Issue: Volume: 25 Issue: 1 (January 2002)

Turning Twenty-Five

Intelligent simulation: One of the next big achievements will be to give intelligence to dynamic simulations, says Habib Zargarpour, a two-time Academy Award-nominated special effects animator at Industrial Light & Magic. This is already occurring to some extent. One example is the pod crash scene from Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace, involving some 12,000 pieces of debris that had to fly off the pods and break apart. Because of the sheer complexity of how the pieces interacted with each other and the environment, a lot of the decisions about the simulation had to be left to procedural dynamics techniques, he says. Another example is the fluid-dynamics simulations of the ocean in The Perfect Storm. Because these involved the interaction of hundreds of millions of water particles, they also had to be produced procedurally. As animators come to depend more on these techniques, they will be able to create simulations with even greater complexity and realism.

Perceptual graphics: Another breakthrough will be to incorporate what we know about human visual perception into computer graphics visualizations and simulations, says David Ebert, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Purdue University. This technique will be critical in enabling users to deal with the many gigabytes and terabytes of data now being used for visualizations and simulations in fields ranging from filmmaking to scientific research. This data deluge is causing severe bottlenecks, not only for the computers processing and transferring ever larger images, but also for the viewers. Indeed, it could take months or years to look at all the values at every point in a terabyte data set. Fortunately, users don't need to look at all that data, he says. They only need to see what's essential. Where is the tumor? What makes that character move correctly? We need to ask what not to show, because people are able to see certain aspects of an image and fill in the rest themselves. Look at classical paintings. We perceive detail, but when we get up close, we realize it's not there. If graphics developers can build into their algorithms what artists have known for centuries about human perception, they will create images that are far more effective and efficient.

We hope you will enjoy our look into the past and the future. If you gain the same perspective we did, we think you'll agree that the best is yet to come.