Faster GPU Processors Are Taking Movie Special Effects to Another Level

BBC News reports on the impact of faster GPUs on the movie special effect business

In the past, movie effects would be done in post-production and not be seen for weeks or even months after a movie has wrapped.

All that is changing thanks to the GPU, according to leading industry players like Richard Kerris, chief technology officer of Lucasfilm, part of Industrial Light and Magic (ILM).

“The advent of the GPU is really the next big frontier for us. We have seen hundreds of times improvements over the last few months. This is taking Moore’s Law out the window,” Mr Kerris told BBC News.

“Back in the day, the simplest of special effects rendering took a lot of computing power and a 500-square-foot room back then that really wouldn’t operate our phone systems today.

At the heart of what the GPU does is speed, according to Dominick Spina, product manager for Nvidia, the company that invented the technology. On certain simulations, we are talking a 100-200 times improvement.

“A movie operates at 24 frames a second, and it takes for one of these extraordinary movies that we see anywhere from as few as 12 to as many as 24 hours for one frame.

“So now you have 24 days for a second’s worth of film. By using the GPU for this rendering, you can literally reduce that to one 1,000th of what is was. So if it was say 24 hours to do the job, now you can do it in 24 seconds.

“When an artist can do 10 times as many iterations of an effect in the same amount of time, the quality of the end product will be that much better. Renders that would have taken 45 minutes or more to run on a CPU, are now cut down to 45 seconds,” he said.

In the past, a lot of times the director would say ‘I want this kind of effect’ and the team would go away, do their work and a year later come back with it and if it wasn’t what you as a director wanted, then the whole process had to get re-instated.

In the next 6-8 months you will see some major films with some incredibly big scenes that are primarily done through GPU’s. We are talking about taking it to a new level and doing it in a way where it won’t take two years to do,” said Mr Kerris.