Movie Magic with GPU Power & A Quick Chat with NVIDIA's CEO

Lucasfilm's Movie Magic with the GPU

Lucasfilm's Movie Magic with the GPU

In our third and final day coverage of NVIDIA's GPU Technology Conference 2009, we were immersed in even more areas of movie production where GPUs make a huge impact in visualization and that's in the simulation department. And what better way to bring this point across than inviting Richard Kerris, CTO of Lucasfilm for the day's keynote presentation. With that, we share with you this clip that Lucasfilm had put together to showcase their very best movie animations in a video montage which then directly leads to Richard's introduction of the company:-

We were privileged to have Richard Kerris, CTO of Lucasfilm to come onboard this conference and share how they've evolved from production techniques and antique hardware (such as this snapshot in 1998)...

... to today's Lucasfilm entertainment group with up-to-date compute power and a global campus which are all interlinked directly for maximum efficiency.

Lucasfilm's goal of using GPUs in their production process is to benefit from simulation and visualization needs (be it animation or rendering), when GPUs can provide a distinct advantage over CPU based processes. Like everyone else, they too have a massive investment in existing work processes and render farms so it's only right that they find areas where GPUs give them that much more added boost in productivity before investing upon it since it's not an elixir kit. GPUs aren't always fast in everything offloaded to them as it depends on parallelism of the task. Plus, don't forget that a GPU's local memory is far more limited than that of the CPU. So processing certain types of large data sets might not be possible until unless they are further broken down.

Obviously, Lucasfilm has found synergies in tapping on to the power of the GPU, else they wouldn't be at his conference. An example they've pulled to show the power of the GPU is in physics simulation of the below fire scene from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. From their trials, Richard mentioned that it took 13 hours to process just one frame of the below scene on an 8-core CPU. When they moved this same simulation to be processed via just one GPU, that same one frame just took 10 seconds to complete the task! This is the kind of phenomenal gains one can obtain when making use of the GPU in the right context and finding the right jobs to suit its processing nature. And in cases like this, it makes tasks that were once relegated for offline processing to being close to real-time processing, thus greatly boosting efficiency.

Here's how multiple GPUs were configured to tackle separate slices and then later composite all the slices into a final render.

And in another example, Richard explained that they could traditionally simulate only up to 14,000 rigid bodies in a scene using multiple machines. Then moving over to a just a single machine using a single Quadro FX 4800 card, they managed get that number up to 100,000 rigid bodies at just little more time than the former setup. That's quite a massive boost in animation/simulation capabilities which they used to their advantage during the production of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen. Here's the video that showcases this:-

Going beyond selective acceleration, Lucasfilm has merged the tools needed to visualize movies and games to the same tool and one of which is seen here in this snapshot. This tighter collaboration greatly speeds up the initial storyboarding, scripting and ideas generation as they can be quickly put to the test and be presented to the team leaders and the director. Time savings is paramount here and the ability to convey them fast and accurately is a definite win. Of course, just by looking at the tool, you can tell that the GPU is heavily involved here as well.

A convergence tool for visualization needs for both the gaming and movie production teams.

Lastly before we roll over to our discussion highlights with NVIDIA's CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, we just had to share this slide of theirs:-

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