Computer-generated imagery

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Morphogenetic Creations computer-generated digital art exhibition by Andy Lomas at Watermans Arts Centre, west London, in 2016 Morphogenic digital art exhibition by Andy Lomas at Watermans Arts Centre, London.jpg
Morphogenetic Creations computer-generated digital art exhibition by Andy Lomas at Watermans Arts Centre, west London, in 2016

Computer-generated imagery (CGI) is a specific-technology or application of computer graphics for creating or improving images in art, printed media, simulators, videos and video games. These images are either static (i.e. still images) or dynamic (i.e. moving images). CGI both refers to 2D computer graphics and (more frequently) 3D computer graphics with the purpose of designing characters, virtual worlds, or scenes and special effects (in films, television programs, commercials, etc.). The application of CGI for creating/improving animations is called computer animation, or CGI animation.



The first feature film to use CGI as well as the composition of live-action film with CGI was Vertigo , [1] which used abstract computer graphics by John Whitney in the opening credits of the film. The first feature film to make use of CGI with live action in the storyline of the film was the 1973 film Westworld . [2] Other early films that incorporated CGI include Star Wars: Episode IV (1977), [2] Tron (1982), Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan (1982), [2] Golgo 13: The Professional (1983), [3] The Last Starfighter (1984), [4] Young Sherlock Holmes (1985), The Abyss (1989), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993) and Toy Story (1995). The first music video to use CGI was Dire Straits's award-winning "Money for Nothing" (1985), whose success was instrumental in giving the process mainstream exposure.[ citation needed ]

Prior to CGI being prevalent in film, virtual reality, personal computing and gaming, one of the early practical applications of CGI was for aviation and military training namely, the flight simulator. Visual systems developed in flight simulators were also an important precursor to three dimensional computer graphics and Computer Generated Imagery (CGI) systems today. Namely because the object of flight simulation was to reproduce on the ground the behavior of an aircraft in flight. Much of this reproduction had to do with believable visual synthesis that mimicked reality. [5] The Link Digital Image Generator (DIG) by the Singer Company (Singer-Link), was considered one of the worlds first generation CGI systems. [6] It was a real-time, 3D capable, day/dusk/night system that was used by NASA shuttles, for F-111s, Black Hawk and the B-52. Link's Digital Image Generator had architecture to provide a visual system that realistically corresponded with the view of the pilot. [7] The basic archictecture of the DIG and subsequent improvements contained a scene manager followed by geometric processor, video processor and into the display with the end goal of a visual system that processed realistic texture, shading, translucency capabilties, and free of aliasing. [8]

Combined with the need to pair virtual synthesis with military level training requirements, CGI technologies applied in flight simulation were often years ahead of what would have been available in commercial computing or even in high budget film. Early CGI systems could depict only objects consisting of planar polygons. Advances in algorithms and electronics in flight simulator visual systems and CGI in the 1970s and 1980s influenced many technologies still used in modern CGI adding the ability to superimpose texture over the surfaces as well as transition imagery from one level of detail to the next one in a smooth manner. [9]

The evolution of CGI led to the emergence of virtual cinematography in the 1990s, where the vision of the simulated camera is not constrained by the laws of physics. Availability of CGI software and increased computer speeds have allowed individual artists and small companies to produce professional-grade films, games, and fine art from their home computers.

Static images and landscapes

A fractal landscape created in Terragen FractalLandscape.jpg
A fractal landscape created in Terragen

Not only do animated images form part of computer-generated imagery; natural looking landscapes (such as fractal landscapes) are also generated via computer algorithms. A simple way to generate fractal surfaces is to use an extension of the triangular mesh method, relying on the construction of some special case of a de Rham curve, e.g., midpoint displacement. [10] For instance, the algorithm may start with a large triangle, then recursively zoom in by dividing it into four smaller Sierpinski triangles, then interpolate the height of each point from its nearest neighbors. [10] The creation of a Brownian surface may be achieved not only by adding noise as new nodes are created but by adding additional noise at multiple levels of the mesh. [10] Thus a topographical map with varying levels of height can be created using relatively straightforward fractal algorithms. Some typical, easy-to-program fractals used in CGI are the plasma fractal and the more dramatic fault fractal. [11]

Many specific techniques have been researched and developed to produce highly focused computer-generated effects — e.g., the use of specific models to represent the chemical weathering of stones to model erosion and produce an "aged appearance" for a given stone-based surface. [12]

