Is the Democratization of Graphics a Good Thing?

by Greg Estes

Jon Peddie Research – one of the premier market research firms in the computer graphics industry – is posing an interesting question at their traditional SIGGRAPH luncheon today: Is democratization a good thing? Let’s sort out exactly what this means.

To any observer of the visual effects (VFX)  industry, it’s clear looking back over the past year just how big its economic challenges have been. And it’s equally clear, looking ahead, just how exciting opportunities are for independent filmmakers and creative shops as software and hardware tools become more powerful at less cost. The business model for creating and distributing digital content is continuing to evolve to meet the economic realities of the marketplace.

On one hand, this means that the tools and computing power once reserved for the few are becoming available to the many. On the other hand, it means that larger studios with facilities in multiple geographies are benefiting from new technologies that allow them to create content with teams spread across time zones – taking advantage of a global workforce and the ability to “follow the sun” in their production schedules.

So, in this time of change – in which old models are proving not to work well and exciting new opportunities are being created – both large media companies and small independents would benefit from a rethink of their workflows.

So what are the key considerations?

The Cloud, of Course

The ability to get high-end computer horsepower delivered on-demand to users, independent of their devices, is unquestionably a game changer. Enabling a designer to plug a four-year-old MacBook into a network and run the latest version of, say, After Effects or Maya, delivered with state-of-the-art NVIDIA graphics, is a powerful new weapon, no matter your company’s size.

NVIDIA’s new GRID technology is one way to get there. GRID includes all the important elements necessary to provide high-end graphics horsepower to essentially any client device, including GPU virtualization and software that makes the artist interaction more fluid. GRID technology comes in a flexible range of implementation choices, from a stand-alone appliance built for small shops with no IT department to server-based systems for large facilities with existing virtualization environments.

Whatever a company’s size or IT sophistication, there are new NVIDIA GRID-based solutions appropriate for virtualizing artists’ desktops through on-premises or remote deployments.

Not the Cloud, of Course

Despite all the headlines, it turns out that the cloud may not be the answer to all of life’s problems. There are still key advantages to having a powerful NVIDIA Quadro-based workstation sitting next to an artist or editor. Multiple 4K monitors, 30-bit color accuracy, SDI I/O and confidence monitors are just a few reasons that a remote solution isn’t perfect for every user in every workflow.

“Monsters University” is the first Pixar film to implement Global Illumination, a new lighting technology that allows for ultra-complex lighting set-ups where light bounces in a physically realistic way.
“Monsters University” is the first Pixar film to implement Global Illumination, a new lighting technology that allows for ultra-complex lighting set-ups where light bounces in a physically realistic way.

The real economic driver for many VFX shops may well be putting more visualization capability in the hands of its creators. New technologies like Autodesk Maya Viewport 2.0, Chaos V-Ray RT and the new NVIDIA Quadro K6000 with 12GB of graphics memory are important tools that are enabling artists from companies like Pixar to visualize higher-fidelity scenes with more artist interactivity than ever before.

And once artists can do visualization and simulation simultaneously and interactively, the chances of the final render being what the director or client wanted increases dramatically. That lowers production costs by reducing the number of scenes that need to be re-rendered due to mistakes or last-minute artistic decision changes.

So, yes, democratization is a good thing. Any time you put more power into the hands of artists, you get better content. And the latest technology advances from NVIDIA and others are making this possible at lower cost and with more flexibility in workflows than ever before.

Image credit: Disney Pixar, all rights reserved.