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Vol.32 No.1 February 1998

François Sillion

If you read this newsletter, chances are you’re a member of SIGGRAPH. In any case, you may have heard about the SIGGRAPH conference’s 25th anniversary. While the official celebration has yet to start, the following articles will hopefully make you think and reflect about the current situation in computer graphics. The focus of this issue is “A Forward-Looking Retrospective” and it attempts to take a careful look at the present, past and future of this fascinating adventure.

Computer graphics has grown to become an immense field, as anyone who has attended the annual SIGGRAPH conference can testify. There are so many different applications, modes of usage and cultural aspects to computer graphics that different people spending the same week at the conference might believe that they’ve attended two completely different events! Being a researcher in an academic environment does not necessarily provide the best vantage point on such a huge territory. What I have done, therefore, is to ask a number of highly skilled and experienced professionals to share with you some of their insight and speculations. I am extremely grateful to all of them for spending some of their valuable time for the benefit of the SIGGRAPH community. Together their eight contributions compose a vibrant panorama of computer graphics -- although, of course, there are still many aspects of this technology that could not be covered due to lack of space.

We begin with Andy van Dam’s clever reflections on the general direction taken by technological advances in computer graphics. Many of you know the fundamental role Andy has played in the creation of SIGGRAPH, and we’ll be hearing more from him this year, I’m sure. Seeing where his vision from 25 years ago has taken us, I am sure you will be as intrigued as I am to read what he has to say for the next 25 years!

I was greatly impressed two years ago when I heard Frederic P. Brooks, Jr. (upon receiving the Steven Coons award at SIGGRAPH 96), emphasize the need for the computer scientist to also become a “toolsmith,” i.e. craft tools to help others solve problems, investigate, create or entertain. While I am a strong believer in the importance of scientific research in computer graphics as in other fields, I think it is important not to lose sight of the actual significance of the technology we develop -- what do we want to achieve with these tools, and would professionals want to use them? I have asked specialists in different areas to comment on the impact and significance of computer graphics within their own particular fields of interest.

Julie Dorsey and Leonard McMillan discuss applications in architecture. Can computer graphics be used effectively to assist in the actual design phase? This question is also at the core of Stephen Westin’s discussion of computer-aided industrial design --automobile manufacturers are already strong users of CAD technology, but the design process is difficult to capture in the computer. We should not forget the issues of usability, reliability and cost-effectiveness if we are to develop effective industrial design tools.

Markus Gross then presents his vision of the state of computer graphics in medicine, and shows that the evolution from visualization of medical data to interactive exploration opens the way for the actual simulation of surgical operations. David Sturman reviews the extraordinary evolution of computer animation, and observes that animators require tools centered on their creative expression. Again, what will be required to best achieve this goal in a cost-effective manner?

François Sillion is a researcher with CNRS in the iMAGIS* project in Grenoble, France. His research interests include realistic image rendering, using the radiosity method for lighting simulation, image-based rendering and virtual reality.

*iMAGIS is a joint research project of CNRS, INRIA, INPG and UJF.

François Sillion
B.P. 53
38041 Grenoble Cedex 9

Tel: +33-4-76-51-43-54
Fax: +33-4-76-63-55-80
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The copyright of articles and images printed remains with the author unless otherwise indicated.

Speaking of tools, one thing we need for computer graphics is, unsurprisingly, a computer! In this area, the (r)evolution is also breathtaking. David Kirk considers what happens when millions of users have 3D graphics capabilities in their PCs, and invites us to rethink graphics hardware now that massive VLSI integration allows single-chip graphics processors. Dan Baum identifies the major breakthroughs in graphics technology over the last decades, in terms of feature sets and technological generations. In addition to contemplating the possible directions for the next generation, he forces us to consider whether we’re even making effective use of the available features!

Finally, (and I have of course purposely kept him for the end), Eugene Fiume discusses the real problems remaining to be solved in computer graphics research. Here is a field where a unique blend of disciplines contribute to the general knowledge, and a large spectrum of issues can be tackled in academic research labs -- ranging from the most fundamental to the very technological. It is our responsibility in academia to maintain this balance and make sure computer graphics is recognized as a credible and scholarly discipline.

There is not much I could add to what all these people say. I don’t have enough gray hair to pretend I can provide any special wisdom from my own experience: in fact I am even slightly embarrassed to admit that 25 years ago I was busy playing very simple games, having nothing to do with 3D graphics! Things have changed for sure, and my kids will probably take 3D graphics for granted, as something totally natural. What I can give you is the reason I am so happy to be working in this area and at this time: the combination of great scientific challenges, technological revolutions, large-scale dissemination in the consumer markets and engineering applications, as well as new expressive media. I look forward to the next 25 years and the contributions you will make to computer graphics!