Architectural scenes

A computer-generated image featuring a house at sunset, made in Blender Lone House.jpg
A computer-generated image featuring a house at sunset, made in Blender

Modern architects use services from computer graphic firms to create 3-dimensional models for both customers and builders. These computer generated models can be more accurate than traditional drawings. Architectural animation (which provides animated movies of buildings, rather than interactive images) can also be used to see the possible relationship a building will have in relation to the environment and its surrounding buildings. The processing of architectural spaces without the use of paper and pencil tools is now a widely accepted practice with a number of computer-assisted architectural design systems. [13]

Architectural modeling tools allow an architect to visualize a space and perform "walk-throughs" in an interactive manner, thus providing "interactive environments" both at the urban and building levels. [14] Specific applications in architecture not only include the specification of building structures (such as walls and windows) and walk-throughs but the effects of light and how sunlight will affect a specific design at different times of the day. [15] [16]

Architectural modeling tools have now become increasingly internet-based. However, the quality of internet-based systems still lags behind sophisticated in-house modeling systems. [17]

In some applications, computer-generated images are used to "reverse engineer" historical buildings. For instance, a computer-generated reconstruction of the monastery at Georgenthal in Germany was derived from the ruins of the monastery, yet provides the viewer with a "look and feel" of what the building would have looked like in its day. [18]

Anatomical models

A CT pulmonary angiogram image generated by a computer from a collection of x-rays SADDLE PE.JPG
A CT pulmonary angiogram image generated by a computer from a collection of x-rays

Computer generated models used in skeletal animation are not always anatomically correct. However, organizations such as the Scientific Computing and Imaging Institute have developed anatomically correct computer-based models. Computer generated anatomical models can be used both for instructional and operational purposes. To date, a large body of artist produced medical images continue to be used by medical students, such as images by Frank H. Netter, e.g. Cardiac images. However, a number of online anatomical models are becoming available.

A single patient X-ray is not a computer generated image, even if digitized. However, in applications which involve CT scans a three-dimensional model is automatically produced from many single-slice x-rays, producing "computer generated image". Applications involving magnetic resonance imaging also bring together a number of "snapshots" (in this case via magnetic pulses) to produce a composite, internal image.

In modern medical applications, patient-specific models are constructed in 'computer assisted surgery'. For instance, in total knee replacement, the construction of a detailed patient-specific model can be used to carefully plan the surgery. [19] These three-dimensional models are usually extracted from multiple CT scans of the appropriate parts of the patient's own anatomy. Such models can also be used for planning aortic valve implantations, one of the common procedures for treating heart disease. Given that the shape, diameter, and position of the coronary openings can vary greatly from patient to patient, the extraction (from CT scans) of a model that closely resembles a patient's valve anatomy can be highly beneficial in planning the procedure. [20]

Cloth and skin images

Computer-generated wet fur created in Autodesk Maya Wet Fur - CGI.jpg
Computer-generated wet fur created in Autodesk Maya

Models of cloth generally fall into three groups:

To date, making the clothing of a digital character automatically fold in a natural way remains a challenge for many animators. [22]

In addition to their use in film, advertising and other modes of public display, computer generated images of clothing are now routinely used by top fashion design firms. [23]

The challenge in rendering human skin images involves three levels of realism:

The finest visible features such as fine wrinkles and skin pores are the size of about 100 μm or 0.1 millimetres. Skin can be modeled as a 7-dimensional bidirectional texture function (BTF) or a collection of bidirectional scattering distribution function (BSDF) over the target's surfaces.

Interactive simulation and visualization

Interactive visualization is the rendering of data that may vary dynamically and allowing a user to view the data from multiple perspectives. The applications areas may vary significantly, ranging from the visualization of the flow patterns in fluid dynamics to specific computer aided design applications. [25] The data rendered may correspond to specific visual scenes that change as the user interacts with the system — e.g. simulators, such as flight simulators, make extensive use of CGI techniques for representing the world. [26]

At the abstract level, an interactive visualization process involves a "data pipeline" in which the raw data is managed and filtered to a form that makes it suitable for rendering. This is often called the "visualization data". The visualization data is then mapped to a "visualization representation" that can be fed to a rendering system. This is usually called a "renderable representation". This representation is then rendered as a displayable image. [26] As the user interacts with the system (e.g. by using joystick controls to change their position within the virtual world) the raw data is fed through the pipeline to create a new rendered image, often making real-time computational efficiency a key consideration in such applications. [26] [27]

Computer animation

Machinima films are, by nature, CGI films.

