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computers and the arts

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Film animation is a natural medium for computer graphics, since transformation is the name of the game -- changing one shape into another by stages. The computer can do in seconds what it takes an artist hours to produce. But the process is still very expensive, because of the hours of programming and the photographing involved.

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The big market is sci-fi moves in which special effects play a very important part, such as "The Black Hole," "Star Trek," "Star Wars," and "The Empire Strikes Back." The Disney studios and a host of smaller groups have been using computers, not only for animated graphics, but for controlling and keeping track of the thousands of camera movements required for shootin sequences of miniature models or for manipulating complex images and lighting. It all costs a fortune.

The computer graphics field is developing so rapidly that the artist may find that the technical obstacles in his way are disappearing. A artists and engineers cooperate and learn more about each other's needs, more satisfactory systems evolve.

Already the graphics equipment includes drawing tablets connected to the computer, which digitizes the information for video display or later printout in color or black and white. The Architecture Machine Group at MIT has experimental setup that allows an artist to wave a wand and have color and line and shape appear on the wall in front of him, or allows him to manipulate a "joy stick" to control what happens. Such gadgetry is meant to extend the possibilities for what the artist's arm and hand do naturally, without making him go through all the technical drudgery of programming and working with incompatible machinery.

Writing in the September 1980 issue of Datamation, Dr. Dionysios Tsichritzis, a University of Toronto computer science professor, calls for an architectural approach to systems design. "Determining what the users want, rather than what they say they want, is the real art. A building architect does not follow an exact procedure; he communicates with his clients, and together they design the system." He elaborates some of the principles that go into the training of an architect and calls for similar training for systems engineers so that the computer serves the human rather than the other way around.

Other pioneers of art and computer relationships, such as Tom De Fanti, george Lucas, John Whitney, Leslie Mezei, are scattered across the United States , Canada, and Europe teaching in universities. more artists run workshops or summer programs in computer use.

But it is not only the various kinds of artists that are finding the computer interesting. The art historians, the museum curators, the librarians, are beginning to take a look. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is working on a pilot program to catalog art collections on laser-scanned videodiscs with computer access. If the idea is adopted, it means that scholars anywhere would be able to look at any item with its relevant information and compare it with other items of interest elsewhere much more easily than they can now. Auction houses and collectors could keep track of the values and whereabouts of art objects instantly. Teachers and students could have a much wider range of visual material at their finger tips. Museums interested in offering more education to the public could present much more informative packages. Videodisc color reproduction is, despite some limitations, much better than the average printed version for conveying accurately the appearance of an art object. It is also better than slides, because the image can be projected over a period of time without damage.

So what good is all this for people who just want a picture on the living room wall? Go down to your local computer store from time to time and check out the latest developments. You may find you can create your own computer art. Already you can get instructions for programming musical scores and making your own equipment by consulting various computer magazines and books. And if you'd rather have somebody else do all that work (and have the fun), you may be able one of these days to hook up with a network or art center as if you were going to the neighborhood library or art gallery. Either way, you can be your own wizard.