Discovering Computer Graphics

Everybody likes to feel nostalgic every once in a while, right?

For me, it can be hearing the Ocarina of Time soundtrack that transports me back to my childhood and the countless sketches of Link I drew. Or how any Flogging Molly song places me on the specific rural road I used to travel in my home town, blasting their records. Apparently music is a big catalyst for my nostalgic moments. Similarly, there are certain things that trigger memories of my first experiences with computer graphics. CG is a big part of my life and I think it would be fun to reminisce about how we got involved with it. Please follow along by sharing your own discovery experiences in the comments!

KilikI can trace the initial spark of curiosity back to the Dreamcast game, Soul Calibur. I read the instruction booklet over and over, studying the fighters’ bio renders - Kilik’s especially. For me, drawing was something I constantly did as a kid. It was the only way I knew how to recreate the things I saw. And I remember realizing the Soul Calibur images weren’t drawn, but somehow made in the computer instead. So as a 10-year-old kid I opened Microsoft Paint and attempted to recreate it!

As you can imagine this didn’t work out. Utterly dumbfounded, I gave up and could only ponder about the medium I didn't understand. That’s how the CG seed was planted.

Fast forward about 5 years and I’m a freshmen in high school. I was friends with a guy who was king of the nerds as far as I knew. And I mean that in the best way - He was brilliant and I’m sure he’s doing big things these days. But as a 15-year-old he was developing a video game from scratch in his free time. And since he knew that I “liked to draw” he asked if I would be interested in building some gun models for his game. Turns out I was very interested so he pointed me to Milkshape 3D. Ever heard of that one? At that time I hadn’t yet figured out how useful “googling” stuff was so the best I could do with Milkshape was to cram a bunch of cubes and cylinders together so it roughly resembled an M16. I kept playing with it for a few months and eventually learned how to search the internet for CG-related things by typing in words I saw in the program: "vertex", "polygon", "extrude",etc. That’s when I stumbled into the CGTalk forum for the first time and my mind exploded! 

The stuff there looked just like the characters in the Soul Calibur instruction booklet. Finally I was in the right place. In no time I was introduced to the professional players: 3D Studio Max and Maya (Not a lot of Milkshape users on there). Another search dropped my jaw at their price tags. Yet undeterred, I contrived a deal with my parents to pay half of the $600 student version if I payed my half through household chores.

A couple months later, a large blue and purple box of life-changing software arrived on my doorstep. If you’re wondering how I didn’t discover Blender instead, I’m wondering that too! I have no recollection of seeing “Blender” in any of my searching. Though, maybe it did appear and I dismissed it for the kitchen appliance. Again, wasn’t very experienced with the Google.

That whole year was almost entirely devoted to computer graphics with 3ds Max 6. I wore out the included, massive tutorial book along with the classic online tutorial about creating Joan of Arc - You know which one I'm talking about

By the end of the year, I was done playing and wanted to make a serious sequel to the original Matrix film. After months of working on an ugly scene and an ugly character, I abandoned the project. I took a break from the computer for a few months until Halo 2 was released and I got hooked. With H2 I splurged and purchased the special edition which came with a behind the scenes look into the game’s development. That DVD was like an epiphany (Bungie has since uploaded it to YouTube). THIS is what I wanted to do when I grew up! So naturally, as an aspiring digital artist with a dangerous amount of free time, I decided to make a Halo film. An endeavor that produced several improved character models but ultimately withered away. Not to worry though, my career path was set! It was off to college and then into the industry. 

Below you can see a few screen grabs of my first CG projects....yikes. I don't even care to remember what's happening in that third cart-wheely image.

My first projects

Anyway, those are my favorite nostalgic experiences that introduced me to the world of computer graphics! Now anytime I stumble upon Soul Calibur gathering dust in my basement or watch a trailer for the latest Halo iteration, I can’t help but remember back to the early days of vertices, polygons, and extrusion that ignited my creative passion.

How did you discover your passion for computer graphics?

Share your story either here in the comments below or in this community thread!

