by Mark Priscaro

We at NVIDIA are suckers for an epic disaster film, so when we heard Roland Emmerich was at it again (remember “Independence Day,” and “Day After Tomorrow”?), we jumped at the chance to see his new flick, “2012,” which is already a big hit, grossing over $600 million at the box office so far.

Of course, we had another reason for being excited about this ‘end-of-the-world’ themed movie’s premiere (on Friday the 13th, no less!): It’s yet another vivid example of how the film industry relies on NVIDIA Quadro graphics processing units (GPUs).

For visual effects designers and artists, computer graphics production tools make the impossible possible. The fire in “The Towering Inferno” – state of the art effects for 1974 — is pretty tepid stuff compared to the tornado of fire in this year’s “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.” And the tidal wave that capsized the SS Poseidon in 1972 in “The Poseidon Adventure” doesn’t hold water when compared to the tidal wave that razes the White House in “2012.” These visual effects, and thousands of others, were created by artists relying on powerful workstations powered by NVIDIA Quadro graphics processors.

Check out the destruction of the White House in “2012” for yourself (note: the destruction starts at the 2:08 minute mark of the trailer—just follow the aircraft carrier riding the tidal wave!):

Two of “2012”s computer graphics shops were Scanline VFX and Uncharted Territory. Scanline created the majority of the water scenes (like the one I just described), and Uncharted Territory, the lead visual effects vendor, came up with some absolutely stunning visual effects, like the Los Angeles earthquake sequence, and the whole Las Vegas segment that includes the dramatic escape of a transport plane during the destruction of many iconic landmarks—all using NVIDIA Quadro. We’d describe more scenes for you, but then we’d really spoil the whole movie!

All told, Scanline VFX completed more than 100 of the film’s computer generated water scenes, and generated 1.2 petabytes of simulation data (that’s a BIG number, btw), requiring enormous computational power. More than 125 workstations configured with NVIDIA technology enabled real-time previews of water simulations within Autodesk Maya or 3ds Max software applications, allowing Scanline artists to be more creative, and with greater speed.

Check out our interview with Stephan Trojansky, the president of Scanline, to learn more about his production company’s involvement in “2012,” and how they utilized NVIDIA Quadro technology in the film:

Uncharted Territory completed 422 of the 1315 visual effects shots that appear in the film using over 100 NVIDIA Quadro powered workstations that were custom built for “2012.” At Uncharted, artists tap the power of the NVIDIA GPU to preview effects at their workstations. In addition, because Uncharted Territory was co-located with the production offices for this film, director Roland Emmerich would review daily screenings of shots-in-progress utilizing an NVIDIA Quadro solution with SDI (serial digital interface) video output.

The GPU revolution, fueled by NVIDIA Quadro, not only frees up time for fine-tuning the watery demise of a good chunk of the eastern seaboard, but audiences will scream over the quality of that big wave and how realistically it might wipe them out of their seats. Faster rendering means more spectacular stuff like what’s in “2012” can be accomplished in a much shorter time, and that’s scary when you think of what’s been accomplished in this film.

Now please, don’t let us spoil the rest of this disaster flick for you—go see it for yourself and watch in awe as fireballs rain down from the sky, Air Force One and the White House get obliterated, and giant earthquakes destroy Los Angeles – all powered by NVIDIA Quadro technology!