3D Computer Graphics: how to create and animate a new idea

If you ask an audience: “when was 3D Computer Graphics born?”, almost certainly everyone would trace the origins of this IT discipline to no more than 20 years ago.

To find it out, first let’s try to explain what it is.

In order to give a rather broad definition of Computer Graphics, we would say that it corresponds to that series of processes that allow you to obtain three-dimensional, static or animated models, in a digital format and in a virtual 3D space.

Historical background

Contrary to what might be the common perception, the expression Computer Graphics (CG) was used for the first time in history in 1960 by the researchers Verne Hudson and William Fetter. In the laboratories of the Boeing Company – the US aviation industry producing both civil and military aircraft – Hudson and Fetter developed a data processing technique that allowed them to draw projection aircraft.

Image: boeingimages.com

It is always Fetter who made one of the first computerized 3D representations with “First Man“, also known as “Boeing Man“. It is an animated wireframe sequence (due to the calculation limits of the machines of the time, the representation of the 3D model was made up only of a grid without surfaces), and it was used to provide ergonomic design data for the design of the layout of the operating instruments in a cockpit.

The first CAD systems

In the same years, in 1959, General Motors in collaboration with IBM developed one of the first CAD (Computer-Aided Design) systems, or the “DAC” system: thanks to an optical pen and a sensitive screen, operators drew  mathematical curves in a virtual space, that represented the sections and the surfaces of the cars.

Therefore, 3D Computer Graphics takes its first steps in the industrial field, as a support to design.

Art and creativity: a new approach

In the following decades with the development of information technology, Computer Graphics began to emerge from that restricted circle of researchers and engineers to find breeding ground in areas other than design and visualization.

It is from 1972 what is considered the first computer generated 3D animation. The author is Edwin Catmull, one of the founders of Pixar Animation Studios. The object chosen for the animation is his left hand divided into polygons drawn directly on a mold and subsequently digitized obtaining lines and surfaces.  

In this way they began to understand the potential of this new discipline also in the artistic and creative fields. After only a decade, in 1982, the first film in history was made with the use of Computer Graphics: Tron is considered a cult film.

For the first time, some artists used a technique that until then had been the absolute prerogative of researchers and engineers.

But the first real hit film made entirely in CG is from 1995 and it is Toy Story. From that moment the story of the “animated films” changes forever. Toy Story was a real revolution also for artists and designers, because it made the whole world understand that it is possible to create things that do not exist yet.

Image: pixar.com

Other applications of the Computer Graphics

After the first experiences of the late 90s of the ‘900, Computer Graphics has found more and more space in the film industry. At the moment animated films are a strong economic driver and CG is increasingly present also in other genres.

However today the fields of 3D Computer Graphics’ application have imagination as the only limit. The strong technical and industrial connotation of the beginning has gradually left room for much more: from archeology, to historical reconstruction, simulation, architecture, medical field and an infinite number of other sectors such as gaming.

The opportunity to build non-existent and fantastic scenarios with an increasingly  intense photorealism makes it almost an art form.

In recent years the technological evolution in the IT field has allowed to print 3D models made with various software, or to implement them in virtual reality viewers. But the future is still to be written!

CG in the medical field: our experience

The infinite possible uses of Computer Graphics, make it possible to apply them in different contexts, facilitating processes and creating innovative solutions.

It is precisely the opportunities provided by 3D printing and Computer Graphics that allowed us to face a challenge on the sidelines of our professional career.

Due to a sudden and unexpected event linked to the health conditions of the mother of a member of our team, it was necessary to rebuild and 3D print a support for the manual modeling of a prosthesis to be used during a plastic skull surgery.

This was a commitment that emotionally involved us and that demonstrated how the most modern technologies, combined with the professionalism of the medical staff and the solidarity of the team helped to save a life.

Shaping an idea: the Adam’s Hand aesthetic design

In BionIT Labs we have used the thousand potentials of Computer Graphics by applying them to our device.

In 2016 Adam’s Hand was just an idea and, in order to explain it, we needed to give it a shape. Computer Graphics allowed us to make visible something that did not exist yet. A fundamental step for the realization of our first prototype.

We wanted to communicate that Adam’s Hand would be an innovative prosthesis, with a very high technological content and, above all, adaptive, which means that it could automatically adapt to grasped objects’ shape and size. This is how we obtained the first image of Adam’s Hand.

With other developments in the design of Adam’s Hand a continuous interaction between the Mechanical and Electronic divisions with the Design one was essential.

In a device like ours, it is fundamental to work in compliance with specific restrictions, driven by the dimensions of the internal components and their relative movement.

After a series of iterations, we obtained the design of our beta prototype, using software that works in a 3D environment. On the mechanical and electronic design side, parametric CAD software is mainly used, while on the design side, more Media and Entertainment oriented softwares are used.

We are currently working on the next Adam’s Hand prototype, and we will reveal its final design in a few months.

This time the approach is slightly different since we intend to give a more pronounced weight to the aesthetic aspect.

Since the engineering is also geared towards reducing the overall dimensions, there is more margin for “maneuvering” to pay the right attention also to aesthetics.

We are sure that you will be impressed by its innovative and performing design, which will contribute to make Adam’s Hand even more competitive and ready for the expected launch on the market.

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