A long time ago... in a place far, far away... (trust me... both are accurate for this piece) computers came in kits, looked like calculators or huge rectangular boxes and some even had displays.
The cherry on top was when the displays did anything other than numeric. These machines operated, more often than not, on their own flavor of DOS (Disk Operating System) and certainly didn't interact with each other in any fashion. Putting an Ohio Scientific DOS 8-inch floppy disk (or was it 10) into another system got you nowhere and might even render the disk unreadable. Networks were just a glimmer in the back of some forward-thinking minds.
Everything took time... lots of it. From the time you purchased a computer, kit or complete learned the operating system and a handful of keyed in commands (think COMMAND prompt) with no mouse in sight it was weeks, months and even years before advances were made. Software development crept along at a snail's pace and by the time you learned what you needed to know about your computer the manufacturer either scrapped the model and OS or went out of business. If you didn't learn to write code back then... you had a big paperweight.
When I entered the freelance market years ago I had to wait overnight to look at a final render as it took hours to complete. The computers were so slow could you get lunch while it opened a program. Silicon Graphics workstations cost in the tens of thousands and while faster than the market... they were painfully slow compared to their modern cousins. We didn't know any better, so we worked with them... they were still great tools. 3D programs could blue screen a Windows machine faster than Bill Gates makes money and some of those BSOD's were fatal. A lot of work was lost back then further slowing the development cycle.
Used to be when I would get a work order for a custom prop or character I would get a few days or more just to get a mockup made. It also meant a lot of interaction between the creative team and the freelancer which tends to drag out development. Seemingly innocuous requests could turn into days or weeks of unplanned work and could have budget-busting consequences. Sometimes there CAN be too much interaction on a project between team members and taking too much time to accomplish assigned tasks.
Don't even get me started on prototyping parts or machines. CAD is not the same as the 3D I worked in most of my career, but I did a lot of it early on. The process was even slower than anything mentioned earlier. Sometimes it would be months or more before I even got my first revision request and working prototypes could be a year or more away. Patience wasn't a virtue... it was a necessity.
Fast forward to today. Characters can be developed from scratch in a manner of hours or less and delivered to the project on the same day it's ordered. Revisions to the character are even quicker. Sometimes requiring only minutes of work. These characters are fully rigged and ready to go.
Drag and drop, object-oriented programing and other advances over the years allow just about anyone to create working applications, sometimes in minutes. Code snippets for many tasks are available for download and all you need to know is how to integrate it if it isn't done for you already. Applications and their revisions can turnaround in days or even hours after a request.
Fast prototyping is a common phrase now and not just for code or 3D work. With the advent of 3D printers, conceptual parts and machines can be realized in hours, particularly if printed in smaller scale for proof of concept. In some cases, the prototype IS the final product. Take into consideration the recent announcement of using lasers to "flash print" a 3D object instantaneously and all at once. Yes... it's real... not science fiction and we start to realize that we may be on the cusp of something fantastical like the replicator from Star Trek lore.
We truly live in an amazing time and we haven't even discussed how VR and more importantly AR will add to the mix. We won't be limited to a keyboard and a mouse as we develop new ideas or are assigned to create proof of concepts. We will see our prototypes in VR/AR 3D before we send it down the whirlwind pipeline of development.
The ability to develop at lighting speed is not coming... it's here.
M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years. M.D. is currently working on VR projects and characters. You can learn more about MD at his website.