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Vol.32 No.1 February 1999

Gordon Cameron

February 99 Columns
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Gordon Cameron
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As Jim Blinn mentions in his SIGGRAPH 98 keynote (reprinted in this issue), "non-photorealistic rendering (NPR) was something that nobody really predicted a need for." It is becoming apparent, however, that the need is indeed very “real,” and that animators and artists are increasingly drawn to the non-photorealistic possibilities that the computer graphics (CG) medium offers. In the feature film arena particularly, the traditional requirement has been for sophisticated realistic (or hyper-realistic) effects that integrate seamlessly with live action visuals, and this has driven the technology towards the synthesis of the real world. However, as the industry and tools mature (with the latter becoming more affordable and hence accessible), an increasing number of animators are becoming more confident in pushing the artistic envelope, and we are beginning to see some very interesting non-photorealistic results.

Perhaps the most widely known variant of NPR currently being deployed in the animation field is “toon rendering” in its many forms (for examples, see The Prince of Egypt, Princess Mononoke and The Physics of Cartoons). The visual results are perhaps most easily described as “3D cartoons,” and the rendering technique draws on the wealth of experience, knowledge and artistic technique accumulated over decades in traditional hand-drawn cartoon animation to provide a visual language which can be expanded upon, and combined with 3D computer graphics, to create a unique hybrid 2D/3D look. We are starting to see artists and animators drawing on their background and interest in other visual media (painting, drawing, photography, animation, etc.) to influence their CG work. (For example, in What Dreams May Come, the look of the computer graphics imagery is very much influenced by the paintings of German expressionist Caspar David Friedrich.

Gordon Cameron
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In addition, people are developing their own unique visual styles, blending computer graphics with these other media and coming up with truly new forms of expression (an early example that springs to mind would be The Mystery of Rampo, with its intriguing mix of traditional and CG effects). None of this is particularly new or surprising to SIGGRAPH attendees, as the electronic theatre and art shows have been exhibiting experimental and non-photorealistic work for many years - the difference, I think, is that there is a growing acceptance in the “outside world” of computer graphics as an artistic medium, with the CG artist not limited to “merely” mimicking reality.

With this in mind, I thought it particularly timely to dedicate a focus issue towards the emerging field of non-photorealistic rendering, and I was delighted that Michael Arias agreed to act as guest editor. He has worked extensively in the area, and managed to pull together a terrific set of articles that serve as a fascinating window into the field today - my thanks go out to Mike and to all the writers.

As always, this issue contains a super set of columns, and I encourage you to read them and contact the columnists with your feedback. They are, I am certain, eager to hear from you. Additionally, please look for the election statements in the SIGGRAPH Activities section - this is your chance as a SIGGRAPH member to choose the leaders of the organization and to have your say.

Next time around, we will dedicate the issue to the columns, with expanded pieces where possible, and I hope to see you then. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this issue!