The history of 3D graphics is littered with trial and error, but is dominated with innovations, from the first implementation of CGI within a film, to the fairly recent discovery of real-time generated motion capture systems. The evolution and devolution of this art form is crucial to understanding how it has transitioned from the dream of a few to a widespread technique implemented across various mediums, including film, games and design.
The first notable 3D graphic success was the arcade game Battlezone; a first-person tank combat simulator from Atari, released in 1980. The breakthrough came during at a time where the gaming scene was dominated by simplistic 2D games such as Space Invaders and Pac Man (TV Tropes, n.d.)
In film, the first extensive computer-generated imagery emerged in 1982, with Steven Lisberger’s Tron. With computers an enigma to most modern audiences, a film that conjured more than a quarter-hour’s worth of digital effects was testimonial to the advancement of technology at the time.
At a time where few companies knew how to utilise these effects, a few individuals pushed past the constraints of the current computer capacity (1/2000th of the capacity of an average PC, to put it into perspective) to create the first movie in the Tron saga (Semlyen, 2015).
The prospect of creating a full-length feature animation was even more far-fetched, but when combined with an inexperienced crew and a small budget, the creation of Toy Story was a monument in 3D animation a little more than a decade after Tron’s release. Its overwhelming success set the foundations for Pixar a further 15+ films and accumulate a total of 26 Academy Awards (Zorthian, 2015).
Although Gollum from the Lord of the Rings franchise isn’t the most likeable (or the prettiest) character to ever exist, his appearance in the second installment of the trilogy (2002) represented the first character to ever be rendered using a real-time motion capture system to fully interact with other on-screen actors (Semlyen, 2015).
Jim Rygiel, the visual effects designer, remarked that Gollum was “…a creature that you couldn’t really shoot in a rubber suit because he really has to interact…we realized we had to make this guy fully computer generated and yet ensure he looked absolutely real in his actions and the way he speaks,” (as cited in Remington, 2017). With a combination of both new software already existing and advancements written by the crew, they were able to create a realistic, albeit disproportionate biped who stood little more than three feet tall.
These advancements furthered with the facial recognition of Avatar (2009), which showcased a studio full of LOTR veterans working together to create a graphical masterpiece.
Retrieved from http://www.mr-movie.com/avatar-movie.html
Other references used:
Remington, S. (2017) The Lord of the Rings, The Two Towers. Retrieved from https://www.remingtonscott.com/lord-of-the-rings-two-towers
Semlyen, P. D. (2015) A History of CGI In the Movies. Retrieved from http://www.empireonline.com/movies/features/history-cgi/
TV Tropes, (n.d.) Video Game: Battlezone (1980). Retrieved from http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/VideoGame/Battlezone1980
Zorthian, J. (2015) How Toy Story Changed Movie History. Retrieved from http://time.com/4118006/20-years-toy-story-pixar/
Header image retrieved from http://collider.com/steve-purcell-toy-story-that-time-forgot-interview/