What is a Three-dimensional Image?

The first recorded attempts to make two-dimensional (2D) images look like three-dimensional (3D) objects can be traced back to the 19th century. The technology might have significantly changed since then, but the concept remains the same: 2D images are given depth by the third dimension so that things on the flat, two-dimensional screen can appear more realistic. The human brain works in a similar manner. Even though we have two eyes which see separate 2D images, our brain processes the information and combines the two images into one three-dimensional picture. In order to understand this effect, you can try a simple experiment. If you place your thumb in front of you and then look at it first with your left and then with your right eye, you will see that the left image is slightly shifted compared to the right image. By combining these two images, you get the feeling of depth, and you know exactly how far your thumb is from your face. This phenomenon is precisely what 3D graphics experts are trying to imitate.

What are 3D Graphics?

Three-dimensional computer graphics also known as 3D graphics are graphics solutions that render 2D into 3D images based on the information of the geometrical properties of those images. The information about these geometrical properties (width, height, and depth) are stored onto computer memories in the form of mathematical calculations that are read by computer processors, processed by graphics cards, and later displayed on a computer, laptop, or portable-device monitor. 3D graphics are created using specialized software that often requires powerful processors and a great amount of memory. The generated images, hwever, can sometimes look more real than the actual physical objects; this is called augmented reality.

Three-D graphics are more advanced compared to 2D or vector graphics. The information about the elements of 2D images is stored as mathematical data positioned on a single plain. Every 2D object, therefore, has two dimensions: width and length. The information about each element of 3D images is recorded in three coordinate planes that are strictly defined in space. This means that each 3D object also has depth as its third dimension.

How are 3D Videos Made?

The process of making complex 3D videos requires a lot of knowledge, creativity, and time. Firstly, the graphics designers usually draw and develop their ideas on paper until they figure out every little detail of their future 3D scene. The final sketches are then decomposed into individual elements that are turned into 3D images using various software tools. After creating the basic form, each 3D object can be attributed with properties such as the type of material, color, texture, transparency, refraction, or reflection. All of these individual objects are later combined in one place and positioned in virtual scenes depending on the scenario. These scenes also contain complex information that includes parameters such as light source, light intensity and the movement of the camera.

The computer then begins the complex tasks of generating a 3D graphics scene in a process called rendering. Rendering uses the parameters of all the objects as well as the information about the light source (ray tracing) so that everything will look as if the scene was recorded through the lenses of a real camera. Rendering can take anywhere from a few seconds to several hours depending on the number of details an image might have. Rendering, however, only produces single images that are still. The illusion of movement is created when many still images are combined and rapidly changed in a consequent order. While the classic animation techniques required drawing each image by hand (frames), 3D graphics technology require animators to only set key movement parameters (keyframes) because computers can generate all frames between key frames automatically.

What are some challenges 3D graphics designers face today?

There are many software solutions such as Adobe Flash, Maya, Blender, 3D Studio Max, and Lightwave that are used in 3D graphics; 3D animation programs often include add-ins that help the designer to achieve special effects like water movement, fire, smoke, etc. as realistically as possible. Graphic designers, however, still struggle with achieving the effects of clothes or hair movements in real time. It is only a matter of time until the software industry will develop tools that will make distinguishing 3D animation and reality almost impossible.    


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Hahn Brian, H., & Valentine Daniel, T. (2010). C.14 3D Graphics. In , Essential MATLAB for Engineers and Scientists (4th Edition) Elsevier.

James, S. (2010). 3D Graphics with XNA Game Studio 4.0 : Create Attractive 3D Graphics and Visuales in Your XNA Games. Birmingham: Packt Publishing.

Malizia, A. (2007). Java™ Mobile 3D Graphics. In , Mobile 3D Graphics (p. 86). doi:10.1007/978-1-84628-660-5_4

Malizia, A. (2007). Mobile 3D Graphics: Scenarios and Challenges. In , Mobile 3D Graphics (p. 29). doi:10.1007/978-1-84628-660-5_2

Pulli, K. (2008). Mobile 3D Graphics : With OpenGL ES and M3G. Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann.

Wibirama, S., Nugroho, H. A., & Hamamoto, K. (2017). Evaluating 3D gaze tracking in virtual space: A computer graphics approach. Entertainment Computing, 2111-17. doi:10.1016/j.entcom.2017.04.003



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