While computer-generated images of landscapes may be static, computer animation only applies to dynamic images that resemble a movie. However, in general, the term computer animation refers to dynamic images that do not allow user interaction, and the term virtual world is used for the interactive animated environments.

Computer animation is essentially a digital successor to the art of stop motion animation of 3D models and frame-by-frame animation of 2D illustrations. Computer generated animations are more controllable than other more physically based processes, such as constructing miniatures for effects shots or hiring extras for crowd scenes, and because it allows the creation of images that would not be feasible using any other technology. It can also allow a single graphic artist to produce such content without the use of actors, expensive set pieces, or props.

To create the illusion of movement, an image is displayed on the computer screen and repeatedly replaced by a new image which is similar to the previous image, but advanced slightly in the time domain (usually at a rate of 24 or 30 frames/second). This technique is identical to how the illusion of movement is achieved with television and motion pictures.

Text-to-image models

An image conditioned on the prompt "an astronaut riding a horse, by Hiroshige", generated by Stable Diffusion, a large-scale text-to-image model released in 2022 An astronaut riding a horse (Hiroshige) 2022-08-30.png
An image conditioned on the prompt "an astronaut riding a horse, by Hiroshige", generated by Stable Diffusion, a large-scale text-to-image model released in 2022

A text-to-image model is a machine learning model which takes an input natural language description and produces an image matching that description.

Text-to-image models began to be developed in the mid-2010s during the beginnings of the AI boom, as a result of advances in deep neural networks. In 2022, the output of state-of-the-art text-to-image models—such as OpenAI's DALL-E 2, Google Brain's Imagen, Stability AI's Stable Diffusion, and Midjourney—began to be considered to approach the quality of real photographs and human-drawn art.

Text-to-image models generally combine a language model, which transforms the input text into a latent representation, and a generative image model, which produces an image conditioned on that representation. The most effective models have generally been trained on massive amounts of image and text data scraped from the web. [28]

Virtual worlds

A yellow submarine in Second Life Yellow Submarine Second Life.png
A yellow submarine in Second Life
Metallic balls created in Blender Metallic balls.png
Metallic balls created in Blender

A virtual world is an agent-based and simulated environment allowing users to interact with artificially animated characters (e.g software agent) or with other physical users, through the use of avatars. Virtual worlds are intended for its users to inhabit and interact, and the term today has become largely synonymous with interactive 3D virtual environments, where the users take the form of avatars visible to others graphically. [29] These avatars are usually depicted as textual, two-dimensional, or three-dimensional graphical representations, although other forms are possible [30] (auditory [31] and touch sensations for example). Some, but not all, virtual worlds allow for multiple users.

In courtrooms

Computer-generated imagery has been used in courtrooms, primarily since the early 2000s. However, some experts have argued that it is prejudicial. They are used to help judges or the jury to better visualize the sequence of events, evidence or hypothesis. [32] However, a 1997 study showed that people are poor intuitive physicists and easily influenced by computer generated images. [33] Thus it is important that jurors and other legal decision-makers be made aware that such exhibits are merely a representation of one potential sequence of events.

Broadcast and live events

Weather visualizations were the first application of CGI in television. One of the first companies to offer computer systems for generating weather graphics was ColorGraphics Weather Systems in 1979 with the "LiveLine", based around an Apple II computer, with later models from ColorGraphics using Cromemco computers fitted with their Dazzler video graphics card.

It has now become common in weather casting to display full motion video of images captured in real-time from multiple cameras and other imaging devices. Coupled with 3D graphics symbols and mapped to a common virtual geospatial model, these animated visualizations constitute the first true application of CGI to TV.

CGI has become common in sports telecasting. Sports and entertainment venues are provided with see-through and overlay content through tracked camera feeds for enhanced viewing by the audience. Examples include the yellow "first down" line seen in television broadcasts of American football games showing the line the offensive team must cross to receive a first down. CGI is also used in association with football and other sporting events to show commercial advertisements overlaid onto the view of the playing area. Sections of rugby fields and cricket pitches also display sponsored images. Swimming telecasts often add a line across the lanes to indicate the position of the current record holder as a race proceeds to allow viewers to compare the current race to the best performance. Other examples include hockey puck tracking and annotations of racing car performance [34] and snooker ball trajectories. [35] [36] Sometimes CGI on TV with correct alignment to the real world has been referred to as augmented reality.


