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Digital Pioneers of Computer Art

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Lloyd Sumner, 1970, color plotter print

I recently visited the Digital Pioneers exhibit of early computer art at the Victoria and Albert museum in London. The exhibit shows off the V&A collection of computer art, and includes several items acquired from the Computer Arts Society archives.

Perhaps I should have, but I had never heard of such early computer artists as Frieder Nake, Charles Csuri, and Manfred Mohr, and I was surprised to find that much early work was performed in the late 1960s and 70s. As so often happens, I had to travel to another continent to learn about someone close by, in this case, Harold Cohen (Professor of Art at UC San Diego), the inventor of AARON, a widely influential procedural art generator. Wikipedia has reasonable summaries of computer art and generative art that can be used as launching points for investigation. A 1985 piece by Frank Dietrich in Leonardo, Visual Intelligence: The First Decade of Computer Art also gives good historical background. Fast-forward to today, there is an exhibition book Digital Pioneers (V&A Pattern), a recent book about British computer art White Heat Cold Logic (2009, MIT Press), and the yearly Generative Art Conference.

For me, a key question is what relevance these generative art techniques have for my main focus, procedural content in computer games. I confess I’m drawn to brush-based techniques like the Cornell robot for interpreting images into painted artwork, but clearly more creativity in the core algorithm is desirable to create a broad range of game content. I’m certainly curious to learn more about how AARON works to see if there is any crossover potential.


About the author:  Jim is Professor and Chair of Computer Science at UC Santa Cruz. He has research interests in procedural level generation for computer games, as well as automatic bug prediction. His favorite games are Radiant Silvergun and Civilization IV.

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2 Comments

  1. Jared B
    Posted January 10, 2010 at 9:53 AM | Permalink

    I’m intrigued as well. I believe that the technology behind AARON is mindblowing.

    Jared

  2. msafi
    Posted January 14, 2010 at 8:18 AM | Permalink

    Nice info here. I had never made the connection be computer art and gaming tech. But I have noticed the stunning visuals that computer games are continuously coming up with and improving. I am going to take a look at Aaron and see what comes to mind and hope others do the same.