CG AROUND THE WORLD
Vol.32 No.3 August 1998
Computer Graphics in Brazil
HockSoon Seah and Yong Tsui Lee
Singapore is a city-state on a 630 square kilometer island. Lying one degree north of the equator, at the southern tip of the Malayan Peninsula, it is at the crossroads of the busy shipping routes between Europe and Asia and within Asia itself. It has a population of about 3 million comprised largely of Chinese, Malays and Indians. English is the language of business and administration and is used widely.
Being a small country with no natural resources, Singapore’s economy relies heavily on trade, manufacturing and financial services, supported by a good transport and communication network. Its government is keenly aware that the performance of the economy depends greatly on the effective exploitation of modern technologies, particularly information technology. It therefore invests heavily in the infrastructure for these technologies, supports generously their research and development and trains or imports workers with the relevant skills. Singapore now boasts one of the highest computer literacy rates in the world. Computer graphics activities thrive in this climate.
A survey carried out in 1990  showed that, in industries and businesses in Singapore, the main usage of graphics was in the areas of mechanical CAD/CAM, electronic CAD/CAE, business presentation and technical documentation. The survey also accurately concluded that the major emerging applications of graphics are in medical and scientific visualization, animation for video/film, interactive video, image processing and training and simulation. The main concern then was the cost of the graphics software and hardware and the lack of skilled personnel, both of which are diminishing problems. Although computer graphics research was in its infancy when the survey was done, much has been achieved in the past years. A special issue of the Computer and Graphics journal that focused on computer graphics research and development in Singapore can be found in .
In this article, we look at computer graphics in Singapore today in three major areas: academia, research institutes and industry. Here we take computer graphics to include its kin — multimedia and virtual reality — as well.
Computer Graphics in Academia
There are six tertiary educational institutions in Singapore, which are divided into two tiers. The two universities, National University of Singapore (NUS) and Nanyang Technological University (NTU) offer comprehensive ranges of degree programs and are active in research and development. The four polytechnics — Nanyang Polytechnic, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic and Temasek Polytechnic — conduct a wide range of professional and vocational courses at the diploma level.
Figure 1: Physically based snake locomotion.
Both universities have undergraduate programs leading to a bachelor’s degree in computer science or engineering. In these programs, computer graphics features strongly with fundamental subjects for beginners and advanced subjects for senior years. Students can also pursue projects specializing in various aspects of computer graphics. In the engineering schools, courses on computer-aided engineering, design and manufacturing prominently cover the basics of computer graphics and geometric modeling.
The four polytechnics concentrate on professional and vocational courses and, in the recent years, a number of new courses have sprouted for the training of computer graphics and multimedia practitioners. This is in recognition of the increasing needs for such talents for multimedia content development.
Ngee Ann Polytechnic  has professional courses which feature strongly the use of computer graphics and animation. The diploma course on film, sound and video started in 1993. It follows the tradition of overseas film schools, combining academic study with practical instruction. Computer animation is a core part of the course. In another course, Interactive Multimedia Applications, students are given an opportunity to learn various tools concentrating on different aspects of the technology: text, graphics, audio, animation and video. The Polytechnic is also host to the Digital Effects Studio Training Center, which provides professional training for the post-production industry (film, video, broadcast and digital media).
At Singapore Polytechnic , the Diploma in Multimedia Software Engineering was offered for the first time in 1996. It provides training for students in computer software development and multimedia computing. The training includes programming, content creation such as computer animation, graphic design, integrating video and audio effects and the design and management of multimedia systems.
At Nanyang Polytechnic , the Digital Media Design Centre was set up in 1996 to support training in digital media culminating in a Diploma in Digital Media Design. This course, run in association with the Canadian Sheridan College, aims to provide training in both creative and IT skills centered on the art and science of computer animation, multimedia and game design. The Centre also offers short courses tailored for professionals with visual arts background and who are interested in 3D computer animation.
Diplomas in Interior Architecture & Design, Visual Communication, Apparel Design and Merchandising, Interactive Media Design, Industrial Design and specialist Diploma in Publishing are offered at the Temasek Polytechnic . Although computer graphics is not central in these courses, it plays an important role in providing visualization for design. The polytechnic initiated the first Animation Fiesta in Singapore in June 1996 .
Figure 2: The computerized picture restoration system.
Figure 3: X-ray image of a hand and the 3D surface reconstructed from the single image (a) and Virtual orthopaedic surgery (b).
Figure 4: Fast polygonal simplification for interactive applications, courtesy of the Computer Graphics Research Laboratory, National University of Singapore.
Figure 5: Merging computer-generated 3D objects into an image sequence, courtesy of the Computer Graphics Research Laboratory, National University of Singapore.
