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This is a big topic - the graphical equivalent of my Music Files page - and not one that fits conveniently into a single page. But it's important to try and tackle it, for a number of reasons:

- to serve as an introduction for people who are interested in any or all parts of the field;
- to show how computer graphics are created, modified and presented - on computers and over the internet; and
- to hopefully turn readers from passive viewers of artwork into active participants in the field.


Any sort of presentation on a computer will be comprised of three basic elements - graphics, text and/or sound (we'll leave the programming elements aside, for the sake of simplicity). These elements all had to come from somewhere, so that a basic creative input is required, in order to have something to work with. And, somewhere along the line, through a combination of inspiration, planning, luck, trial and error and sheer hard work, a final product can inevitably be presented.

But since computing is essentially a 'plastic' (or, more correctly, 'virtual') medium, there is no limit to what can go into a project - nor is there ever really an end to the process. Thanks to digital cameras, scanners, drawing programs and the like, virtually any sort of imagery can be rendered into digital form. So, too, can any such image be accessed, manipulated and incorporated into other images. The simple act of rendering an image onto a fixed medium becomes, in turn, a single step in an infinite process.


No matter what sort of images that people work with, they must be saved in a particular type file format, and presented usings a program that can read and display that formant. Aside from this the number of possible formats is mind-boggling - right up to the programming level, where images can be rendered "on the fly", as in a computer game. However, the point of graphics formats is not so much where and how thay exist but whether the graphics program that you want to use can handle them.

No matter how you create an image onscreen - or otherwise put or find it up there - you'll have to save it in a particular format. The basic graphics format for most IBM/Windows computers is the GIF, which is equavalent to the IFF in the Amiga and TIFF on the Mac. Other file formats exist to serve a particular purpose - e.g. Animated GIFS (which show a series of GIFs in an animated sequence) and JPGs (which can compress images by around 90% while still preserving most of their quality). If you want to work with an image which isn't in the file format that you want, then you'll have to (find and) use a program that can convert it - or else try to recreate it.


I've worked with various types of paint programs since 1984, and am more than accustomed to the joys and frustrations associated with their use. Most paint programs - even now - are wretched tools for capturing artistic inspiration, not the least for the fact that they rely on the mouse as the primary means of input (I have a graphics tablet - but no program to use it with). Still, it is essential for artistic people to use a good paint program every so often - just for the experience of working with colour and form onscreen.

However, beyond this, I think that "computer art" is a dead art. The digital equivalents of the Van Goghs and Picassos of the past cannot and will not appear - since computer art has, for many years now, been seen as simply a means to an end. And our confusion of reality with the photgraphic image hasn't helped in this process. The upshot of this is that the best graphics programs offer means of integrating art and photography at a high level - with transitions, effects and highlights. The artist of yesterday is the advertising executive of tomorrow.

There are three basic variations on the 'standard' paint program: "To See" - by AVS

- the "structured"drawing program, where a picture is made up of elements that can be modified and resized;
- "animation" programs (not so popular in Windows PCs), where images can be animated or sequenced as though in a movie; and
- "3D" type programs, where realistic images and objects are modelled and rendered within a compterised landscape.


Before the advent of digital cameras, most digitised images came from one of two sources - either a video camera (using digital "capture" software and hardware) or a scanner (using much the same sort of equipment in a different way). Once the image is available in a digital form, it can be manipulated in any number of ways - recoloured, resized, cropped, distorted, merged with other images and so on. The aspect of "photorealism", having an image identical to the source, becomes simply a starting point (or end point).

Digital cameras are becoming more pervasive all the time, as their costs decrease and picture quality increases. But, at present, the quality of digital photographs are nowhere near that of filmprint, and the cost is much higher. The choice between conventional and digital photography comes down to the intended use, and means of distribution.


The digital video field is still in its infant stages. As costs come down and the power of video tools increases, people will - in an ideal situation - be able to create, edit and present home movies that rival the quality of Hollywood blockbusters. Leaving aside mere aesthetics, the digital filmmaker will have to learn the tools of trade that have grown in the hundred or so years that have elapsed since the birth of cinema: setting, transitions, character and plot development, and story-telling abilities.

As a precurser to all this, users will have to become familiar with the basic animated file formats that currently exist for home computers - AVIs, MPEGS and QuickTime movies. for the internet, there are also "streaming" formats available - Real Video, Vivo and others.

MULTIMEDIA (file sizes indicated in brackets)



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URL: http://homepages.tig.com.au/~avanstar
Alex Van Starrex