The Passion Still Burns
Issue: Volume 35 Issue 6: (Oct/Nov 2012)

The Passion Still Burns

It’s hard to believe. Computer Graphics World is celebrating its 35th birthday this year, and we have dedicated this issue as our present to you, our loyal readers. For many companies, it is a big accomplishment to be in business that long. In publishing, it is a really big accomplishment.

CGW has been covering innovation in computer graphics since the early days of the industry, right around the time when Microsoft and Apple were getting started. It was just after Martin Newell developed the CG teapot, and just a couple of years after SIGGRAPH held its first conference. That’s when Joel and N’omi Orr founded the “Computer Graphics Newsletter,” which soon after became Computer Graphics World magazine under the ownership of Randall Stickrod.

In celebration of this milestone, we are dedicating a section of this issue to big moments from the past—both yours and ours. Iconic characters that have appeared in the pages of CGW over the years grace the cover of this issue and the opening section of our “walk down memory lane.” We have included a condensed version of the story of computer graphics—interesting facts that I hope you enjoy as much as I did researching our industry’s history. In addition, there is a selection of CGW covers that represent important graphic developments. The biggest blast from the past comes in the “archives” section, snapshots of landmark industry events that were detailed in previous issues.

To kicks things off, I asked some key players of our industry, some pioneers, if you will, to talk about those early days when CGW—and the industry itself—was just getting started. Sit back and enjoy, and thanks for celebrating this anniversary with us!

JOEL ORR has been involved in the worlds of computer graphics since 1972 and is now a consultant. He started a newsletter that eventually became CGW.

The Early Days

I STARTED THE PREDECESSOR of Computer Graphics World, the “Computer Graphics Newsletter,” in October of 1976. There were no publications addressing applications and commercial aspects of computer graphics at the time, and only one US-based technical pub (Computer Graphics, from ACM SIGGRAPH).

I had pioneered a municipal GIS system for metro Nashville, and later one for Milwaukee. I had begun speaking and writing about the potential of using computers to make pictures, and was excited about it. CG devices were expensive and cranky; a variety of technologies were competing for dominance in the input, display, and output domains—things like Direct View Storage Tubes, digitizing tablets, calligraphic displays, and many varieties of pen plotters. The dominant computers in the world of graphics were called minicomputers—DEC PDP-11s, Data General Novas and Eclipses, and Prime machines. There were some systems based on IBM mainframes, too.

I wrote the newsletter content and my late wife, N’omi, did the typing (yes, typing!) and layout. I took Polaroid pictures at shows. Layout was literally cut-and-paste with X-Acto knives and rubber cement. My son John printed the newsletter on our own offset printing press, and we folded and stapled them by hand. Of course, they were in black-and-white with limited graphics. N’omi drew a cover cartoon for each issue, and they were very popular with the readers. Ads were from companies like Calcomp (long gone), M&S Computing (now Intergraph), and Synercom (also gone).

Mapping and GIS applications were in the vanguard before CAD took off, and so much of our coverage was about that world. Around the beginning of 1978, Randy Stickrod (who had also been a municipal GIS pioneer) made us an offer for “CGN,” and began publishing what was first called Computer Graphics, then Computer Graphics World, in glorious color.

CG is now inseparable from computing. Even though I’ve accompanied the stupendous and transformational changes wrought by CG technology since the early ’70s, I’m still awestruck by them and feel privileged to have known many of the great people who were instrumental in bringing them about.

I’ve written occasional pieces for CGW, and have always felt a paternal pride in the magazine. Several of its editors and writers have been personal friends of mine. I am delighted that it has survived the technological tides and tsunamis of the past 35 years, and I hope for its continued success!

RANDALL STICKROD became involved with computer graphics in the early 1970s, eventually becoming the founder and editor/publisher of Computer Graphics World. Presently, he is an entrepreneur, including a principal at Sociative, a content delivery start-up.

THOSE OF US who have been around long enough (30 years or so is a pretty useful frame of reference) have quite a perspective on computer graphics. It’s literally hard to imagine today how primitive, how challenging the very notion of creating and displaying visual information on a computer screen was back then. And more importantly, how many events had to converge in order for us to have the rich array of graphics technologies and capabilities so ubiquitous as they are now.

The very concept of a pixel was a revolutionary development in display technology not all that long ago, first appearing in this magazine sometime in the early 1980s, on the heels of a rush of breakthrough semiconductor developments in low-cost RAM that made bit mapping a full screen a practical consideration. At the same time, a handful of people from Caltech, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the University of Utah, Xerox PARC, and so forth were creating the algorithms that became the foundation of the vast body of graphics software that persists today in our smartphones and tablets, thanks in part to the emergence of programming languages that made it conceivable to write code that centered on objects that constitute the elements of visual displays.

