The State of Rendering

Columnists | Technology

Computer generated imagery (CGI) is everywhere. Did you see Dr Who on New Year’s Day? Or the return of Luther? Did you watch a feel-good animated feature film? They all have one thing in common: they all use CGI.

Even between the family films shown on a Sunday afternoon, CGI creeps into the adverts – often seamlessly blended with live action footage.  Who would have guessed that the slick car you saw weaving through the cobbled streets of a South American Village and roaring on to the boulevard of a cosmopolitan oasis in the sunset… was CGI too!

To make CGI look beautiful, or photo-real, or heart-warming needs a lot of “rendering” on high powered computers. So, what is rendering? What’s happening right now in the rendering market and where is it heading in 2019?

What is rendering?

CGI rendering is the generation of images from 2D or 3D models using computer programmes, which are used in industries as varied as architecture to help visualise new buildings through to kids TV. In the rendering process, a set of computer algorithms figure out what the colour of each pixel in the frame should be. That colour depends on the surface texture, the light, the type of material; there are hundreds of factors that influence it. There are dozens of modelling programmes and render engines. To process the rendering, creative studios need a lot of computing power, and that’s where companies like YellowDog help.

What is the current state of the CGI rendering market?

Media and Entertainment is a global industry with key markets in North America and Europe, and growing markets like Asia Pacific. YellowDog’s cloud render service was launched in the winter of 2015. Today, YellowDog has customers in 42 countries.

Aside from the globalisation of the market, new media companies like Netflix and Amazon Prime are investing heavily in new content. In January 2018, Netflix announced that it planned to spend $8 billion on content, only to revise that figure up to $13 billion in May of the same year with over 85% of that budget scheduled for original content.

The summer of 2018 also gave us the launch of IGTV with Instagram and the growth of long form animation on YouTube. We’ve already been helping studios such as M2Animation render productions for YouTube this year; that is a big step change from what YouTube was being used for just a few years ago.

Games and virtual reality also use CGI rendering to create the immersive environments and real-time rendering is used to create the characters and objects that, as players, we interact with during these experiences.

All this on top of the increasing need for CGI rendering for traditional broadcast TV and film, the production of adverts and architectural visualisations, which, on their own, have been fuelling growth for many years.

So, more and more CGI rendering is happening all the time.

Can the industry cope?

Yes: new technologies and service providers are emerging to make rendering easier and faster than ever before.

Rendering using the graphics processor within computers, the GPU, rather than the CPU has been one area of focus. Frame for frame, GPU rendering has generally been faster that CPU rendering due to the way that the GPU executes the mathematical calculations required. However, GPU rendering has not been able to match the same level of photorealism as CPU rendering. Leading render engine providers are now combining CPU and GPU rendering to give the right look of the finished render as well as reducing the time needed to create it.

GPUs are very expensive to buy and run so companies like YellowDog, who can provide easy and secure access to thousands of high powered GPUs for rendering on demand, are well placed to help studios get access to this technology without the upfront investment.

That access to tens of thousands of processing cores – CPU or GPU – at the drop of a hat is also an emerging trend. “Cloud” rendering has been used by a number of leading studios for a few years, Cloud allows studios to add to their in-house capability and access computers hosted by companies like AWS, Oracle, Google and Microsoft. YellowDog helps those studios get access to those cloud computing resources in an easy and straightforward way.

The next step on this journey is accessing multiple clouds simultaneously; YellowDog’s award-winning multi-cloud capability ensures that studios can do just that.

The future is very exciting

One of the world’s leading chip manufacturers, NVIDIA, launched their RTX GPU cards this year which allow studios to create photorealistic renders in real time. Some feel this will be game changing for the industry as it will allow artists to create more than ever before and for customers’ experiences to be revolutionised.

Since the early beginnings of CGI rendering with the Silicon Graphics Inc in 1981, the requirement for rendering has always outstripped the power of computing available. So, regardless of how powerful computers get, I believe that audiences will always want more: more hair, more fur, more objects, more photorealism, more immersion, higher resolutions.

Consumers will expect more and creators will make more. So long as it is a responsible battle between audience expectation and creative capacity then it is good news. It is good news for companies like YellowDog of course: more rendering with more customers who need access to more and more computers for rendering.

But the good news for all of us, inside or outside the 3D rendering services industry, is that we can expect better television all year round, more impressive visual effects in movies, and a new breadth of new creative media finding its way into the world we all experience.

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