Figure 6: The virtual workbench, courtesy of Kent Ridge Digital Labs.
Figure 7: Animation of a condor, courtesy of Pixelcraft Pte.
Both the universities have active research programs in computer graphics. At NTU , this is spearheaded by the Centre for Graphics and Imaging Technology (CGIT), a joint research centre established in 1992 by the university in collaboration with Silicon Graphics Pte. Ltd. Research at the centre is basically conducted by faculty from the School of Applied Science, the School of Electrical and Electronic Engineering and the School of Mechanical and Production Engineering. A few of the projects are mentioned below.
The computer animation group has been investigating an artificial life system for modeling autonomous creatures subjected to the influence of the external world. Machine learning paradigms are used for modeling movement and coordination of highly deformable and articulated parts of living creatures subjected to a wide variety of complex configurations. A project in automating cel animation has been initiated. The purpose is to design and apply imaging techniques to develop a generic 2D animation system for video, gaming and multimedia production.
The centre has established techniques for recovering 3D camera trajectories from image sequences. It is now used for integrating computer graphics and live footage. A computerized motion picture restoration system that uses multi-processor technology has been developed. The restoration system can automatically restore old, noise-corrupted motion pictures and transfer the restored pictures to the new storage media with minimal human supervision. In 1996, the project, “A High Performance Motion Picture Restoration System,” won the first prize in the inaugural Texas Instruments’ Digital Signal Processing Solutions Challenge held in the United States.
The main research in multimedia focuses on multimedia information retrieval, which includes content-based image/video retrieval and multimedia databases. Work in the medical area uses image processing and computer graphics techniques to model and study physical functions, design artificial limbs and plan and perform surgery. Coupled with rapid prototyping, the work offers doctors physical 3D models of the subjects of their investigations which, from the feedback that has been gathered so far, has proved very useful.
Research in computational fluid dynamics yielded a diversity of virtual prototyping and parametric design of industrial products involving fluid flow and heat transfer. Work is also in progress in the retrieving of 3D shapes from 2D designer sketches, as part of an investigation into allowing industrial designers to speedily convert their ideas into 3D models.
At the NUS , computer graphics research is done by various groups at the Department of Information Systems and Computer Science (DISCS).
The computer graphics research group is investigating techniques to achieve interaction and realistic rendering of computer models and virtual environment. To achieve interactive display frame rate, the group had to tackle issues such as new data structures and algorithms for object culling, simplification and manipulation, efficient illumination and interaction with natural and artificial lighting and image and geometry based rendering. The group also examines augmented reality, which considers the merging of computer-generated images with video of real scenes. Topics studied include automatic deduction of relative visibility of objects, the viewing parameters and illumination conditions from a given video sequence or a collection of photographic images of a real scene.
The multimedia modeling group concentrates on multimedia information retrieval, hypermedia and computer animation. In multimedia information retrieval, the group is developing a system to retrieve images and video using multiple content attributes including free-text, color, texture and shapes. For hypermedia research, the group is developing a hypermedia system that supports hyperbase with support for high-level nodes; dynamic links, search and browsing over large hyperbases; automatic hypertext engineering; and conversion to WWW. The group is also working on a 3D graphical simulation and training system.
In the other departments in NUS, the CAE/CAD/CAM Centre was set up under the Faculty of Engineering in 1986 to provide training and research in the area of computer-aided engineering. The Centre for Computational Mechanics was established in 1994 to focus on computational methods and computer-aided solutions. The Centre for Remote Imaging, Sensing and Processing (CRISP) was established under the Faculty of Science in 1992 to process satellite data into value-added products to meet requirements of users in Singapore and the region in scientific, engineering and commercial fields. Recently, CRISP has been active in the effort in fighting the fires in the huge forests in Indonesia by providing digital satellite images of the fires to pinpoint their locations.
One significant feature in research efforts lately is the expansion into external collaboration, in recognition of the fact that innovation can best be served by opening doors. In 1997, DISCS entered into collaboration with a local group of companies on the R&D of virtual reality and its application in computer simulations. Also in 1997, CGIT forged an international R&D collaboration with the Institute for Computer Graphics (IGD) in Germany, and established a joint research centre, the Centre for Advanced Media Technology (CAMTech), located in NTU. The key R&D areas of CAMTech are cooperative multimedia on heterogeneous platforms and networks, multimedia publishing, 3D visualization and applications, augmented and virtual reality.
National Research Institutes and IT2000 Plan
The Singapore government plays a key role in the direction of technology development in the country, through the channeling of research funding via the National Science and Technology Board (NSTB). Apart from supporting research at the universities, it establishes and funds specialized research institutes, such as Kent Ridge Digital Laboratory (KRDL)  for information technology, Institute of High Performance Computing, Gintic Institute of Manufacturing Technology and others. Computer graphics is central to the work in some of these institutions, either as the focus of their research, or for supporting their research.
