It’s a well-documented fact that the games industry has exploded to become one of the fastest growing sectors in entertainment, with $18.85 billion in U.S. sales alone in 2007. Games software grew by 28% last year, and it’s remarkable to think that Nintendo has comparable market capitalization to Disney, at approximately $60 billion.

In addition to this explosive growth, gaming is now challenging film and television as a key driver of innovation in computer hardware and software, mainly because of the significant challenges of creating the next-generation of high-resolution, realtime, interactive games. As a result, we’re starting to see gaming technology being applied to other content creation sectors, most notably in visual effects for television and film, and in architectural visualization.

The requirements of the games industry are driving innovation in three key areas: performance, interaction and immersion. But what exactly are these requirements and how are they driving innovation across the visual effects and visualization industries?

Performance Any game worth its salt needs to run in realtime, and today, with the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3, they have to do so in high-definition! This requires rendering large and complex 3D scenes at very high-resolution, at 30-60 frames-per-second, and that in turn requires a whole lot more hardware horsepower.

The games industry is becoming the beachhead for advances in computer technology. Take the Sony PlayStation 3 — it is a remarkable example of a low-cost, high-performance graphics system. The heart of the system is the eight-core Cell processor, a multi-core chip with eight Synergistic Processing Elements (SPEs) capable of delivering up to 2 teraFLOPs or 20 times the performance of a dual-core workstation processor. With transistor gates approaching the thickness of an atom, clock speeds can’t increase much further.

Consequently, multi-core parallel processing will be the future of computer performance in all graphics applications. Similarly, the needs of the games industry are driving rapid innovation in graphics processing (GPUs) and architectures. The need to render 3D in realtime and high quality is a key driver of the current advances being made in both consumer and professional solutions for digital content creation. Recent acquisitions such as AMD’s purchase of ATI, Intel’s purchase of Havok, NVIDIA’s purchase of Ageia and Autodesk’s announcement of its intent to acquire Kynogon, further illustrate the strategic significance of games technology and graphics performance to the future of computing.

Interaction is another key requirement for games and a significant driver of innovation. The Nintendo Wii or Harmonix’s Rock Band are significantly changing the demographics of the average game-player as well as the way in which we think of games as an entertainment experience. These and other changes are challenging classic computer paradigms. While their applications are only marginal in the visual effects business today, they are part of a broader shift to more interactive solutions. Even today, at the bleeding edge of visual effects, we are seeing innovative uses of technologies such as Autodesk MotionBuilder to provide on-set interaction to such directors as James Cameron, who want to direct CG characters in real and synthetic environments (Avatar). In fact, the holy grail of effective direction of CG characters is on a convergent path with gaming technology.

Finally, the need to create a truly immersive game experience is another key driver of innovation. Immersive experiences require suspension of disbelief. The participant, whether they are playing a game or watching a movie, needs to engage with the content in a meaningful way. And there are many technical obstacles to immersion, including the difficulties of photorealistic rendering, the uncanny valley phenomena (believable digital characters are hard to create) and the inherent complexity of even simple dynamic systems (fluids, for example).

Today’s technology is far from being able to solve these problems easily. There is still significant innovation happening in this area both in film visual effects production and games authoring. And it is not obvious that the solutions to these problems will ever be able to be fully solved algorithmically.

More:   VFXWorld.com



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