CC Attribution 

"Polaroid_11" by Brenda Clarke
"Day 3: Geeky Boy on Vacation" by Laura Blankenship
"Wooden Bench" by Lisa Williams

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  • Forrest Harless (forrest-harless)

    Funny this would pop up! I was just explaining to a friend how I'd come to be a 3D artist!
    I think I was around ten or eleven when Pac Man hit the scene and that was probably my first exposure to any computer generated graphics! As a kid, I used to follow my older brother around sometimes as he trekked across our little town, in search of the ultimate pinball machine. Eventually those pinball machines gave way to the video game era! The eighties were all about arcades and any possible scenario you could imagine, played out in a scrolling 2d platform!
    I'd always been one to sketch and paint. It just came natural but what I really wanted to do was make movies and as a kid. I never really connected the imagery found in games to the making of a movie!.................Until Tron! That movie changed the game for everyone and then there was The Last Star Fighter! These movies opened a lot of doors in terms of potential applications and really got our creative juices flowing!!
    Years passed and the boy became a young man and the man was still sketching and painting. I wasn't sure if I wanted to pursue a career in art but I knew it would most likely always be a part of my life. The nineties were just getting started and I was in a long distance relationship. My then, girlfriend shared a pamphlet with me about The Art Institute of Pittsburgh and a new 3D program they were starting! I was immediately interested and it seemed like a win win! I could attend college, doing something I loved and I could finally be with my girl full time! I can honestly say that my entire time at AIP was the most content I'd ever been at that time!
    After I graduated, I immediately took a job in NC, with a third party developer and my girlfriend became my ex girlfriend! Ah, well. The rough and tumble life of a 3D artist isn't for everyone!..........but I still wasn't making movies!
    Eventually, I left the game biz and decided to pursue other endeavors! I basically walked completely away from 3D art simply because the software alone was way too expensive! ...............Until, Blender.
    By the time I discovered Blender, I'd married and become a father of two children! I'd bought a house in my hometown and settled in to raise a family but (like all of us) I wanted more for my family and stayed frustrated at the fact that there's no market for what I was good at! Then, one day I woke up and realized i didn't need a market! I needed to generate one, myself! I needed to start a business of my own and again, pursue the thing I'd always loved the most! My artistic endeavors. Most specifically 3D art and animation!
    Things are going slow and I still work a regular job but my wife and I own a small niche photography studio, dealing strictly in digital media as a way to keep costs down for our customers and the added headache of dealing with print media! I hope to eventually expand into other areas but for now, we're comfortable with the pace and the older I get, the more I realize how much more important time is than money!
    I'll be fifty years old next August and time with my family means everything but when the kids go down for the night and my wife curls up to a good book, I'll pour myself a hot coffee and fire up the system for a good Blend and a Cookie! :)

  • John Gallino (kindabella)

    wow Milkshape 3d! That brings me back to making Seinfeld and Zoolander characters for The Sims

  • Todor Nikolov (toshiro)

    Ah the memories.
    For me it all started in the early 90s with watching this video on morning TV
    I had no idea what I was looking at or how it was made but I knew it was amazing. I only rediscovered this video recently.

    I started reading anything I could find about CG in Computer related magazines (which wasn't much).
    Eventually someone installed a pirated version of 3d studio for DOS (I don't think I understood the concept of piracy at the time) on my PC.
    The long learning process begins. Around the same time I was playing a mech-game called Earth Siege and I wanted to make my own mech. Months of learning and modeling culminated in my dad commenting on one of my mechs: "Is that a rubbish bin on chicken legs?" :D (My introduction to the harsh reality of artistic critique.)

    A few games and animations between 94~96 had a huge impact on me.
    Games: EarthSiege, Time Command, Little big adventure, Ecstatica
    The real adventures of Jonny Quest ! - I remember watching reruns on Cartoon Network hoping that it would be one where they log into the CG world.
    Toy Story - I remember wondering how the heck they did the hair on the characters.

  • Michal Zisman (michalzisman)

    It's funny. I feel like it's a thing with male 3d artists; they get hooked up on video games and eager to make 3d guns, tanks, creatures... ;)

    I got to know 3d 10 yeaes ago, in my late college years. I was in a video clip workshop and for my final project I did a music video for REM's Daysleeper with no other than Microsoft Paint. My instructor absolutely loved it - the execution and especially the storytelling - and so he suggested I would sign to a prestige Art college here in Israel where he held a 3d course.

    After receiving my degree, I had no money to take on another college adventure. So instead of learning 3d the traditional way, I did it online. First try was with anim8tor. Gave it 10 minutes before giving up. And then I found blender. I watched a bunch of free tutorials to learn all the basics, did a few exercises, and left it right when Cycles came out.

    For a few years, the Blender shortcut icon on my desktop collected dust. But a year ago something told me hey, let's open it and just have some fun :)

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