May 5th, 2017

How interactive 3D evolved over the years – History of 3D Visualization

History of 3D Visualization, 3d, visualisation, Srushti VIZ

Interactiveness is the key to likability, reachability and longevity in the most modern world of business and service. The best spokesperson for a project today, is the project itself. With visualization one can illustrate three dimensional presentations way before the intended project gets into the production or manufacturing stage too. This new wave technology of 3D visualization is reforming every industry there is and let us see how it evolved over the years.

Perhaps no other beings have developed such vast forms of communication than humans and if easy flow and exchange of information is at the root of communication, there is probably no better medium than visual communication. The use of visual imageries for communication can be dated long back to the dawn of humanity. Parietal Art, also known as Cave Paintings, were one of the earliest forms of visual communication. Thousands of years later, they are still enthusiastically studied upon and it is a matter of interest for both history scholars and aesthetic admirers. It still hits the news whenever they are discovered! With the growth of civilizations there developed better visual communication tools too. The greek geometry and Egyptian writing system known as Hieroglyph were some of the finest examples in this regard. If seeing something before it is made is at the core of visualization, Leonardo Da Vinci can be considered as the pioneer of visualization! Being an expert in mechanical principles, he drew several models of earliest flying machine, hydraulic machine, convex lens grinding machine etc. However such paper works did not turn into working models until interest in Da Vinci inventions saw a magnificent uprising in the twentieth century and many projects came alive to convert Da Vinci diagrams to working models. Talk about visualizing in advance!

During late Medieval period, the most famous cultural movement ‘Renaissance’ started in Italy and its Protagoras philosophy ‘Man is the measure of all things’ helped enhance the scope of art, architecture, politics, science and literature. It was in this era that a pathbreaking method called ‘Perspective’ was introduced. In short, perspective was a method to recreate three dimensional physical reality of human form in two dimensional surfaces. To obtain this perspective, artists chose a vanishing point in the horizon line. Then, they formed a retreating checkerboard that would meet and disappear at the vanishing point. The unique features of this method were that, the objects looked smaller when their distance from the observer increased and its dimensions along the line of sight were shorter compared to across the line. It became a worldwide sensation and even some of the computer graphics today is a modified version of Perspective!

Five centuries later, Germany was the stage to one of the biggest revolutions in art, design and visualization. ‘Staatliches Bauhaus’ or simply ‘Bauhaus’, the art school founded by architect Walter Adolph George Gropius was famous for their unique design approach which became a massive influence in modernist architecture. In this period, architects became a specialized group that concentrated on the expression and structure of space rather than just being master builders. Designs were mostly focused on form and space, leaving behind unwanted embellishments. The ‘Bauhaus’ emphasized on using only the primary colours red, blue and yellow. This colour palette, combined with simple geometry group of lines and volumes gave a unique identity to the Bauhaus ideology. Three dimensional spaces were overlapped and color coded which produced illustrative explanations. Architects expanded their focus from the ‘what’ to the ‘why’ and ‘how’ as well. The resulting outcome was that even a layman was able to interpret space the way architects did!

The world hasn’t been the same ever since the introduction of Computers. You might find it tough to spot one field that has not updated itself to computer technology. Today, if computer technologies stop functioning, daily life will almost be impossible. Such has been its influence and it is no surprise that the most powerful revolution in visualization came with the advent of computers. However, in the early stages its possibilities were limited due to narrow graphics power. With the introduction of computers, Computer Aided Design (CAD), the process of using computer systems to create, modify and analyse designs started to take shape too. Patrick J Hanratty is often credited as the Father of Computer Aided Design. During his tenure with General Electric, Patrick designed ‘Program for Numerical Tooling Operations’ (PRONTO) in 1957. This was the first example of a commercial Computer Numerical Control programming system. Five years later, Ivan Sutherland presented his famous thesis ‘Sketchpad – a Man Machine Graphical Communication System’ at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its special attraction was the first graphical user interface where a light pen simulated objects on a Cathode Ray Tube. In 1962, Auto Trol introduced the first digitizer and in 1964, General Motors and IBM publically unveiled Design Augmented by Computer (DAC – 1), one of the earliest CAD systems. Towards the end of 1960s, there were several new startups formed to commercialize their CAD programs such as the Structural Dynamic Research Corporation (SDRC), Applicon, Computervision, Evans and Sutherland etc.

Non-uniform rational basis spline (NURBS), was introduced by Kevin Versprille in his PHD thesis which formed the base for modern 3D curve and surface modeling. Two parameters functioned in the surfaces of NURBS and they mapped into a third dimensional space surface. This way it provided efficient handling by computer programs and also provided scope for human interaction. NURBS significantly enhanced the three dimensional research in 1970’s too. UNIX workstations became a popular commodity in 1980’s and thus commercial CAD systems like CATIA became prominent in industries such as automotive and aerospace. But it was after the launch of first IBM PC in 1981 that CAD systems gained widespread popularity. The following year, programmer John Walker founded Autodesk and their most striking aspect was the use of AutoCAD, the CAD software John had coauthored. AutoCAD is now used in a wide range of fields such as architecture, manufacturing, entertainment etc. The launch of Pro/Engineer, the 3D CAD software based on solid geometry and feature based parametric techniques was a game changer in 1987. Though AutoCAD was a significant revolution, it was still largely two dimensional up until the arrival of Pro/Engineer. In the years that followed, several 3D modeling kernels were introduced and ACIS modeler and Parasolid were the most prominent one among them. Personal computers were proficient enough to run 3D CAD by 1990s. The first major solid modeler for Windows, ‘SolidWorks’ was released in 1995. Very soon it was followed by a group of similar platforms like Solid Edge, Inventor etc.

Since then, the giant wave of technology broadened the scope of Computer Aided Designs and subsequently visualization became mighty powerful tool too. The computer generated imageries slowly began to transform into something much bigger than mere designs or representatives. Today, they speak for themselves! With real time simulation and rendering, CGI is no more a guideline. It is the product! From cave paintings to real time three dimensional images of a future product, we have certainly come a long way!

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