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Computer Graphics

  One of the major ways that computers have made an impact on today\'s culture is in the field of entertainment. They would never have been able to do this except for their ability to produce images on screens or on paper—their graphics capability.

The first computer graphics were produced manually (using the computer basically to print out what was typed into it). They consisted of pictures drawn using the characters available on computer keyboards. Once computers began to be connected to monitor screens, by directly causing the electron gun at the back of a television screen to light up points on a screen at the direction of the computer, it became possible to produce much more detailed and (eventually) coloured images; computer art packages began to be developed. The operator could input an image and have it appear on the screen; better methods were developed to do this rather than typing in the colour of every spot on the screen, by using instruments such as scanners (which take an image on paper such as a photograph and automatically store it in the computer\'s memory) and light-pens (which allow the operator to draw on a pad and have the result appear on the screen as if it were a piece of paper).

This was still only using the computer as a drawing tool; the next step was to use the computer to help create the design. The earliest steps in this direction led to the first computer games: drawing a pair of bats and a ball on a screen, and moving them according to the instructions of players using keyboards or joysticks was the first example. There are again two divisions in this, which might be called interactive graphics and non-interactive graphics.

Non-interactive graphics use the computer to produce just one image; today\'s computers will often be programmed to perform tasks like drawing charts and graphs from tables of data. A computer can also be used to take a start picture and an end picture and draw a series of images moving successively away from the start and towards the end (a process from the animation industry known as inbetweening), or to combine two images in one (used in the movie Star Wars to produce backgrounds for scenes using models). These techniques and others like them have had a major influence on the special effects departments in the film industry. Images of fractals created by computer have turned out to look very like natural phenomena such as coastlines. Non-interactive graphics are also used for more serious purposes; there are artists who create pictures which are partly the creation of the computer (a phenomenon which leads to the question, can computers be artists?).

Interactive graphics have had serious spinoffs as well as providing ever more sophisticated games. The main limitation of such systems is the complexity of the images; a convincing picture on a screen has thousands of items of information which need to be updated very fast. The needs of the entertainment industry have financed much research on faster computation, which has been of great importance in many other areas. SMcL



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