A Reading List for Computer Graphics Students

I do a fair amount of lecturing to students when time permits and one of the lectures I am most often asked to give is an overview of art and cultural theory and how it relates to the practice of computer graphics, especially in a visual effects context. My educational background is in fine art and film-making and I feel very lucky to have been exposed to some great books which have broadened my visual understanding and my appreciation of, and ability to process, images of all sorts, from painting to advertising photography to comics. I see all of these as relevant and useful for study as they all contribute to our collective cultural understanding and discourse. Below are some of the books I have found especially helpful and thought provoking:

"The Story of Art" by E H Gombrich is probably the classic introductory book to the academic study of art, especially Western art. It's now in its 16th edition and is a great place to begin reading about art history.

"Film Art: An Introduction" by David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson is the standard reference work for those looking to understand the art of cinema and its cultural place in society. There's no better place to start than this. The book is regularly updated and both Bordwell and Thompson also write a great blog, "Observations on Film Art".

"Ways of Seeing" by John Berger is a wholly theoretical book about the way we see images and why they provoke the responses they do. It brilliantly explains what makes an image significant to an audience. There is some structuralism and semiotics in here but don't let that put you off.

"Mythologies" by Roland Barthes. This is one the most important texts in popularising the ideas of structuralism and semiotics. Each chapter in the book takes a different cultural object, be it steak and chips, the face of Greta Garbo, wrestling or the Citroen DS and deconstructs its meanings, influences and sources. It's a very human book with a huge amount of passion and insight. It can change the way you perceive the world forever.

"The Nature of Photographs: a Primer" by celebrated photographer and teacher Stephen Shore is a superb book examining the structure and meaning of photographs and their relative qualities. Shore takes one side of a page to briefly discuss an aspect of photography, active or passive frames for example, and then shows an image that exemplifies it. An excellent book for introducing a more thoughtful and analytical appraoch to photography.

"The Space Between Our Ears" by Michael Morgan is an informative investigation into how our brains represent visual space. The psychology is fascinating.


The best book on cinematic lighting as far as I'm concerned is "Painting with Light" by the late, great John Alton. Alton was the cinematographer of such film noir classics as T-Men amongst others and though the book does not deal with colour and is a little dated it is still essential for its straight-forward discussions of light placement, technical considerations of light and how moods and atmosphere may be created through the use of light and composition. Definitely top of the reading list.

"Film Directing Shot by Shot" by Stephen D. Katz is a good introduction to ideas of layout, shot composition and movement. Good film-making practice can be picked up from here. If you're making a film as your final project I'd definitely look through this one.


"Cinematography Screencraft" by Peter Ettedgui is the best illustrated book on cinematography available. It also features chapters on D.P.s whose work has come to the fore over the last few years like Darius Khondji and Janusz Kaminski.

"Masters of Light" is a text only book featuring in depth interviews with cinematography greats such as Gordon Willis and Vittorio Storaro.

"Advanced RenderMan" by Tony Apodaca and Larry Gritz is not only the best book on the RenderMan specification but it also has excellent chapters on the maths basics you'll find useful, and computer lighting and composition in general. An absolute must if you want use any RenderMan renderer and a lot of it will be relevant no matter which renderer you use.





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