Computer-generated imagery is often used in conjunction with motion-capture to better cover the faults that come with CGI and animation. Computer-generated imagery is limited in its practical application by how realistic it can look. Unrealistic, or badly managed computer-generated imagery can result in the Uncanny Valley effect. [37] This effect refers to the human ability to recognize things that look eerily like humans, but are slightly off. Such ability is a fault with normal computer-generated imagery which, due to the complex anatomy of the human-body, can often fail to replicate it perfectly. This is where motion-capture comes into play. Artists can use a motion-capture rig to get footage of a human performing an action and then replicate it perfectly with computer-generated imagery so that it looks normal.

The lack of anatomically correct digital models contributes to the necessity of motion-capture as it is used with computer-generated imagery. Because computer-generated imagery reflects only the outside, or skin, of the object being rendered, it fails to capture the infinitesimally small interactions between interlocking muscle groups used in fine motor-control, like speaking. The constant motion of the face as it makes sounds with shaped lips and tongue movement, along with the facial expressions that go along with speaking are difficult to replicate by hand. [38] Motion capture can catch the underlying movement of facial muscles and better replicate the visual that goes along with the audio, like Josh Brolin's Thanos.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Computer animation</span> Art of creating moving images using computers

Computer animation is the process used for digitally generating moving images. The more general term computer-generated imagery (CGI) encompasses both still images and moving images, while computer animation only refers to moving images. Modern computer animation usually uses 3D computer graphics.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Simulation</span> Imitation of the operation of a real-world process or system over time

A simulation is an imitative representation of a process or system that could exist in the real world. In this broad sense, simulation can often be used interchangeably with model. Sometimes a clear distinction between the two terms is made, in which simulations require the use of models; the model represents the key characteristics or behaviors of the selected system or process, whereas the simulation represents the evolution of the model over time. Another way to distinguish between the terms is to define simulation as experimentation with the help of a model. This definition includes time-independent simulations. Often, computers are used to execute the simulation.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Flight simulator</span> Technology used for training aircrew

A flight simulator is a device that artificially re-creates aircraft flight and the environment in which it flies, for pilot training, design, or other purposes. It includes replicating the equations that govern how aircraft fly, how they react to applications of flight controls, the effects of other aircraft systems, and how the aircraft reacts to external factors such as air density, turbulence, wind shear, cloud, precipitation, etc. Flight simulation is used for a variety of reasons, including flight training, the design and development of the aircraft itself, and research into aircraft characteristics and control handling qualities.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Digital art</span> Collective term for art that is generated digitally with a computer

Digital art refers to any artistic work or practice that uses digital technology as part of the creative or presentation process. It can also refer to computational art that uses and engages with digital media.

Visual effects is the process by which imagery is created or manipulated outside the context of a live-action shot in filmmaking and video production. The integration of live-action footage and other live-action footage or CGI elements to create realistic imagery is called VFX.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Scientific visualization</span> Interdisciplinary branch of science concerned with presenting scientific data visually

Scientific visualization is an interdisciplinary branch of science concerned with the visualization of scientific phenomena. It is also considered a subset of computer graphics, a branch of computer science. The purpose of scientific visualization is to graphically illustrate scientific data to enable scientists to understand, illustrate, and glean insight from their data. Research into how people read and misread various types of visualizations is helping to determine what types and features of visualizations are most understandable and effective in conveying information.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Visualization (graphics)</span> Set of techniques for creating images, diagrams, or animations to communicate a message

Visualization or visualisation is any technique for creating images, diagrams, or animations to communicate a message. Visualization through visual imagery has been an effective way to communicate both abstract and concrete ideas since the dawn of humanity. from history include cave paintings, Egyptian hieroglyphs, Greek geometry, and Leonardo da Vinci's revolutionary methods of technical drawing for engineering and scientific purposes.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Real-time computer graphics</span> Sub-field of computer graphics

Real-time computer graphics or real-time rendering is the sub-field of computer graphics focused on producing and analyzing images in real time. The term can refer to anything from rendering an application's graphical user interface (GUI) to real-time image analysis, but is most often used in reference to interactive 3D computer graphics, typically using a graphics processing unit (GPU). One example of this concept is a video game that rapidly renders changing 3D environments to produce an illusion of motion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virtual cinematography</span> Also referred to as CGI

Virtual cinematography is the set of cinematographic techniques performed in a computer graphics environment. It includes a wide variety of subjects like photographing real objects, often with stereo or multi-camera setup, for the purpose of recreating them as three-dimensional objects and algorithms for the automated creation of real and simulated camera angles. Virtual cinematography can be used to shoot scenes from otherwise impossible camera angles, create the photography of animated films, and manipulate the appearance of computer-generated effects.

