Technology: Through the 3-D Looking Glass

With new power and an Oscar, computer graphics comes of age

On one screen, a swirling storm cloud slowly twists itself into the characteristic funnel shape of a killer tornado. On another, molecules the size of baseballs jostle frantically for position, each seeking out a comfortable docking site on another's surface. On a third screen, a small child in bright white diapers rises on stubby legs and toddles across a room.

These remarkable moving images and hundreds like them on display last week in Philadelphia at the tenth annual exposition of the National Computer Graphics Association are more than pretty pictures. Each represents a three- dimensional microcosm, stored within the memory of...

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