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A Brief History of 3D Visualizations: The Ins and Outs

If you wonder how the universal language of all nations – visualization held for thousands of years and developed into something incredible and useful, but available to everyone, we found the answers.

3D visualizations are the best way of representing creative ideas from various fields and industries. Before the appearance of the first visualization software, people used to draw 3D visualizations manually, using vanishing points, which is difficult and requires a lot of time and knowledge.

The appearance of the first 3D modeling and rendering software changed the game and gradually made the job of architects and designers easier. Besides, the advanced features of available 3D rendering programs affected almost all industries worldwide.

Nowadays, working in some industries is unimaginable without the latest features of the best 3D modeling and rendering programs. Simple use, reduced working process, advanced and improved features, and incredible accessibility and availability are just some of the benefits of such software.

Since we are surrounded with such programs on a daily basis, we almost never notice the progress and innovations of 3D rendering. Long story short, we get used to excellent things quickly.

Keeping in mind that the difference between the first rendering software and modern visualization software is huge, let's find out how 3D visualization software developed to the level that we are used to today.

The native language of all nations

Since visualization is the best way of communication between architects and clients, it has been developing for thousands of years. Parietal Art, known as Cave painting, is proof that visual communication lasts forever.

The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans were the first civilizations to express their creativity by using textures and materials. Many years after, we are still communicating with them through the preserved remains of their visualization – architecture. The remains of the first perspective drawings also originate from this period.

Through the history of art and architecture, we can see that many artists used perspective with vanishing points to express the space, textures, lighting, and materials.

Da Vinci

Mentioning the history of art and perspective without focusing on the pioneer of visualization, Da Vinci, wouldn't be fair. Da Vinci drew 3D models of several innovations, including a flying machine, convex lens grinding machine, and hydraulic machine. These were the first drawings for construction with perspective drawings, from which the mentioned machines were later constructed.

The development of architectural visualizations before axonometric drawings

Protagoras’ philosophy ‘Man is the measure of all things’ enhanced art, architecture, and science. This theory originated during the Renaissance in Italy.

The three-dimensional human body as a measure of all things is still the primary measure in architecture. Some modern 3D visualization programs use the modified version of perspective from the Renaissance.

After the Renaissance, architectural visualization found its true meaning. A watercolor painting of John Soane’s Bank of England done by Joseph Michael Gandy from 1830 is a revolutionary artwork with an axonometric cutaway.

Industrialization – The art school that evoked a revolution

The next hundred years were a period of fulfilling axonometric drawings and perspective. At the beginning of the twentieth century, 3D visualization became an integral part of architecture thanks to Bauhaus.

Reduced interior designs using only fundamental colors, geometric furniture, and the first appearance of showcase design enabled architects of the German Bauhaus school to create visualizations using vanishing points. Thereafter, visualization becomes a fundamental tool for representing architectural ideas and solutions.

Besides architecture, during the golden period of Bauhaus and the beginning of mass production of furniture, 3D visualization affected another industry – industrial design.

The process of hyper-realistic painting and manual drawing of axonometry and perspective can last for a couple of years, so developers of the first software decided to reduce that period and create a 3D model using a personal computer.

The '70s – The arrival of the first 3D modeling and rendering software

A. Sutherland invented and developed the first 3D modeling software. Sketchpad was the first program for three-dimensional modeling of simple objects such as cubes or prisms available for the personal computer. Although a computer was too expensive and unavailable to the common man during the '70s, the first 3D modeling software arrived and started a revolution among artists and architects.

Soon after that, using a primitive 3D modeling software, Ed Catmull created a curved, realistic model of his wrist, which brought a dose of realism into visualization. Catmull also developed Z Buffering – texture-mapping algorithms, crucial for display of bi-cubic surfaces and shapes.

Another person essential for the development of 3D visualization and rendering was Martin Newell. Creating simple three-dimensional forms, he created a teapot – the Utah teapot is now the symbol of rendering. Almost all 3D rendering programs have an icon for starting the process of rendering that looks like an image of Newell's teapot.

Using Catmull's texture-mapping algorithms, Jim Blinn was the first person who applied texture-mapping and bumps-mapping into a 3D model. Simple and plain three-dimensional models suddenly became real.

They weren’t hyper-realistic like the latest visualizations, but realistic enough to start a revolution and dramatically change the world of visualizations. Based on Catmull's methods, Blinn added reflection and scanline algorithm for bi-cubic patches.

After everything became more affordable and improved, Blinn started to create 3D animations. That way, besides architecture and industrial design, 3D visualization also affected the animation industry.

The moment when 3D visualization changed the approach to architecture

Since Jim Blinn included blobby models and texture mapping concepts during the '80s, including binary space partitioning (BSP) models as a data structure, architects began using fractals in computer graphics. When they realized how useful 3D visualization was, many of them were interested in computer-aided design courses.

