Introducing a new Visual Language

        Category: # 7 Winter 1983 | Article posted on: December 28, 2009

It is common knowledge that the highly labour-intensive visual process of animated film is too expensive, and takes a long time to produce. It was realised that the digital computer system with all its fascinating novelties and promises, was not able to help the film producer since it was just as expensive as a handmade production. Apart from these facts, the machines were also inaccessible, due to the pressure by other users. A further factor was the need to employ lust the right type of programmers to apply the correct computer language to process the pictures.

With the introduction of cheaper computers and the newer micro-computers, the situation today had changed dramatically. The road has been cleared for the third stage of development. After the initial first one which provided linear visual interpretation in black and white only, the second one which provided tones and colours with filters and continuous grey scales of varying intensities, we have reached the third stage of development: A system specially constructed for continuous colour animation so designed as to eliminate most of the expensive steps both in computer processes as well as the costly stages in the orthodox method of cel animation. This breakthrough still depends on a digital approach which apparently is more fool-proof than its counterpart, the analogue system which differs in concept and operation. The latter developed from video synthesisers utilising signal generators supplying different amplitudes and frequencies; while the former depends on the simple basic principle of manipulating the “On” or “Off” bases of information at a very great speed and with total reliability, and storage capabilities.

The application of computer graphics has so far been mainly in scientific and informational areas, and simulated architectural design where it proves most useful. Graphic information on how atomic particles fit together and how cities could be laid out were of immeasurable practical value to planners. With the computer’s capability of analysing a form from all angles, it was also useful to pre-plan an unfinished building. In aircraft design, millions of dollars were saved in plotting the best position for a pilot in the design of an unfinished aeroplane. A further stream of activity arose when the feature film 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY in the “star-gate” sequence, introduced an optical slit-scan system for special effects. Stimulated by the success of this system, a combined design was developed whereby an optical 35 mm camera could be operated by the computer. The combination of the two produced a series of complex and pre-planned movements like zooming, tilting, panning, tracking and focusing, before a production started. Films like SUPERMAN, STAR WARS, and THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK gained enormously from such effects, providing a feel of space, depth and time. The numerical control achieved by the computer in such productions has certainly helped to create an exciting effect in the cinema, assisting it to recover from its frequent financial crises.

Graphics Workstation from Ferranti Cetec Graphics Limited.

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