Nelson Chu

Describe your field. Why are you interested in Computer Art/ Computer Graphics and what (event, need, idea, hope, obstacle) caused your involvement? Summarize your line of development (the essence of your input to the field) in relation to concurrent technology.

I’m currently working as a research assistant in the computer graphics group of a university. I am also an amateur digital painter. One day in 1995, I realized that existing painting systems cannot give me the expressiveness of Chinese brushes and decided to make my own digital brush someday. In 1999 after obtaining a bachelor degree in computer engineering, I was offered the opportunity to work on my “dream brush” in full-time and that is actually my current job. I feel lucky because today’s processing power allows good brush simulation to be done in real-time.

Does the computer allow you to think visually about some topic or process in new ways? How has this influenced your work? Describe your ultimate accomplishment.

Operating or programming for a computer by itself was not an easy task. Thanks to graphical user interface, these processes are now easier. I used to type text commands to operate the computer, but now I mostly use my mouse to click or drag instead. My ultimate goal is to further develop painting techniques by exploiting the latest computer technology.

Has the field of computer art and graphics progressed in the ways that you expected? What has surprised you? What do you like about its progress and what do you wish had happened differently? What do you think the future holds for visual computing in science/art? Please make some predictions or wish lists for the near- and long-term future.

I expected 3D Input devices to get popular but they didn’t. The progress in graphics processing unit (GPU) and the visual quality of modern videos games has surprised me. The computer entertainment is a big business. The GPU manufacturers are faced with tough competition, which is good, but not always so in that 1) they tend to make their own APIs opposing to the idea of OpenGL for a common platform, and 2) some of them cheat in benchmarking. I believe that visual computing in science/art is still unfolding and I think I’m luck as I can witness the changes in this stage. I wish in the near-term future, new open standards will be out soon and we programmers don’t need to worry about vendor-specific APIs. In the long run, I wish people can really learn from history and make smart decisions in developing technologies.

Describe your dream environment for enhancing your project ideas. What are your preferred tools for creating and how do they work? What tools (hardware/software) you have used initially had the strongest impact on your work?

I initially used a graphics tablet coupled with simple paint program to draw on the computer. Wishing to breakthrough the limitations of these tools, I designed a virtual brush that works in 3D. There still yet to be a good (and affordable) 6-degrees-of-freedom input device to fully exploit the software, so my dream environment would be one in which I have access to some suitable input devices, in addition to moderately fast computers and network connection.

Describe how you think specific advancements in technology, (such as wireframe, hidden line removal, scanner, laser, HTML, Java applets, or any other advancement), determined the way the approaches to creating art/graphics evolved?

Scanner and digital camera encourage people to use more visual contents. The graphics tablet allows expression with intuitive hand movements. In digital painting, you can easily undo your strokes. Your original artwork is a computer file, meaning that you can make exact copies, preserve it forever, transmit it over the internet and so on. Mixed media art creation becomes effortless in the digital domain.

How would you characterize the milestones (every ten years) in the development of computer technology? Which ones were most influential in art/graphics?

Well, maybe I’m not qualified to answer these questions. My first experience with computer was playing games on the Apple ][ in 1980s. I think the Apple ][ did a very good job in making computers go into people’s homes. Then the modem and later the Internet connect people and speeds everything up in exploding speed. I think creations of CRT, mouse, graphics tablet, CAD software, and modern GPU were among the most influential in art/graphics.

Which persons would you indicate as the pioneers in the particular areas/stages in which decade?

I’m afraid that I’m not qualified to answer. But if I have to choose one, it would be Doug Engelbart, who invented the mouse in 1960s.