Ed Catmull: A 3D Computer Graphics Pioneer
Dr. Ed Catmull, currently the president of Pixar and Disney Animation, was one of the founding fathers of Pixar (PW, 2008). He had the drive to animate but, lacking the drawing skills, Catmull focused on computer graphics, which he believed could be utilised to create feature-length animations.
Sourced from: shttp://waltdisneystudios.com/corp/unit/6/bio/53
With a degree in Computer Science and Physics, Catmull has received several awards for his multiple industry achievements (Disney, 2009). His most notable contributions to the field of computer graphics include: the development of the z-buffer and the invention of texture mapping (PW, 2008).
Z-buffering is an algorithm which manages the depth and positioning of assets in a 3D environment: particularly it ensures that an object in the foreground will block (or partial block) the view of an object in the background, therefore behaving as real life objects would (Rouse, 2005). This demonstrated below:
Sourced from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z-buffering
Texture mapping is the process by which a 2D image or texture map can be applied to the 3D asset in order to give it a desired look (Bourdon, 2013).
A 3D cube is textured to look like a crate. Sourced from: http://satish3dartist.blogspot.com.au/2010/08/texturing-mapped-model.html
Without Ed Catmull, the graphics industry would not be what it is today.
Democratisation in the 3D Graphics Industry
Democratisation refers to, in this case, making the 3D graphics industry democratic. That is, creating an industry where power, resources and opportunities are spread equally among the people (Dictionary.com, 2014).
Up until recently a divide has existed between the large, professional 3D graphics studios and the enthusiast at home with a computer. However, recent changes in the way digital content is created and distributed have created new opportunities as the industry adapts in order to remain viable in the global marketplace (Estes, 2013). Both software and hardware are becoming more affordable, powerful and accessible; no longer are these exclusive to large companies (CB, 2013). In fact, many graphics programs are now free to install and use, such as: Blender, GIMP, Sketch Up and Unity1 (JPR, 2012).
Created with Blender, Sintel is a 15 minute animation available for free download: https://durian.blender.org/download/
The implications for the industry are as follows:
- Self-trained artists have the tools and, due to the availability of online tutorials, the abilities to become a viable artist within the industry.
- This rise of non-traditionally trained talent brings new ideas, creativity and competition into the industry.
- It does, however, also dilute the workforce, making jobs opportunities even rarer.
- Independent studios can gain a foothold in the industry, allowing them to reach new demographics and further the marketability and prominence of 3D graphics.
- With software and hardware available globally, and the ability to communicate online, larger companies can create content across multiple geological locations.
- This increases creativity within the industry, as new cultures and views will be brought to the table.
- This drastically increases job opportunities, as one is no longer limited to their town, city or country.
- Larger companies are once more at an advantage, therefore gaining a foothold above individuals and independents.
(Creative Blog, 2013; Estes, 2013; John Peddie Research, 2012).
Emerging Technologies: Ptex
One emerging open-source technology that could help further democratisation is Ptex. Developed by the Walt Disney Animation Studios, Ptex is “per-face texture mapping system that does not require UV assignment” (Seymour, 2014). Essentially, the Ptex eliminates the process of UV assignment which is time-consuming and difficult (Ptex, 2012). According to their website, Ptex (2012) does so in a way which allows for “any number of textures to be stored in a single file” and for seamless filtering.
First example of Ptex, with the individual faces displayed (left) and the final textured model (right). Sourced from http://ptex.us/overview.html
When using Ptex, the texture is painted directly onto the 3D model. This saves an incredible amount of time and guarantees no seams (Masters, 2014). Disney has used Ptex exclusively on their last four major works (Frozen, Wreck-It-Ralph, Tangled and Bolt) and the program is now being picked up by many, including Pixar (Seymour, 2014).
Speed texturing using Mudbox and Ptex. Sourced from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzIfW1dPNHs
The implication for asset creation is enormous. It cuts an entire step out of the production pipeline and saves a large amount of time. This technology allows film-quality assets to be created efficiently and can plug in to industry standard software such as Mudbox (Masters, 2014). Ptex has the potential to revolutionise the creation of 3D graphics for animations and films. However, Ptex is currently not compatible for use in video games as they must be rendered in real-time (Masters, 2014).
1The free version of Unity is available for commercial use as long as the creator/s or company does not exceed $100,000 in profits (Unity Technologies, 2014).
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Estes, J. (2013). Is the Demoncratization of Graphics a Good Thing?. Retrieved from
John Peddie Research (JPR). (2012). The Democratisation of 3D. Retrieved from
Masters, M. (2014). Understanding Ptex – Is it the Future of Texturing?. Retrieved from
Pixar Wiki (PW). (2008). Ed Catmull. Retrieved from
Ptex. (20112). Ptex Overview. Retrieved from
Rouse, M. (2005). Z-buffering. Retrieved from
Seymour, M. (2014). Ptex, the other side of texturing. Retrieved from
Unity Technologies. (2014). License Comparisons. Retrieved from