Pioneering 3D video from 40 years ago
Written by Historian   
Saturday, 03 September 2011

A newly rediscovered video shows that back in the 70s it was possible to do achieve some amazing techniques - but at a cost in terms of time.

It is generally agreed that computer graphics has a  debt to Ivan Sutherland and his lab at the University of Utah but perhaps we still don't give enough credit to what went on there. Now a film of pioneering 3D graphic techniques has been rediscovered. It was created in 1972 by Ed Catmull (the founder of Pixar), Fred Parke and Robert Ingebretsen while working as students in Ivan Sutherland's lab. You need to keep in mind that back in 1972 there were no desktop PCs and computers were still machines that filled a big room and mostly worked with punch cards. Rendering was performed directly to film and each frame would take a machine an hour or more.

Watch the video and be amazed at how quickly things have advanced and be relieved that we don't have to do things in quite such a time-consuming way any more.



The framework model of the hand being digitized by measuring a manually triangulated cast of a real hand is a work of dedication. Today you would simply point a Kinect at it. Also notice that they couldn't resist taking a look inside their 3D model something every 3D programmer has done. There is something irresistible about flying about inside the model that was only ever intended to be seen from the outside.




The techniques of texture mapping and rendering were just being worked out and animation was something that seemed like an impossible task simply because of the time taken to render a single frame.




Further reading

Ivan Sutherland - father of graphics


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