Issue: Volume: 24 Issue: 4 (April 2001)

Mind Expanding Graphics

After reading from one of the Harry Potter novels with my grade-school-age daughter recently, I casually mused, “Won’t it be great when the movie comes out, and we can see what everything looks like?”

"NO, THAT WILL RUIN IT!" she blurted. "I have a picture in my mind of how everything looks, and so do all my friends, and we see things differently," she explained. "Like, I think the scar on Harry's forehead goes straight up and down, but some think it goes sideways. How could that be? But that's what makes it so much fun."

Gee, I thought, are the artists and animators that create fantastic scenes and special effects for movies such as Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (scheduled to be released this November) ruining the fun for people who want to invent fantasy worlds in their own minds? Have we reached a point where artists can create images of anything they can dream up with such realism that nothing is left to the imagination?

Before getting too carried away, I figured I should check in with readers, who, after all, have probably spent more time looking at computer graphics imagery than any other group and therefore could best speak to the issue. So in a recent issue of our weekly e-mail newsletter, we surveyed readers to see if they felt that their imagination has been expanded or has atrophied as a result of computer graphics. Here's what we asked:

"As you're reading a novel, do you feel that your ability to imagine the scenes and actions being de scribed-particularly those that might conjure up fantastical imagery-has been enhanced by the many computer graphics images and effects you have seen over the years? Or, do you rely less on your own imagination, preferring instead to wait to see a graphical representation of such scenes created by someone else, perhaps in a movie version of the novel?"

Well, the results are in, and I'm pleased to report that the majority of respondents feel that their imagination has not suffered from viewing computer graphics imagery, but has been stimulated by it. Moreover, for some, the act of creating computer art, compared to just looking at it, appears to play an even greater role in expanding the imagination. At the same time, respondents would rather not wait to see a movie version of a novel, but prefer to create their own mental pictures first. What follows are excerpts from some of the many thoughtful comments we received:

  • I believe that my work in 3D and my enjoyment of 3D imagery has enhanced my imaginative state in all areas. I don't look forward to movie adaptations of novels I have read, because that spoils the visuals in my head. For example, I probably won't see the Harry Potter movie for that very reason. I want to finish the series, all seven books, with my own vision and not allow the limits of the studio film to inhibit my imagination. But I also look forward to seeing what others can create that my mind didn't catch, so I'll definitely check it out after the series is finished. I think the creation of visuals in movies has allowed our minds to expand into ever more fantastical realms than would have been possible before. -Shawn Sedoff
  • Did Impressionism constrict the imagination of artists to come? Did Picasso and Dali destroy artistic creativity for generations of future painters? Did studying classical violin crimp Carlos Santana's innovative music? Did listening to Bach limit Beethoven? Name any artist, in any medium, and chances are they thoroughly studied the greats that preceded them. The more the artist is known for breaking barriers, the more likely this is to be true. Every thing we witness in life, every experience we have, enlarges our minds and gives more room for our imaginations and creativity to soar. Of course, computer graphics has affected the imagination of every one of us and, as always, we are better off for it. All artists are limited by the tools available. A cartoonist is restricted by the black-and-white line art of his or her medium. A film producer's tools have certainly expanded greatly in recent years, and will continue to do so. But for the producer of the movie version of a novel to be able to paint a more vivid image than the writer of that novel can with his words-that will be a long time coming. -Bill Bennett
  • One's visual vocabulary grows much like one's verbal vocabulary. The more one sees, the more one reads, the greater the mental library from which one can draw when creating new imagery and prose. Reading a great deal of science fiction, along with the programming of scientific visualization tools, has a created an interesting imagination conflict: A movie made from a book I've read sometimes looks "wrong" because the director created different images than I had created while reading the story. Usually the movie in my head, generated using the library of images from computer graphics, is much more satisfying. -Kent Eschenberg
  • I always prefer to read the book first and then see the movie. With this order, you can enjoy how the movie was made as much as the story. I very much enjoy seeing other people's visions-after I've had a chance to think for myself. -Jeffrey Schwalm

  • Graphics definitely enhance the imagination. This occurred years ago for me when reading science-fiction novels with covers that portrayed fantastic worlds, monsters, or devices. These cover images impacted the mind's view all through the novel. Computer graphics are an extension of that. Even more so than static art, graphics show us images in 3D and movement. I think we all have a better understanding now of what dinosaurs must have looked like in the flesh-eating, fighting, and moving about. We live in a fantastic age, and I for one love the way it has opened our eyes. -Daryl Crowley
  • Many times I find myself looking at beautiful scenery or objects and immediately begin to conjure graphic images in my mind and imagine how I might duplicate what I am seeing on my computer screen. I believe this definitely stirs creative juices. However, there is a downside: When I am watching movies, especially effects-laden pictures, I sometimes am distracted from the action as I try to figure out how an effect is created. In this way, I believe my ability to suspend disbelief is hampered, and that particular use of the imagination becomes affected. -Gerald Natal
  • I think that computer graphics have opened up my mind to what is possible. Whenever I read a book, I think of the beauty in the scene and about how great it would be to recreate that beauty in a movie myself. I think this opening up of my imagination has given me lots of inspiration to work harder at mastering this. -Kito Berg-Taylor
  • I'd almost always rather visualize scenes myself, rather than "wait for someone else," but I do look forward to seeing what others do. That's the charm of art, to me. -James Poulakos
  • I still use my imagination when I am reading and any other time it is needed. The computer graphics enhancements are great, but they are from someone else's imagination, and a lot of time they are not as detailed as what I can come up with. So I appreciate what I see, but I do not by any stretch of the imagination let it imagine for me. -Tom La Bron
  • I bought an Amiga computer in October 1985, and since then when I read, drive, or walk, my mind is always creating some kind of imagery. -Albert Bartlett
  • I still prefer to read a story rather than see it truncated and watered down through a film. Actually, the best medium for creative visual expression I've found is comic books and graphic novels. These forms of visual representation contains just enough suggestion, like impressionism, to convey the intent, and then my own imagination can fill in the details in such a manner that exceeds any artists' capabilities. -Blake Senftner
  • Yes, I do believe computer graphics has affected my imagination. Computer graphics has given me the tools to express myself creatively. What is curious is that I had no idea how much imagery I had going on in my head until I painted on the screen with my mouse. I delight at how fast, what I see in my mind, suddenly appears before me. Computer graphics has opened up many creative channels to discover. -Nanette Purcigliotti

Thanks to all who responded to our poll. To read the unabridged text of these and other comments, visit the Surveys section of our Web site at

Phil LoPiccolo: Editor-in-Chief