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3D on the Computer

Computer 3D is a relatively new phenomenon. Computers were born in research labs in the middle of the twentieth century and have only become "personal" and commonplace in the past decade or so. To put an even finer point on it, computer-based 3D has emerged for the general population only in the past few years, thanks to powerful, low-cost desktop computers combined with mass-market 3D technologies such as Web3D (see Chapter 1, "Why Bother?" for details). However, even though more than five hundred years have passed since Renaissance artists first learned how to use monocular depth cues to give their art a sense of depth and realism, the same basic techniques are used in modern-day computer 3D.

Because the computer screen is a flat, two-dimensional surface, just as the art canvas is, the monocular depth-cue techniques that are effective in the art world are also effective in the computer world. The main difference, of course, is that paint is not physically applied to a computer screen. Instead, light illuminates picture elements, or pixels, of the computer screen, giving us what amounts to a digital canvas lit from behind.


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