The computer has become a powerful tool for fast and economical production of pictures and images. Computer graphics remain one of the rapidly growing and most exciting fields today. An old Chinese saying states that ‘One picture is worth a thousand words’, could be modified in today’s computer era as ‘One picture is worth many kilobytes of data’. It’s natural to expect graphical communication often would be more convenient when computers are used for this purpose. Computer graphics has revolutionized nearly every computer-based app in technology and science.
Saying that computer graphics matter is an understatement. Actually, they have become an integral part of any computer-based device, from smart phones to server machines, which include smart TV’s, which in a way could be considered today as computer-based hardware. The demand for high quality, intensive graphics is unabated, covering all field of app, from medical imaging to entertainment and everything in between. Definitely, image is everywhere. Whatever the quality of the music is, it is difficult to imagine a pop song to sell and be successful without a great video to go with it.
Today, it may seem natural that CG software or custom software development and GUIs empower digital creativity. In fact, they were to a great extent a result of the software development’s attempt to automate design and manufacturing. The US, in the early 80’s were threatened about losing its global economic power. The way it found a way to overcome the threat was to envision software as a tool to lower costs in manufacturing, via automating parts of it. The CAD software was in huge demand, mainly as a way of reducing manufacturing costs as well as to boost US competitiveness.
It hastens up the development of algorithms for digital drawing and rendering. Moreover, this was also the moment in history wherein computer graphics transitioned from being part of scientific work to be widely available for non-coding users. The move required producers to lessen maintenance obligations and expenses through creating documentation, support services and software development tools that detached users from developers. While CAS was moving computer graphics away from science during the early 80’s and 90’s, the Hollywood industry experimented with renewing animation via new technology and bringing users to software development. Such experiments initially were however limited.
In the early 90’s, what Pixar and later on SONY, DreamWorks and Ghibi realized is that there was no way of renewing a visual medium without messing up technology and involving users and artists in the process. Even at the start, even if the general production process still resembles a factory that has hierarchical management, developing the vision of an artist and technology for every film go hand in hand. Historically, they tried downplaying the relevance of technological development in public opinion, since the industry wants people to believe that their offerings are created by artists who are exceptionally talented.
Now, this is changing with Pixar itself celebrating technology and the possibility of bringing together developers and artists through videos, such as the magic ingredient, which brings Pixar movies to life. But, the Hollywood industry does not make money out of technology, but out of content that it circulates and brands. Thus, there are software companies that develop CG software, but users are not able to experiment with the algorithms nor contact developers and experiment with alternative techno-art visions. At present, the Hollywood industry pushes further the development of CL algorithms and what could be accomplished with them without making the technology available, or sharing it only to a very limited degree. Recently, there have been signs that this could be changing, for instance Ghibli making their Toonz animation software available for users of Linux. So far however, sharing technology is still an exception.
Free software, such as Krita, Blender and Snfig and other projects for computer graphics gain relevance for various reasons that stretch beyond the four freedoms that free software provides. Free software enables mimicking of the models of work of Hollywood while making it accessible for more people. It encourages CG development that is practice-based, which could fit individual workflows and handle unexpected situations that could come up in the course of work, instead of aiming at a mass product for all users and circumstances. Catering to the needs and adaptations of the software to an individual brings users to work closer to craft and makes the technology more human. Individual skill and tools could be polished, reshaped and enhanced continuously, based on individual requirements, and instead of shaped by decisions ‘from above’. This sense of craft gets robust as artists get in direct contact with developers of their work tools. When they do so, users and artists being guiding technological development. Furthermore, software engineers could change into being servants, instead of masters of technological development.