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Charles Csuri’s Hummingbird gives computer animation its wings

These days, Csuri continues to observe many of life's little miracles, such as hummingbirds, and to leverage powerful technologies that aid in his creation of amazing digital art. Image courtesy Ohio Technology Consortium.

Since 1943, people around the world have celebrated Draw A Bird Day (DABD) on 8 April. Not an official government holiday, DABD began when a young girl visited her uncle, a wounded British soldier recovering in a hospital. She asked him to draw a bird for her, which he did to her delight. The happy little girl visited her uncle and the other soldiers several times during his recovery, and many of them began drawing bird pictures for her and hanging them on the hospital walls.

DABD reminded me of another bird drawing not quite so far back in history. In the early 1960s, Charles Csuri, a professor of art at The Ohio State University in Columbus, US, began experimenting with computer graphics, creating computer animations of various subjects.

In 1967, Csuri created one of his most recognized early pieces: Sine Man, a line drawing of a man that he manipulated with a sine curve mapping function on an IBM mainframe computer and then printed on a plotter. Later that year, he and Ohio State colleague James Shaffer produced a ten-minute computer animated film titled Hummingbird.

"The subject was a line drawing of a hummingbird for which a sequence of movements appropriate to the bird were outlined," recalls Csuri. "Over 30,000 images comprising some 25 motion sequences were generated by the computer. For these, selected sequences were used for the film. A microfilm plotter recorded the images directly to film. To facilitate control over the motion of some sequences, the programs were written to read all the controlling parameters from cards, one card for each frame."

Csuri, a decorated second world war veteran and graduate of Ohio State, later founded the Computer Graphics Research Group, which became the Advanced Computing Center for Art and Design. He also founded the Ohio Supercomputer Graphics Project at the Ohio Supercomputer Center (OSC), and co-founded Cranston/Csuri Productions, one of the world's first computer animation production companies.

Csuri used his drawings as the foundation for his creative exploration with the computer. Csuri's early fragmentation animations foreshadowed today's morphing technology, expanding object transformation to include the morphing of human faces and animals. Video courtesy artexetra at YouTube.com.

In 2010, OSC deployed specialized resources to leverage the unique capabilities of graphics processing units (GPUs). In recognition of Csuri's contributions to OSC and the field of graphic arts, the center dubbed the GPUs and related software the Csuri Advanced GPU Environment.

Smithsonian Magazinehas recognized Csuri as the father of computer graphics, computer animation, and digital fine art. The Museum of Modern Art and the Association for Computing Machinery have also honored him for his groundbreaking contributions to computer animation. Examples of Csuri's artwork are displayed in museums and private collections around the world, and have been featured in lectures, books, magazines, journals, and on television.

These days, Csuri continues to observe many of life's little miracles, such as hummingbirds, and to leverage powerful technologies that aid in his creation of amazing digital art.

To read Jamie Abel's complete blog, visit the Ohio Technology Consortium website.

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