INTRODUCTION TO COMPUTER GRAPHICS
Since the dawn of time, man has constantly outdone himself in almost every field, particularly when it comes to technology. The innovations we have made in computer science have been simply remarkable, especially in the last couple of decades. Evidently, some of the most significant strides, if not the most significant, have come in the field of computer graphics. Ergo, it is definitely fair to say that we have advanced rapidly in the field of computer graphics. In many ways, it helps personify visions and render them palpable, which is just astonishing. The impact that these developments have made on society and the economy is tremendous. Computer graphics have now become one of the most appealing aspects of a software and therefore is an integral part of computer science.
The arrival of the ‘graphic’ aspect in the field of computer science occurred thanks to a couple of two very imperative contributions made by Ivan Sutherland, an American engineer, regarded as the ‘Father of Computer Science’. In a time where computer science had hardly gained any ground, he invented Sketchpad in 1962, one of the first programs ever to utilize a complete graphical user interface. According to a magazine, Sutherland broke new ground in 3D computer modeling and visual simulation, the very basis of computer graphics. Although, William Fetter and Forrester Koppes were first known to have used the term “Computer Graphics” in 1961.
The second vital contribution he made was when he envisioned virtual reality (VR). He had proposed a concept called “Ultimate Display”, a room wherein the computer would control the existence of matter. In doing so, a simulated reality would be so close to the actual reality that one would not be able to tell the difference. A technology that would amplify the way in which visions are demonstrated and realized. These innovations led to several advancements being made in the field.
In today’s world, the field of computer graphics has become one of the most lucrative career paths for computer enthusiasts and engineers. In this ever-bustling world of information technology, the demand for experts in the field has exponentially increased and several big market companies invest an enormous amount of their budget into developing quality graphics.
WHAT IS COMPUTER GRAPHICS?
Now, coming to the question, “What is computer graphics?” Technically put, it is a branch of computer science, which studies various methodologies used to process and manipulate visual data. From basic web pages to advanced gaming software, thank the advancements in computer graphics for such high-quality content we have in today’s world. In other words, it refers to the process of creating images with the help of a computer. Computer graphics make it possible to have realistic simulations of several situations. It is also important to note that computer graphics comprises of both two-dimensional graphics and three-dimensional graphics although the latter is spoken of more often.
2D Computer Graphics
This refers to the development of digital images from two-dimensional models such as text, geometric models etc. 2D graphics were widely used in the early development of computer graphics. In today’s world, it is still used extensively in advertising, sketching and printing. A 2D image comes with its own artifact with additional semantic value, thus giving the graphic designer more control over the image. For this reason, they are preferred over 3D images in most cases.
An image displaying a 2D graphic.
2D models employ the uses of both raster and vector graphics by combining them. Furthermore, components such as font, size and colour are defined by user and can be modified and manipulated.
Amidst the growing popularity of 2D animation, numerous software have been made free and available to both rookies and professional animators.
3D Computer Graphics
Also known as CGI (), 3 Dimensional graphics employ the use of three dimensional visualization of data and the resulting data is often used in animation and 3D films.
In terms of technicalities, 3D graphics are very similar to 2D graphics in that they share several algorithms.
An image displaying a 3D graphic.
The creation of 3D graphics can be outlined into three steps:
3D modelling – This is the stage where the raw shape of the object is created.
Animation – This is the stage where the designer sets movements of objects within a particular frame.
3D Rendering – This refers to the process of conversion of 3D images into 2D images for the purposes of animation on a computer screen.
Computer graphics employs heavily the use of sciences such as physics and geometry and its overall use heavily depends on the core science used.
Computer graphics have, in many ways changed the landscape of cinema, gaming, advertising and research. They have made it possible to enhance the way in which demonstrations and simulations are made thus improving the overall quality of work done.
Computer graphics deals mostly with the technical aspects of imagery such as the mathematical and computational viewpoints rather than its artistic facet. Certain exceptions do exist however, such as with video games wherein the quality is judged mainly by the graphics.
The subject of computer graphics is vast and it encompasses a variety of subtopics including but not limited to: GPU (Graphics processing Unit) design, 3D design, modeling and image processing.
There are two types of computer graphics: raster graphics and vector graphics.
Raster Graphics: A raster graphic is a type of graphic wherein each pixel is separately defined and can be viewed suing a display medium such as a computer display or a paper. Photographs that are specifically digitized and scanned artwork ideally employ raster graphics. Additionally, early mechanical televisions used rasterization techniques. Examples of raster graphics include BMP (Bitmap), TIFF (Tag Image File Format), GIF (Graphics Interchange format) and JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) files.
