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Arriving at LA Convention Center

Gelato at NVIDIA booth

A demo at Discreet's booth

The New Turtle Renderer

SIGGRAPH 2004 - Los Angeles
Report and Pictures by Jeremy Birn.

This year SIGGRAPH had originally been scheduled to meet in Atlanta.  In the wake of the conference losing a lot of money on the under-attended San Antonio SIGGRAPH of 2002, SIGGRAPH 2004 was moved back to LA to lower costs and increase attendance.  Now we'll have to have two LA conventions in a row, meeting in LA again next year, then on to Boston in 2006.

The Incredible Shrinking Expo

The Exposition show floor, where the companies set up booths, was smaller than ever this year.  You could cover it in an hour or so, and then come back for specific presentations, such as software demonstrations or talks by leading studios scheduled at software company booths.  Of course, this is still a must-see trip, especially if someone is seriously shopping for software, and there were some interesting new offerings on display this year.

Gelato

I was eager to get a first look at Gelato, the new hardware-assisted renderer from NVIDIA that takes advantage of the GPU (Graphics Processor) on nVIDIA Quadro graphics cards in addition to the computerís CPU.  It is hard to judge a renderer from a version 1.0, especially one working in a new paradigm that is still being developed.  The images being produced didnít look much different than what youíd expect from ordinary software rendering*; they had a short animation of walrus that looked as if it could have been rendered in the Maya renderer.  The speed improvements or increased cost effectiveness on render farms were hard to verify from looking at the demo at the booth, but the company says they believe Gelato currently works twice as fast as a result of doing some of the processing on GPU's. (Evaluation copies available here.)  What's impressive about Gelato is not so much what they had to show this year, but the potential for what it might grow into in the future.  It might not have crossed a threshhold where everyone feels a need to run out and buy it yet, but if GPUís continue to grow faster every year at a rate exceeding CPUís, then much greater performance gains could be achieved over the next few years.  Depending on how things develop, it might become normal in the future for most renderers to utilize available GPUs for some portions of their rendering.  Only time will tell how this market shapes up, but Gelato is definitely a product worth keeping an eye on.

*The terms "software rendering" (computed on CPU only, without a graphics card) and "hardware rendering" (relying on a graphics card) could be misleading - we are clearly talking about software-governed computation in both cases, just using different chips.

The Turtle Renderer

I stopped by another booth, Illuminate Labs, to see yet another version 1.0 of an alternative renderer for Maya.  The Turtle Renderer had a mix of some well-implemented features (raytracing, photon mapped GI, final gathering, sub-surface scattering), but some things not available yet (no hair, fur, volumetrics.)  It appeared to be running quickly on a Mac G5, it had a nice real-time preview mode that allowed you to move the camera while previewing the render (although version 1.0 didnít have interactive previewing while moving lights or adjusting shaders yet.)   It appeared well integrated into Maya, using existing shaders and lights, but adding a few of its own render options as well.  Its main claim to fame was being faster than Mental Ray at most tasks, and it also appeared to have a few different options for how Photon Maps were distributed. (The cost was $1000 for render node licenses. Evaluation copies available here.)

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3dRender.com : Industry & Jobs : SIGGRAPH 2004 : page 1 | page 2 | page 3
Pictures and Article Copyright © 2004 by Jeremy Birn