Genigraphics

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The Genigraphics presentation graphics was derived from a flight simulator designed by General Electric for NASA in the late 1960s The Computed Images System & Services division (CISS, to become Genigraphics) of General Electric delivered the first presentation graphics system to Amoco Oil's corporate headquarters in 1973. It was named the 100 Series, and was based on DEC's PDP 11 series of mini computer systems. The first Genigraphics systems(100 Series and 100A Series)used an array of buttons, dials, knobs and joysticks, along with a built in keyboard, as the means of user interface. The PDP-11/40 computer was housed in a tall cabinet and used random access magnetic tape drives(DECtape)for storing completed presentations.

The graphics generator (Forox recorder) was capable of outputting 2,000 line resolution, suitable for 35mm and 72mm film and large sheet film positive using larger cassettes for recording to. 4000 and 8000 line resolution was later achieved with "Duplex" scanning and "4x" scanning by modifying to the Forox recoder's settings menu. Subsequent models (100B,C,D,D+ and D+/GVP) replaced the knobs and dials with an on screen, text based menu system, a graphics tablet and a pen. The pen/tablet combination gave way to a mouse like device in later models, and served to provide the interface with the graphics tools. User interaction with the computer for functions such as media initialization or modem to modem data transfer required a DECwriter serial terminal. In 1982, General Electric divested the Genigraphics division along with a host of other "non essential" business units (Genitext, Geniponics to name 2) and Genigraphics Corporation was born. Shortly after the divestiture, the headquarters of Genigraphics was moved from Liverpool, New York to Saddle Brook, New Jersey. Major success followed as the company grew exponentially over the next few years selling both systems and slide creation services. At its peak, Genigraphics Corporation employed roughly 300 people, had 24 offices worldwide revenues upwards of $70 million annually. An IPO was abruptly aborted in 1984 as the result of impending recession. The remainder of the 80's would see Genigraphics Corporation's fortunes rise and fall—a series of poorly executed mergers and acquisitions and the failure of a major initiative to develop the next generation of graphic processors drained the company's finances and distracted executives. Ultimately, the company was simply unable to respond to the rapidly changing market with a sufficient PC based product. In 1989 the systems business was sold off leaving the service bureau to continue operation under the name Genigraphics. Just prior to the sale of the hardware business, the service division partnered with Microsoft licensing their clipart library for use in the new PowerPoint product—which had been acquired by Microsoft a year or so earlier. In addition to the licensing agreement, Microsoft included a "Genigraphics Driver" enabling users to have their PowerPoint presentations output as full color 35mm slides by transferring film recorder ready files to the nearest Genigraphics location for imaging.

Although in the long run, Genigraphics was a one hit wonder—their one hit created the entire computer presentation graphics industry and paved the way for companies like Microsoft, Adobe and Corel.

Genigraphics was also known for its line of film recorders, transferring digital images onto 35mm photographic film for slides as well as for movies such as "The Last Starfighter." The computer generated scenes for that particular movie were calculated on a Cray X-MP computer, the ultimate computer at the time, and then rendered onto a Genigraphics film recorder.

As of 2006, Genigraphics is currently an imaging post-production printer service:

35mm Slide production on the Genigraphics system

To produce 35mm slides on the Genigraphics system, the operator created the slide information (bar chart, line graph, pie chart or graphics and background artwork) without actually viewing this on the screen. The slide would be created in full and then the screen was 'regenerated'. It took about a minute for the screen to regenerate and produce the visual representation of the slide. The textual and other non-graphic input was sent to the processor with a set of commands (x,y coordinates etc.). Vector artwork was generated by dropping a set of vertices on the screen using a pen, tablet and 'puck' (a three button box operated with the free hand). Whilst drawing your graphic by dropping the vertices on the screen, a pink wireframe with the vertices as small squared would show you where each plotted point would be. Fill colours and borders where then plotted to the finished vector. The background could be graduated from one colour to a second colour using 2000 lines to reproduce a very smooth graduation effect.

Once finished and saved to the floppy, a slide was then 'imaged' onto 35mm transparency via an electronic rostrum camera. A batch file on the VAX mini-computer would then send the images to the camera one at a time. It took about 2 minutes to produce a 2000 line resolution slide. It was also possible to mix traditional media (slide text photographed on a manual rostrum via litho film negatives) and the background 'double-exposed' over the text via the Genigraphics system. This saved time when slide presentations were in a hurry (as they usually were!).

I operated on one for about five years. They were superseded when cheap PC based slide systems came on the market. This made slides much cheaper to produce and sell. At the time in Ireland a single slide could be produced for about 15-20 pounds. A cheaper PC version could be produced for about 5 pounds and quickly caught up in terms of speed and quality.

(Genigraphics operator)

The evolution of Computer Generated Illustration on the Genegraphics 100B Consoles

In 1980 Genigraphics engineers, while still under the budget of General Electric, worked with the production center "Artists" ("Operators") to develop a 35mm film animation capability within the limited constraints of the existing 100B system (Later to be called Computer Generated Illustration, or CGI). On the prototype consoles the software was enhanced to control shading and lighting angle, 3D stage position, orbit and rotation as well as timeline parameters with speed and dampening controls with start and end points. To create animated sequences the Artist simply created the object(s) from pre-shaped objects menus or created a wireframe and then affected that object with opacity, lighting and motion parameters while timing out the start and end points on a timeline. The software would then generate the interpolated frames in between the start and end points morphing the object's shape, color, rotational speed, stage position and size, for the specified number of frames within the specified start and end frame numbers of the timeline. An infinite number of objects could be animated throughout a sequence. In 1980 a collaboration of a group of Artists designed several animation sequences some of which ended up as openers for several network television broadcasts as well as a sequence for ABC's "The Wide World of Sports". These computer generated sequences pre-dated the now famous Pixar and Lucas Studios CGI production capabilities by several years.

(Lead Artist; Genigraphics - Cleveland, Ohio)

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Notes: The Genigraphics systems utilized 8 and eventually 5.25 inch floppy disks for transportable storage. The Genigraphics film recorders enabled slides and 8 x 10 overheads to be imaged at 2000, 4000 & 8000 lines of resolution.