Since the birth of computer graphics to digital photography


Digital photography is one of the latest it applications, so that in this respect it may be useful to try to rebuild the technological path that led to the creation of computer graphics, which is that node from which all those applications that have somehow to do with graphics: from videogames to medical thermography, and engineering projects , not less, to digital photography.

In the 1960s on the walls of many locals that housed computers, made a fine show of themselves, faces or abstract designs printed on paper, and this thanks to much expensive than bulky machinery, which almost have nothing more to do with the current personal computers. Those images, albeit devoid of aesthetic value or practical, were the first experiences in the field of creative computer graphics.

In 1943, during World War II, a U.S. Army Colonel proposed designing a computing equipment for artillery. The challenge was collected by the University of Pennsylvania and "the unit" was introduced in 1946, after ben 7237 working hours. It was called ENIAC (Elettrical Numerical Integrator and Calculator)  and was the first computer with valves. The ENIAC used 18,000 valves and 1,500 relays, dissipated heat equivalent to 200 kilowatts and occupied a large room of nine to thirty meters. The limits  of this huge "Calculator" consisted in the precarious reliability and poor memory.


The ENIAC was able to store only a score of ten-digit numbers and "programming" happened through electrical wiring connections from staff. On the other hand, as did note the engineers who had designed the calculator could do much more than build ballistic tables: "the unique design of the ENIAC imposes no restrictions or fundamental or essential to the character nor the complexity of the problems that the machine can deal with." since then, in a few years, came to light many other machines which, among other things, encouraged the affirmation of that taste for acronyms is typical of the computer industry.

Were constructed the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer), the EDSAC (Electronic Delay Storage Automatic Calculator) and successively the UNIVAC, SEAC, SWAC and the MANIAC. In each of these computers were tested new technologies but all were electronic devices without any help of mechanical appliances because the equipment employed Sun changes in electrical currents passing through circuits, also those devices manipulated discrete units, in other words numbers. When the ENIAC fell into disuse, in 1952, his operation had required
replacing  19,000 valves. 

It is not a novelty that a war is accompanied by a significant technological development. Oddly enough, when it comes to refine the art of destroying an enemy, man uses all its intellectual, economic and technological potential to achieve maximum results in the shortest possible time and no expense spared. World War II marked the birth of a new era in military strategies. In 1944, at about the same time when it was built the ENIAC, at the lab Servomechanisms of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology a group led by Jay W. Forrester began to develop, for the United States Navy, a «aircraft» stability control Analyzer. The project would not have had to stop at the level of the analyser but it would have to lead to the construction of the first Flight Simulator of the history. This, at least, is what stated rather optimistically a researcher of the project.

A few years later, the Whirlwind computer was equipped with a cathode ray tubes screen for the specific purpose of tracking figures that could then photograph and print on paper. Using a light pen, was obtained some degree of interaction with the displayed image. The intuition was later elaborated in American air defense system called SAGE, developed by the Government in the mid-1950s
The SAGE was the first word processor based on the use of interactive computer graphics. 
Missiles and planes were detected by radar and their position was displayed on screens.
Traders looked at the pictures and choose the most interesting targets, targets that were given to your computer by pointing them precisely with a light pen. The "machine" was running then the calculations for tracing and interception and sent the results to control stations located elsewhere. The SAGE interactive in the sense that it actually was defined when the operator in front of the screen the instruction imparted, the system was acting, but his answer was still very slow. Only a long time after the machine was able to process information and to change the image on the screen in "real time", i.e. with the same rapidity with which the operator moved the light pen.

The computers of the 1950s were slow, expensive and unreliable and the images they could produce consisted of point tracks based on numerical data. At the time, the use of computers in the arts or in industry or in the show was considered at best as a joke, given the high costs of equipment, programming effort required and the very modest results

The first graphic devices were produced in the mid-1960s, following the research started several years before and thanks to the continued progress of electronic technology. With vacuum tubes, in fact, a graphic video would be unusable because it would take thousands of tubes for its operation. Among these early experimental devices need to be reminded that developed by Ivan Sutherland in 1963 in the laboratories of MIT. Sutherland can be considered the father of interactive computer graphics in real time, having discussed, in 1962 at MIT, a doctoral thesis entitled Sketchpad:
a man-machine graphical communication system.  In the thesis was deliberate, albeit in embryonic form, a methodology of computer graphics which, apart from the name, and worthwhile, it launched the lucky development.

A drawing made with the Sketchpad (literally meaning "sketchbook") was based on arcs, lines and points. Holding with one hand the pen light the operator specifying the relationship between the graphic elements (angles and dimensions). His other hand worked at the keyboard: If the pen traced a line not perfectly straight line or a circle not really adjust, the computer was able to correct it. In this way could be confused and irregular marks turned into electronic symbols extremely sharp. For the first time it was possible to use the pen light, just like a pencil or a brush, and draw on the screen, as if it were a sheet of paper. In addition, a number of geometric shapes such as circles, ellipses, squares and symbolic icons like arrows and crosses could be stored in a "library" and then recalled on screen at any time by using your keyboard.

Further studies led to the development of Sketchpad III, made by Timothy Jonhson, who worked in the same laboratory of Sutherland. This machine differed from the previous one, because it gave the operator the ability to draw and display 3D objects. The impact of Sketchpad was almost immediate in the CAE (Computer Aided Engineering), although not all recognized the scope of innovation, development potential and the programming effort required to implement a process that was really effective. Some manufacturers of cars and planes used experimental design systems (and contributed to PhD) that earned many theoretical teaching but resolved few practical problems. In the mid-1960s, General Motors was equipped with an interesting design of the bodywork, Digigraphics system, which offered among other things the first suggestions of user friendliness, i.e. the availability to you. It was noticed that greatly encouraged interactive graphics systems programmers who struggled to get systems with ease of use and speed of action. For an operator who finds himself faced with a complex view on the screen was not (and still is) easy to maintain a constant level of attention and acknowledge the implications of an image that you change, intuiting the next step.

In the same years were made the first plotters used allowing the computer to common designs on a sheet of paper. These devices offer new opportunities for development to the nascent computer industry: for the first time a computer could draw.  As a result, technical applications were added those "artistic" character: "deeds" were real run with the plotters and afterwards with much more sophisticated systems.


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