Computational Challenges in Computer Animation at Blue Sky Studios
John Turner, Blue Sky Studios
Since its inception in 1987, Blue Sky Studios has used ray tracing for virtually all the images it has produced, and it remains the only computer animation studio to use this computationally intensive technique so extensively in production. When one considers the hardware available to a small studio in 1987, it's understandable that many in the industry questioned Blue Sky's approach. However, the principal architects of the original system, Carl Ludwig and Eugene Troubetskoy, believed from the outset that ray tracing produces the best images and that "compute-intensive" is better than "human-intensive." Indeed, the drive toward more complexity and photorealism has made it increasingly difficult to obtain the desired results using non physically-based techniques without inordinate human effort. An example is soft shadows, which are achieved naturally with ray tracing but require special techniques with scanline, first-surface approaches.
Carl has been known to say that "at Blue Sky we write software for the computers of tomorrow. "While that was certainly true in 1987, advances in computer hardware have brought tomorrow closer than ever.
In addition to our renderer, other computationally-intensive aspects of computer animation, such as fluid dynamics and cloth simulation will also be discussed.
Computational Challenges in Creating Volume Rendered Galactic Animations
Jon Genetti, University of Alaska Fairbanks/Arctic Region Supercomputing Center
The San Diego Supercomputer Center collaborated with the American Museum of Natural History to produce a visualization of the Orion Nebula for the new Hayden Planetarium. During the Space Show, viewers are transported 1500 light years to the heart of the nebula on an 67 foot digital dome consisting of 9 million pixels. This 2 1/2 minute animation required over 31,000 1280x1024 images and was rendered on SDSC's IBM SP using over 900 processors during a single 12-hour period. Under a less demanding time schedule, a second version was produced for high-resolution flat displays and was shown in the Electronic Theater at Siggraph 2000. This sequence consisted of 4500 6400x3072 images and was rendered on SDSC's SUN E10000s using backfill CPU cycles over a 4 month period.
In this presentation, I will give an overview of the new Hayden Planetarium, the Orion fly-thru development process, the importance of using HPC resources, the tradeoffs/compromises made during development and the rationale for the final modeling/rendering decisions. I will also give a preview of the next collaboration that plans to generate and render a time-varying volume dataset that will be several terabytes and require state-of-the-art data handling and computation resources.