Vector Graphics: Unlike raster graphics, vector graphics are not separately defined but are rather defined by points on a Cartesian plane connected by curves and lines that form shapes such as polygons. As a result, vector graphics have a huge advantage over raster graphics in that they have the ability to be modified up or down resolution-wise, with no aliasing (the effect that causes signals to be distorted when reconstructed). Examples of vector graphics applications include animations, art printing on clothes and paper, sign making etc.
Also read: How to become an Android Developer?
HOW DO COMPUTER GRAPHICS WORK?
The basic building blocks of an image are called pixels, and a screen displays over a million of them. The computer will decide on how to translate these pixels into images. In order to do this, it needs a translator that will take in raw binary data and convert into an image that will be displayed to the user. A graphics card does this job. In other words, it is the graphics card’s job to decide on how pixels are translated into images on a screen. Furthermore, video games are made possible thanks to graphics cards without which, the CPU would be highly burdened.
GPU (Graphics Processing Unit): Imperative to the development of computer graphics, the Graphics Processing Unit is a processor that catalyzes the alteration and manipulation of image creation which in turn helps produce the output on a screen. GPUs are extensively used in high-end systems such as gaming laptops, consoles, embedded systems and even mobile phones.
There are about four types of graphics cards: Integrated, PCI (Peripheral Component Interconnect):, AGP (Accelerated Graphics Port) and PCIe (Peripheral Component Interconnect Express):.
Integrated Graphics Cards: These cards are GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit), that are built, or rather integrated into the processor of the computer. They do not have a dedicated memory slot for video/graphics and hence use the system memory shared with the CPU.
Dedicated Graphics Cards: Thesetypes of cards have their specific sources of memory, making them independent from the system’s RAM.
The technology involved in the manufacture of these devices has been groundbreaking in recent years. Some of the pioneers in the graphics cards industry are NVidia, AMD, ASUS and Intel.
APPLICATION OF COMPUTER GRAPHICS
The applications of computer graphics are numerous. In the field of entertainment, they have been used to visualize special effects in movies that would have otherwise been difficult to produce. Take for instance, a movie scene needing a snake to create havoc in a particular situation. I think it is safe to say that Computer graphics would be the ideal and safe way to go rather than say, have a live snake trained to do the job! On a lighter note, that was a bit of a stretch, but one can most certainly get my point! CGI (Computer-generated imagery) is widely used to create animations, process images and in simulation.
Another application and easily one of the largest industries that incorporate the functionalities of computer graphics, is the video game industry. According to marketwatch.com, video games sales have risen 20% to almost $180 billion and experts predict an even bigger growth in the future. Since 1999, graphic experts have come a long way in enhancing video game graphics and rendering them more realistic.
The images above show the drastic change in the quality of computer graphics from 2005 to 2021 in the game NBA 2K, created by 2K Games.
A wide range of computer graphic techniques has been used ever since they have been developed. They have also been subject to constant change due to frequent changes made in hardware and processing powers of central or graphics processing units.
Despite being mainly associated with the field of entertainment, computer graphics have also been used in a wide array of scientific applications such as scientific modelling.
Scientific modelling aims at generating a simulated representation of a concept or a prototype. For example, the functionalities of a rover, a car etc. It usually attempts to simplify the understanding of a certain definition by visualizing or quantizing it. The underlying base of scientific modelling is computer graphics.
3D models help a great deal in teaching complex topics as visual representations render them easy to understand and provides a practical insight into said concepts. Furthermore, as pictures certainly speak louder than words, a pictorial 3D representation would certainly draw more interest among students as opposed to a theoretical explanation.
Computer graphics have been extensively used in the field of medical care. Its use in performing medical diagnoses have proven to be extremely effective as it provides an extremely precise methodology to evaluate structures without necessarily having to come into contact with them.
The use of computer graphics in the field of statistics has proven to be highly effective. Various companies in order to ameliorate and analyze their sales and performance have extensively used pictorial representations of data in various forms such as bar diagrams, pie charts and curves.
Graphics are used to enrich the overall design and structure of a web page. In doing so, they render web pages aesthetically pleasing and furthermore improve the way in which a concept or a thought reaches the user.
Computer graphics are used to create geographic maps of various types. Take weather for example. The various hues in colour depicting high and low temperature on a map are created using computer graphics.
The figure above illustrates the variations in temperatures across the regions of Canada employing the functionalities of computer graphics.
Computer graphics are used to model and envisage the outcome of a concept in a real-world situation through various in the form of animated sequences.
Animation refers to the technique of bringing pictures to life using computers. This is done by means of 3D computer graphics
Computer graphics area also used to predict and track the movement of typhoons, hurricanes and cyclones. In doing so, they help minimize loss of lives and property especially in countries prone to natural calamities.
After having analyzed the socio-economic aspects of Computer Graphics, it is fair to say that they have played an integral part in the development of computer science. With the rise of artificial intelligence, who knows how computer graphics will embed itself onto it? The future is quite intriguing!