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VWN Product Reviews: Shrek

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Note: This is the two-disk Special Edition

Shrek, it won an award in 2001 for the ?best animated feature film?. But what is it?

Shrek is a lovably disgusting ogre, who lives alone in a swamp he calls home, in a rotting tree stump, covered with moss, and a lot of far worse things. He is mean, he is nasty, and he is alone.

In a nearby town, in a massive castle, Lord Farquad ? a man who may be compensating for something with the insane size of his keep ? desperately seeks a princess to be his bride. Unfortunately, he requires a brave, strong knight to find and rescue the one he has chosen, from the highest tower of a dragon-infested castle surrounded by a lake of boiling molten lava?

Let?s not forget Donkey, the most incredibly aggravating talking donkey in the universe to date, who fits in ? or not ? somehow. Shrek?s storyline is downright hilarious in parts, deeply meaningful in others, and immersive throughout.

As a film, it is a complete success story. But it is far, far more than that. Shrek was the first of many CGI films, to really break the mould, and begin to blend our understanding of computer generated imagery, and its separation from ?actual? people.

Within Shrek?s wondrous world, everything is rendered separately. Every last blade of grass, every individual leaf on every tree, even the individual pebbles on the ground. The film is 2 hours 13 minutes long ? 133 minutes, yet rendering it took four years with a supercomputer. This alone shows just how far interactive graphics still have to go to compete ? to create truly immersive worlds in real-time for people to enjoy.

It does however, offer a first glimpse at how real computer graphics can become. This glimpse has been far surpassed in productions since then, however Shrek remains the first to truly push computer animation to the new level. It did not start the effort, but it was the first to succeed.


Here, we have our first look at the human?s faces

In the screenshot above, you can see how realistic the faces of the villagers look. They are not quite there yet, and it is fairly easy to tell they are computer generated. However, the amount of detail involved ? including every strand of hair on their heads, behaving as it would with actual hair, and the cut of the fabric they wear ? makes it easy to forget this is computer generated.

The landscape itself is also stunningly beautiful. In the screenshot below, you can see a field of sunflowers, and can clearly see the veins on the leaves, individual petals on the flowers, and mottled imperfections on the floral flesh. On the ground below, shadows fall in the correct places, as the plants blow in the wind. Granted, these plants are moving in precomputed paths, but still, this is impressive CGI.



The field of sunflowers

Perhaps most impressive is the view of the same sort of thing taken from a larger perspective: The view of a pasture, with every blade of grass individually modelled, each leaf on the trees, and watching the emergent behaviour.

Notice the grassy hillock, the emergent half-shadows upon it, and the dirt patches. Again, created by emergent behaviour, rather than modelled explicitly.



A hot, summers day

All in all, Shrek is truly a masterpiece in terms of graphical quality and sheer immersion. This one took four years to render, these days ? three years later, it would take less than half that time. Truly a look into the future of real-time computer graphics.

 

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