Over the years, the magic of computer graphics (CG) has sparked the imagination and curiosity of millions of people, both specialists and consumers. The movies, games, commercials, science, medicine, and designs we have today wouldn’t be possible without CG. And because much of it is magical (Arthur C. Clarke) and unknowable to those outside of the CG priesthood, we make up our own explanations (you older folks might remember the explanations of the original remixed songs by Les Paul and Mary Ford).
So since fools rush where wise men don’t, I set out to examine some of the mythos of CG. I’m also going to favor you with some of my favorite axioms. It’s probably not going to win me many new friends, but damn it, I still have my cat. I do, don’t I?
1. Aren’t integrated graphics catching up with discrete ones?
Yes, they almost caught up with the low-key 2010, and in five years they will catch up with today’s. But then the discretes will be in 2020 – Moore’s Law works for all semiconductors, not just CPUs.
2. Enough already. Shouldn’t 16GB of graphics memory and 1GHz GPU clocks be enough?
Peddie’s Axiom #1: “In computer graphics, too much is never enough.” The goal of CG is to create an image, or series of images in the case of movies, that are so realistic that the viewer suspends disbelief. We are billions of gigabytes and gigahertz away from that.
3. All colors in the rainbow can be generated in 8 bit – 256 colors (pause, while I check my ROTFL).
The spectrum of colors in a simple rainbow is nearly endless. The acuity of your eye is enormous – color perception over 10 million colors, plus mixed hues. The upper limit is not really known. New 4K TVs with 10-bit color, called High Dynamic Color (HDC), bring us over a billion colors, and we can see them all.
4. Antialiasing eliminates aliasing.
No, your brain eliminates aliasing. All screens today are quanta – small square pixels, small discrete boxes. Think of a very small graph paper. Antialiasing matches the pixels of the line or edge color to the background color, and your brain interprets that as a smooth line. That’s because your brain doesn’t like jarring things, and the jaggedness drives your eyes crazy as your brain tries to figure out where to focus.
5. Ray tracing creates the perfect image.
Not really. Ray tracing, material libraries and global illumination combined can create an (almost) perfect image. Light bouncing around, influencing and being influenced by what it bounces off, creates the most complex sea of color and luminance possible, and we still can’t fully reproduce it in our primitive computers and limited 4k displays.
6. Stereo 3D gives real depth.
CG is all about towers. Images to trick the mind into thinking it’s seeing something it really isn’t. Stereovision is a prime example of such a trick. This is a very good trick, but it relies on making imaginary data, objects in the case of movies and games, and TV (you remember 3D TV, don’t you) .
7. Overclocking your CPU will make your game better.
Overclocking your CPU will drive you crazy (more – because you’d have to be a little crazy to do it anyway). By overclocking your CPU and/or GPU, you can make a game deliver more frames per second (fps), and it’s a better game. Except it’s only good in benchmarks. You can run a fps counter while you’re playing a game. But if you watch it instead of where you’re going, you’ll die.
8. A 19 inch HD screen is all you need.
Remember the days when you had a desk and that desk was covered in papers, usually several layers of paper; a kind of open-air vertical filing system. And then you went to the computer and tried to replicate a 3D filing system with an area of at least 10 square feet in a 15 inch. VGA monitor. So now you’re spending too much time enduring apps and documents on screen and not working…which brings us to Peddie’s Axiom #2: “The more you can see, the more you can To do.” I use three 30 inch 4k screens and want more.
9. Cars overturn, stuntmen crash, pigs can fly.
No, no, well, probably not. Movies today are more special effects than they are real. Cars don’t roll over (see Newton’s 2nd Law), people can’t fall three stories, get back up, brush their teeth, then chase bad guys away. As for pigs, OK, that’s a special case. Everything is CG (except for the flying pig part).
10. Things break.
Perhaps. In a game, you can have real physics, or so-called built-in (or game) physics. In game physics, if you break something, it always breaks the same way. In real physics, if you break something, it depends on how hard you hit it and what angle you hit it from. You’ll never watch a game the same way again. You’re welcome.
11. And, not a myth, Blinn’s Law: “As technology advances, rendering time remains constant.”
Most people think that the goal of CG is to make computers and GPUs work faster so that developing a design or film takes less time. Ah! But refer to Peddie’s Axiom #1. We don’t want faster, we want prettier, more believable. If you can give us more compute cycles, we’ll move on to make a scene that will take your breath away and make you wonder if it’s real or not. That’s why we live in the CG world.