Linking Entertainment to Defense." The report builds on a workshop that brought together members of the entertainment industry and the defense modeling and simulation community to identify research areas of common interest and examine ways in which the two communities can better leverage each other's capabilities.
There have been and will continue to be a number of conferences devoted to the entertainment industry, including the annual Computer Games Developers' Conference (CGDC), the Electronics Entertainment Expo (E3), and the Jupiter Communications Online Games Conference and Expo (held November 19-21, 1997 in Los Angeles, California).
This degree of interest and exposure makes it difficult to shape a comprehensive overview of the topic in a special magazine issue. Instead, we provide samples that touch on some of the more interesting and timely subjects. This special issue of CG&A includes representative samples of technical articles, commentary, and application notes describing current uses of computer graphics technology in entertainment applications. The issue includes two editorial surveys, a technical survey, an application article, and an application note. Collectively they address many problems, offer some solutions, and demonstrate a wealth of experience in film, video, and interactive games. Some of these articles dwell on content, some concentrate on technology, and some bridge the two.
In "Technology-Based Out-of-Home Entertainment," John Latta looks at location-based entertainment from a business perspective, exposing some of the pitfalls of paying for high technology in public places. In a second editorial, entitled "CGI Training for the Entertainment Film Industry," Jackie Morie argues for a revamped curriculum to educate content creators. She further points out that a broader curriculum wouldn't hurt some of us on the technical side as well.
Behaviors are one of the hottest research topics in computer graphics. In day-to-day use as well, games and animation employ motion capture to reproduce realistic behavior. In "Computer Puppetry," David Sturman provides a general overview plus a look at how a specific system transfers captured human motion to synthetic characters.
The "About the Cover" column in this issue, "Beyond the Virtual Salon—Software Games for Girls," explores relationships between content and technology. Both game developers and researchers are finding that gender-specific preferences for style and content may steer game designers toward 2D cartoon-like artwork rather than flashier 3D graphics when designing games for girls.
Finally, the issue would not be complete without touching on the nuts and bolts of 3D graphics for games. In "Designing a PC Game Engine," Lars Bishop and his coauthors describe the internals of a commercial 3D foundation library designed for real-time interactive applications. They enumerate a series of techniques designed to accelerate games executed in complex geometric environments. In the application sketch "Taking a 2D Educational Title into 3D," Pat Gelband, Sid Weber, and Susan Fryer relate their experience of moving a 2D children's game to 3D. This transition provided a special opportunity to compare 2D to 3D navigation by young users.
This issue provides a brief snapshot of applications of computer graphics to entertainment. Given the dramatic growth of these applications, we cannot cover the breadth we might desire. For example, while most of the articles focus on 3D interactive entertainment, the film industry is quietly assimilating more and more computer graphics technology. None of the articles focus explicitly on networked games or other forms of distributed entertainment. Readers can be certain that there is much more to learn about electronic entertainment in the years to come and in future issues.
Carl Machover is president of Machover Associates Corporation, a computer graphics consultancy. He is also an adjunct professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI), president of Art + Science Collaborations, Inc. (ASCI), past president of the National Computer Graphics Association (NCGA), a member of the Society for Information Display (SID) and Computer Graphics Pioneers, and serves on the editorial board of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications magazine and many other industry publications. He is History chair for Siggraph 98 and writes and lectures world-wide on all aspects of computer graphics.
Nick England is a research professor in the Computer Science Department of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, where he is part of the team that designed PixelFlow, a massively parallel scalable computer graphics system. He is currently working on a project to develop hardware acceleration for image-based rendering techniques. In addition, he has long been interested in visualization problems, particularly volume exploration and rendering.England was founder and president of Trancept Systems and founder and president of Ikonas Graphics Systems. He has fun racing vintage sports cars and restoring and operating vintage amateur radio equipment.
Turner Whitted recently joined Microsoft as a senior researcher. He has been a research professor of computer science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill for the past 14 years as well as a cofounder and director of Numerical Design Limited. Prior to that he was a technical staff member in Bell Labs' computer systems research laboratory. He earned BSE and MS degrees in electrical engineering from Duke University and a PhD from North Carolina State University. He is an Associate Editor-in-Chief of IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications, was papers chair for Siggraph 97, and is an ACM Fellow.