A great deal of the history of computing reduces to simply technology being pushed to become cheaper and faster, an evolutionary process that can be breathtaking but somewhat lacking in inspiration. The history of computer graphics, though, is marked by milestones of real triumphs of ingenuity and imagination. The magic of a Pixar movie, for instance, is an almost inconceivable convergence of creative brilliance in partnership with technology that continues to advance at a rate that is a match for any of the notable developments of industrial civilization. It is an honor to have been associated in even a peripheral way with this stunning application of technology to every dimension of human affairs.

(Top Left)The July 1982 issue also featured this image from Blade Runner, accomplished using model shots and painted backgrounds.(Middle)In the July 1985 issue was Robert Abel’s Sexy Robot, which marked two TV firsts: an image that seems to have been made from reflective metal and one with human-like motion.(Top Right)Featured in the July 1982 issue was this computer simulation of tree growth, using color to distinguish live and dead tree trunks.

KATHLEEN MAHER is the former editor of Cadence Magazine and currently editor in chief of JPR’s “Tech Watch Report” and a CGW contributing editor.

I ENTERED THE WORLD of technical pubs a mere infant and pretty innocent about the business and the types of publications there were. I was hired by Ariel Publishing to work on Cadence Magazine, an AutoCAD magazine. I followed in the very popular footsteps of Amy Rowell who left Cadence to work at Computer Graphics World. Looking over the landscape, I thought Rowell got a pretty good gig.

So, a couple of things about those days. First of all, there were not many magazines covering computer graphics. CGW showcased gorgeous examples of computer graphics work, accomplished through an inconceivable amount of work using primitive tools. Renderings took days and days and weeks, and big projects took years. CGW functioned as an inspirational guide for computer artists and also showed the outside world the miracles that were being created in those beige boxes. I looked longingly at the stories in CGW and sought out similar stories for Cadence.

As an example, I wrote a story about Matt Elson’s character Lotta Desire in 1989 because she was an astounding example of character animation using Symbolics graphics software (which was sold to Nichimen and eventually became Mirai). She starred in an animation short called “Little Death.” An outraged letter writer said he hoped I didn’t plan to turn Cadence Magazine into a porn magazine. So, were those stories relevant to my readers struggling to make AutoCAD draw the floor plan for a house? I thought so, and I still do. The people working with computer graphics tools in those days may have been doing drafting jobs in the daytime, but they aspired to do much more with computer graphics—and they did. I used to get amazing pieces of work done by people in their spare time. Many of the writers I worked with at Cadence went on to become computer graphics artists. They went to work in the film industry, in TV, or they became visualization artists for architects. Often their work was beautifully displayed in CGW.

Little did we all know the changes that would come to the world of technical publishing. Magazines became extremely specialized, and they also became extinct as the information they provided became widely and freely available. CGW continues, though, because it still serves as a source of inspiration for people working in the various fields of computer graphics. I have found that creative people are interested in a broad range of work being done in related industries. Ideas don’t fit in boxes, and CGW doesn’t either. Happy 35.

JON PEDDIE is one of the true pioneers of the CG industry. Today he serves as president of Jon Peddie Research, the industry’s leading consulting and market research firm.

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Computer Graphics World magazine in 1979, almost on its first birthday. I visited the founder/publisher, Randy Stickrod, in his subterranean office behind the US Mint building in downtown San Francisco. I was running a GIS company with advanced graphics, and I very much wanted to get Randy’s attention and have him do a story on our company, COMARC. I can’t remember if he did do a story or not, but we became friends and have been ever since. When my partners and I started Jupiter Systems to build high-resolution graphics terminals and workstations, Randy was the first person I called to make the announcement.

CGW ’s appearance has changed a little over the years, getting more slick, but it’s always been about showing great images of what the industry was producing. Even when the magazine was a baby and struggling to meet payroll, Randy insisted on the highest-quality publishing, and that tradition has never been lost or compromised.

Computer Graphics World has always been the magnet for new companies, products, ideas, and discussion. That’s why it is 35 years old and not some forgotten magazine in the trash heap of publishing, as so many other great books are. CGW has changed as the industry evolves—sometimes a step ahead, but never a step behind. It’s gone through a few owners over the 35 years, and became a sister publication to the venerable Post magazine, the complement of the two is perfect, in my opinion.

One of the measures of the magazine’s success is its disappearance at SIGGRAPH. As soon as a pile of the magazines gets placed at the show, it’s quickly picked up, and the pile is gone. 25,000 people go to SIGGRAPH, and I’d bet every one of them goes home with a copy, even if they already have a subscription.

CGW has been our industry’s mouthpiece, our go-to for the latest new products, the current state of the market in terms of product shipments, hands-on test data of new programs and hardware, and behind-the-scenes reviews of the latest movies and techniques. We literally could not get along without it. So we, here, at Jon Peddie Research, GfxSpeak, and Mt. Tiburon Testing Labs are raising our glasses of champagne high and wishing the editor, staff, publisher, and all the people who make CGW what it is, a happy 35th. Keep on keeping on.