3D animation was more attractive than classic rendering, but some architects and artists noted the significance of 3D rendering.

During the '80s, 3D visualization programs became more readily available. The world’s best architects and artists such as Zaha Hadid and Peter Eisenman moved from hand drawing towards procedural design. ''The Peak'', 1983 by Zaha Hadid is one of her first visualizations done with computer graphics.

Zaha Hadid described the significant and suddenly changed approach to architectural visualizations as ''Moving away from certain dogmas about what architecture is.''

The ‘90s – The development of 3D visualization software we are still using

Autodesk 3D rendering and modeling programs for visualization are, like many other programs for visualization,  based on ray tracing. The SynthaVision software was the first rendering program to apply this principle.

Although at the tail end of the eighties Tom Hudson created the THUD application for 3D modeling, 1990 was the year when Autodesk released the first 3d Studio. Based on five modules – shaper, loftier, editor, material editor, and key-framing, Hudson and Dan Silva released the first Autodesk 3d Studio.

The first version was suitable for drawing spline lines, lofted surfaces, geometric primitives, and basic mesh editing, which are fundamental features of the latest Autodesk 3ds Max too.

How in merely 50 years the outdated method of visualization became a futuristic solution

Taking on the best features of the first visualization programs and outdated methods of visualization, we can use the latest versions of 3D visualization software for performing numerous tasks. All the inventions available for thousands of years are still useful and fundamental for learning 3D visualization programs for various industries.

Unlike then, modern visualization software is much faster and more powerful. Based on existing knowledge, 3D software developers created powerful and helpful features and gave us the best modeling programs. Viewing the whole situation from this angle, we can assume that every step of the development happened for a reason.

The latest tools and gadgets for visualization enabled an even better user experience. Fifty years ago when the first 3D modeling software arrived, no one could say that it would grow into something as big and impressive as we have now.

The primary goal of technological development is user satisfaction.

3D printers

The technology of 3D printing absolutely blew our minds when it first became widely available a few years ago. After 50 years of 3D visualization, developers presented a machine able to print visualized objects. At first, 3D printers were reserved for some branches of architecture, design and 3D art, but the fastest-growing discovery spread over all verticals of our society.

Thanks to these smart machines, 3D visualization became tangible and more useful than ever. Visualized textures, thanks to the 3D printer, can now be touched and felt. Upgraded versions of 3D printers can produce almost anything using various materials, even foods.

There is the idea that 3D printers will entirely change medicine by using organic matter for printing functional 3D organs. That way, 3D visualization can become more than art and even reduce the mortality rate.

VR equipment as a tool for visualization

The first appearance of VR equipment entirely changed our approach to 3D visualization. Although programs for visualization have been suitable for creating 3D animations for almost 40 years, the arrival of VR headsets added another dimension to 3D visualization.

For example, the HTC VR headset is compatible with the latest version of Autodesk 3ds Max, which means that architects, 3D artists, and designers can feel the visualized space. Besides these industries, such equipment affected the industry of gaming and many more creative businesses.

It's known that 3D visualization is related to creative fields and industries, but after VR equipment appeared, the use of this kind of visualization has spread over many other branches.

Holographic imagery

Just when we thought that 3D visualization developed to its full potential, a company called Zebra Imaging Inc. proved us wrong. Something seen only in Sci-Fi movies has become our reality in 2017. Starting from the monochrome 2D drawing, simple 3D drawings using poor programs, in only 50 years, the dream of many children around the globe was realized overnight – the cutting-edge holographic imagery has finally arrived!

The latest medium for displaying 3D visualizations using holographic imagery is helpful in various industries besides architecture, including military, retail, medicine, and other commercial efforts.

VR equipment help architects attract investors and clients, since, with such a gadget, they can explore an imaginary space and influence the further development of an idea. Besides, the VR equipment facilitates long-distance cooperation and enables companies from developing countries to join leading global companies.

Since the latest technology has developed quite rapidly, we can only imagine what will happen in a few years from now. Holograms might become our primary tool for visualization, just like a PC with a program for 3D visualizations used to be inaccessible 50 years ago and is common now, and no one could imagine in which direction it will develop.

The bottom line

Many centuries ago, builders created stunning constructions as a way of communication. That was the only method for visualizing their idea. People have been drawing their feelings and trying to reflect their impressions since the first evidence of humanity, and that has never stopped.

Today, we have advanced methods for expressing our imagination, a broad spectrum of 3D modeling and rendering programs for visualization, including additional equipment are available to everyone.

Free versions of visualization software are available all over the world. Besides, the simplified interfaces of such programs enable us to use these complex tools without years of experience and previous knowledge. Furthermore, you can find an online tutorial for almost every 3D visualization program and gains some skills from your home.

No one could have guessed that all this would happen with technology, so we can’t even begin to imagine what's next! If you often think about the future and the technology of tomorrow, share your ideas in the comments! Who knows, you might actually predict the future.

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