Another government board, the National Computer Board (NCB), is responsible for IT policy and development. Its mission is to drive Singapore to excel in the information age by exploiting IT extensively to enhance our economic competitiveness and quality of life.
KRDL is an institution with more than 400 researchers, chartered to spearhead the research and development in information and networking technology. Currently, it is organized under the following groups: learning, knowledge, ubiquity, biomedical and transportation. It was formed in 1998 by the merger of the research arm of the Institute of Systems Science (ISS) and the Information Technology Institute (ITI).
Established in 1981, the ISS assisted industry in creating applications in natural language processing, human interface, virtual reality and multimedia processing. It had partnership programmes with IBM and Apple Computer for computer-based courses and research. In 1994, ISS and Johns Hopkins University set up a joint centre for Information-Enhanced Medicine, to develop new technologies to enable physicians to deliver cost effective medical diagnosis and enhanced surgical capabilities. One of its projects, The Virtual Workbench, is a virtual reality project with a dexterous, reach-in, high-resolution 3D environment. A stereo virtual image is seen reflected in a mirror, allowing the user to reach into the virtual space. Physical and virtual spaces correspond, so those physical tools can manipulate virtual objects in a hand-eye-coordinated manner. ITI, the applied R&D arm of NCB, was formed in 1986, with the mission to create advanced and useful innovations for deployment in major national level projects, end user organizations or commercialization by IT providers. The role of ITI was to create market opportunities for the IT industry and share the risk of introducing new technologies.
The Institute of High Performance Computing was established recently from the merger of the National Supercomputing Research Centre and the Centre for Computational Mechanics in NUS. The National Supercomputing Research Centre was established in 1993 to promote the use of advanced computational technology to enhance Singapore’s industrial and commercial competitiveness. It has undertaken computationally intensive projects in distributed parallel high performance computing and scientific visualization with major companies in Singapore.
Based on a study in collaboration with over 200 senior executives from various companies and institutions in Singapore, the NCB formulated the IT2000 master plan in 1991 which aims to transform Singapore into an intelligent island, where information technology is used widely — at work, home and play.
A key part of this plan, now being implemented, is the Singapore One Network for Everyone (ONE) initiative, which will provide a pervasive broadband information infrastructure to link up every home, office and school in the country, delivering a potentially unlimited range of applications and multimedia services. The NCB is spearheading application development with active participation from the IT industry and various government ministries. This stimulates a great deal of research and development; work in computer graphics and animation stands to gain significantly. More information can be found in .
Computer Graphics in Industry
As discussed in , there is a small but growing commercial animation scene in Singapore. Locally, the main income comes from short television advertisements. Most of the clients, however, are from overseas, Indonesia, Philippines and India. A main concern of some of these animation companies is the scarcity of computer graphics specialists. This is set to change, as there are already a number of courses that provide training at diploma level and research at university level as highlighted earlier. The government is at the same time promoting art in Singapore.
Companies must invest time to develop new techniques in order to stay in competition. Some new companies are beginning to do so; Pixelcraft and Imagine Interactive are examples. Pixelcraft was founded in 1997 to research and establish strong capabilities in high-end computer graphics animation. Imagine Interactive specializes in developing 3D technology and virtual reality (VR) applications for the education and entertainment industry. Since its formation in 1995, it has staged VR demonstrations and exhibitions for the public, the government and interested people in the industry in order to assist them in incorporating VR technologies into their products and services.
With the drive to exploit modern technology, many Singapore manufacturers have adopted CAD/CAM. The imports of CAD/CAM software and hardware have been steadily increasing over the past few years. Gintic Institute of Manufacturing Technology helps to foster this drive by providing technical back up such as the tailoring of software for specific needs, or the transferring of data from one platform to another via data exchange mechanisms. It also develops new applications to meet local needs. For example, in conjunction with NTU, Gintic is developing a fast automatic mould design system for plastic injection moulding.
Singapore has an environment conducive to the exploitation of IT technology. Computer graphics, multimedia and virtual reality are being embraced with enthusiasm. Most of the work is directed towards the application of the technologies, with some pockets of effort in research into the fundamentals.
The activities in computer graphics in Singapore are large and varied; it has not been possible to mention them all in this short article. Many have been published on Web sites. By following the links to the sites given in the reference list, readers will be able to find out a lot more.
While there are many players in the field, there needs to be a professional body to bring the people together, serve as a resource centre for the latest developments and stimulate the activities. The SIGGRAPH Singapore Chapter, formed in March 1998, was set up with these objectives in mind. Through its instigation, the computer graphics scene in Singapore is set to be more vibrant.
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