The History of Graphics can be traced all the way back to prehistoric man. However, this article is aimed at providing an informative and comprehensive history of the computer graphic, CGI or Computer Graphic Imagery and Graphic Animation. Computers have been used to various degrees to transfer information since the 1940s. However, it was not until the 1980s that computers were used in a consolidated manner that allowed for fully interactive communications in what we now know as the World Wide Web.
Like the Internet and the World Wide Web, computer graphics have made leaps and bounds forward as technology has expanded and left room for growth in what can be done with computer graphics. It has not always been this way however. In times past, computer graphics were extremely limited and would be laughed off modern screens – unless shown for retro graphic purposes.
The absolute beginnings of computer generated imaging can be traced back as far as the invention of the vacuum tube, also known as the thermionic valve or electron tube, which was used in old television sets and radios. It was discovered that different electronic charges emitted onto individual pixels would result in the display of different colors. This eventually developed first into the black and white television sets and ultimately into color television sets. This is the original technology which remains the basis for computer graphics and online graphic displays.
At first, due to the limited technology that was available, computers could only display a range of 256 colors in any graphic. Most of the graphics that people used on computers at first were for desktop publishing software programs and used to generate fancy newsletters, brochures and simple home made CG advertisements. “Cute” pictures such as animal footprints, baby graphics and other relatively simple images were often used as part of the signature on many of these productions. Other graphic highlights included the ability to create fancy borders, such as footprints walking around the page or graphics of scrolls or other relatively simple objects.
As computer technology advanced, so did the ability for the computer monitor to handle more advanced computer graphic imagery. It did not take long until full photographic display images could be viewed on computers. With the increased technology came an increase in the number of colors that could be displayed on a computer monitor. These days, computer graphics that only utilize 256 colors are increasingly rare. They are limited mostly to small games that are able to run on limited resources. Most computer graphics utilize literally millions of colors.
Initially, computer generated imagery was limited to small, two-dimensional pictures. In the 1990s, animated images became available to the world of internet graphics. The introduction of millions of available colors also took computer graphics to an entirely new level. At this point in the history of graphics, the vectored and raster graphics became very popular. This led to the introduction of such programs as JASC paint shop pro, Adobe Photoshop and other computer graphic programs which allowed people to begin manipulating online photos and graphics.
Vector Graphics and Raster Graphics allowed people to create their own much higher resolution images and to alter existing images to meet their needs. The overall effect of this technology meant that when the computerized images were expanded, they would still be clearly visible and the pixilation or distortion that used to be so common would no longer be an issue with computer graphics.
While the introduction of vectored and raster graphics was phenomenal, it was only the beginning of even greater advances in Internet graphics and graphical technology. These two types of computer graphics were integrated using a rendering process that allowed for the creation of some very lifelike computer animations, 3-D graphics and other graphical displays that had never before been imagined to be possible. One of the first major displays of this process was with what was known as “The Dancing Baby” which became so popular that it was even featured on some television shows at the time.
For the first time, true three-dimensional graphical displays were available and for the user’s who did have either the interest or the time to learn them, these techniques opened up entirely new worlds of possibility regarding computer graphics. This technology has been pursued by many different venues but among those who helped to propel it the farthest have been people in Hollywood. Groups like Pixar and others led by such CG pioneers as George Lucas of Star Wars fame have outdone themselves in the creation of CG software. The films of PIXAR are exclusively CGI. Some of the films of George Lucas seamlessly integrate CGI with human actors and allow viewers to enjoy unprecedented scenery that would not be possible without computer graphics and software integration and digital manipulation of pictures, photographs and other illustrations.
Video games are also major beneficiaries of advances in computer graphics as well. Rendering capabilities and new tracing technologies have been combined to form some amazing computer animated graphics. Games like Myst IV have even begun to combine many of these features and now include full 3-D images along with some incredibly life-like animations.
The next time that you see a “footprints in the sand” graphic, you may actually see the footprints walking through the sand of their own accord, as if in the wizarding world of Harry Potter. So no need to worry about it - just remember this. Since the history of graphics has reached its present stage of development at near the speed of light; and given the present state of CGI; the future of computer graphics will no doubt continue to break through and even transcend our unfolding universal imagination.