Digital puppetry is the manipulation and performance of digitally animated 2D or 3D figures and objects in a virtual environment that are rendered in real-time by computers. It is most commonly used in filmmaking and television production but has also been used in interactive theme park attractions and live theatre.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Motion graphics</span> Digital footage or animation which create the illusion of motion or rotation

Motion graphics are pieces of animation or digital footage that create the illusion of motion or rotation, and are usually combined with audio for use in multimedia projects. Motion graphics are usually displayed via electronic media technology, but may also be displayed via manual powered technology. The term distinguishes static graphics from those with a transforming appearance over time, without over-specifying the form. While any form of experimental or abstract animation can be called motion graphics, the term typically more explicitly refers to the commercial application of animation and effects to video, film, TV, and interactive applications.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">3D computer graphics</span> Graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data

3D computer graphics, sometimes called CGI, 3-D-CGI or three-dimensional computer graphics, are graphics that use a three-dimensional representation of geometric data that is stored in the computer for the purposes of performing calculations and rendering digital images, usually 2D images but sometimes 3D images. The resulting images may be stored for viewing later or displayed in real time.

A projection augmented model is an element sometimes employed in virtual reality systems. It consists of a physical three-dimensional model onto which a computer image is projected to create a realistic looking object. Importantly, the physical model is the same geometric shape as the object that the PA model depicts.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Computer graphics</span> Graphics created using computers

Computer graphics deals with generating images and art with the aid of computers. Computer graphics is a core technology in digital photography, film, video games, digital art, cell phone and computer displays, and many specialized applications. A great deal of specialized hardware and software has been developed, with the displays of most devices being driven by computer graphics hardware. It is a vast and recently developed area of computer science. The phrase was coined in 1960 by computer graphics researchers Verne Hudson and William Fetter of Boeing. It is often abbreviated as CG, or typically in the context of film as computer generated imagery (CGI). The non-artistic aspects of computer graphics are the subject of computer science research.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fractal-generating software</span>

Fractal-generating software is any type of graphics software that generates images of fractals. There are many fractal generating programs available, both free and commercial. Mobile apps are available to play or tinker with fractals. Some programmers create fractal software for themselves because of the novelty and because of the challenge in understanding the related mathematics. The generation of fractals has led to some very large problems for pure mathematics.

The history of computer animation began as early as the 1940s and 1950s, when people began to experiment with computer graphics – most notably by John Whitney. It was only by the early 1960s when digital computers had become widely established, that new avenues for innovative computer graphics blossomed. Initially, uses were mainly for scientific, engineering and other research purposes, but artistic experimentation began to make its appearance by the mid-1960s – most notably by Dr. Thomas Calvert. By the mid-1970s, many such efforts were beginning to enter into public media. Much computer graphics at this time involved 2-D imagery, though increasingly as computer power improved, efforts to achieve 3-D realism became the emphasis. By the late 1980s, photo-realistic 3-D was beginning to appear in film movies, and by mid-1990s had developed to the point where 3-D animation could be used for entire feature film production.

A medical animation is a short educational film, usually based around a physiological or surgical topic, that is rendered using 3D computer graphics. While it may be intended for an array of audiences, the medical animation is most commonly utilized as an instructional tool for medical professionals or their patients.

Visual computing is a generic term for all computer science disciplines dealing with images and 3D models, such as computer graphics, image processing, visualization, computer vision, virtual and augmented reality and video processing. Visual computing also includes aspects of pattern recognition, human computer interaction, machine learning and digital libraries. The core challenges are the acquisition, processing, analysis and rendering of visual information. Application areas include industrial quality control, medical image processing and visualization, surveying, robotics, multimedia systems, virtual heritage, special effects in movies and television, and computer games.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Virtual human</span> Computer simulation of a person

A virtual human is a software fictional character or human being. Virtual human have been created as tools and artificial companions in simulation, video games, film production, human factors and ergonomic and usability studies in various industries, clothing industry, telecommunications (avatars), medicine, etc. These applications require domain-dependent simulation fidelity. A medical application might require an exact simulation of specific internal organs; film industry requires highest aesthetic standards, natural movements, and facial expressions; ergonomic studies require faithful body proportions for a particular population segment and realistic locomotion with constraints, etc.



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