Change usually is a good thing, particularly in the computer graphics industry. For the most part, "change" here means technological advancements. And, as this month’s issue of Computer Graphics World demonstrates, the CG arena continues to "change."
In 1965, Intel co-founder Gordon Moore made a prediction: the number of transistors on a chip will double every two years (though some sources contend his original statement entailed an 18-month, rather than 24-month, time frame). Known as Moore’s Law, his observation has been the rallying cry in a technological revolution. Initially meant to be an observation and a forecast, his comment soon became an accepted timeline for the semiconductor manufacturers and the computer industry in general. The effect of Moore’s Law on the computer graphics industry has been substantial. The reality of more processing power for less money has resulted in a visual evolution for all types of digital imagery.
While the computer industry may gauge the incremental changes of Moore’s Law using numbers and acronyms, in the graphics industry, the changes are visible. It was only a few years ago when animators untapped the power of computer processors to generate never-before-seen water effects for Warner Bros.’ summer blockbuster The Perfect Storm, for which ILM crafted a raging digital ocean using a fluid-flow simulation. Soon thereafter, creating realistic digital water became a little easier to accomplish. For the remake of Warner Bros.’ Poseidon earlier this year, ILM and director Wolfgang Petersen not only made even bigger CG waves, but also increased the realism of the physically accurate simulation. Just recently, Flash Film Works devised a new method for creating digital ocean storms that were the focal points in The Guardian (see "High Seas," pg. 30). This time, the team opted against a procedural method, which saved processing time and gave the director more control over the water.
On the animation front, this year we’ve seen digital creatures (along with vehicles and structures) of all sizes and shapes that can run, hop, skip, jump, and more. This month we will watch penguins dance in Happy Feet, an animated musical (see "Happy Feat," pg. 12). To make photoreal penguins dance, however, was extremely difficult, foremost because of the birds’ anatomy. But once the penguins were modeled and rigged, Animal Logic used state-of-the-art motion capture to give the birds their fancy footwork.
In fact, motion-capture technology as a whole has been evolving by leaps and bounds of late. Two years ago, the general public was introduced to the terms "motion capture" and "performance capture," thanks in large part to the publicity surrounding the digital magic used in The Polar Express. This year, those terms again were used to describe the techniques behind Monster House, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, and Happy Feet. As explained in "Big Moves" on pg. 18, mocap has evolved as a technology as well as a process within a film’s production. Not long ago, animators dreamed of the day when motion capture could be integrated into principal photography; now that dream is a reality.
Some evolutionary steps in computer graphics take longer than 18 months to occur, while others require less time; the important thing is for the technology to continue moving forward. What technical innovation in computer graphics will be waiting for us 18 months from now? I can only imagine.