Randi Rost of Intel’s Games and Graphics Developer Outreach Group discusses Intel’s role in developing the hardware that enables game developers and production teams alike to bring their visions to life. In this interview from SIGGRAPH 2014, Randi and Steve Waskul examine some of the technology pushing the boundaries of the graphics industry and Intel’s role working to support developers.
As the interview begins, Steve and Randi laugh about how while they’re getting older, time just seems to be speeding up on the daily with the immense amount of technological breakthroughs in this industry. Always interested in graphics, Randi tells us this area of the industry seems to be moving the fastest. Game developers in particular, he mentions, always pose the most challenges for the hardware and CPU. “They always seem to be one step ahead of us,” he admits; they’re always pushing new ideas for better graphics and characters. Despite the challenges this segment brings, Randi says he loves being part of a group that’s constantly pushing the boundaries.
Now last year, Steve mentions, “You brought in Richard Kettelwell from Codemasters.” Having had the opportunity to speak with him regarding working with the Intel team and Iris Pro Graphics, Steve is curious about how developers are responding to those updates. What’s amazing about Intel, Randi answers, is that their products span the range of low cost, low power machines, to workstations film production companies are using. We’ve been working with DreamWorks, he continues, over the past 6 years to revamp all the technology for their entire production pipeline. The DreamWorks team has said that there’s nothing they won’t try because the technology is that good, he enthuses.
So at DreamWorks, Steve inquires, Intel has a dedicated Intel team that essentially lives there? Yes, Randi replies. The key to exposing the capabilities of Intel’s technology, he explains, “is our team of experts.” This team allows DreamWorks to build their software in the most efficient way that is tailored to their needs.
On this note Steve inquires whether or not teams like this are still trying to figure out the best rendering platform. Thinking through 31 years of SIGGRAPH, Randi recalls that there have always been two main questions. First, can you really make an image that is photorealistic? And second, can you do it in real time? And if not, what do you sacrifice? Randi explains that while a major production company like DreamWorks may be more interested in the quality of an image, regardless of the time and manpower it takes, most game developers want to get close to cinematic quality in real time on multiple platforms and without draining battery power too quickly or creating too much heat on a mobile device.
Moving the conversation forward, Steve mentions a video clip Randi shared with him the other day, bringing it up on screen. “I was just blown away by the quality I was seeing,” he remarks. Yes, Randi enthuses, he has truly enjoyed working with the graphics researchers that Intel has had a long relationship with. For example, he explains, Columbia University in New York has worked with Intel for several years and has become expert in a number of different technologies. One of them is hair rendering. “The clip that you’re looking at,” Randi continues, demonstrates this technology by simulating hair in motion. Columbia is uniquely positioned because they work with Weta Digital and Disney- as soon as they solve some graphics problem, their work goes right into the production pipeline.
As Steve brings up a second clip from USC of foliage in motion, Randi comments that the hair simulation still takes hours to render “because you have 100,000 hairs on a typical human head.” With this clip of the forest in motion, however, each frame is computed in 1/3 of a second on an Intel workstation. Because this speed, he continues, is close to what could be utilized in an interactive simulation or game, researchers will usually turn over their results to game developers at this point.
Steering the conversation in a slightly different direction, Steve mentions that last year he spoke with a high- level visual effects supervisor who said he comes to SIGGRAPH specifically to glean new tricks from the Technical Papers. Nodding in agreement, Randi says that SIGGRAPH is truly a place of learning, whether it’s from the Papers, panels or courses. One of the reasons he keeps coming back, he divulges, is that SIGGRAPH allows the creative side to meet the technology side with brilliant results. Steve agrees, commenting that it seems like Intel plays a big role behind the scenes in terms of supplying the hardware to enable the creative process to flow. Yes, Randi beams, Intel is showcasing a myriad of things at the show, like sound propagation. We’re at a point now, he argues, where we need to care just as much about sound as the image quality when creating realistic visual effects.
“That’s an interesting point,” Steve offers. If you have something like a first-person shooter game, any shot fired from behind a building should sound muffled. “Right,” Randi responds. He shares that the University of North Carolina has been working with them to use ray-tracing technology for sound, enabling developers to adjust the sound based on what is between the source and the viewer. At Intel, “we see this as another big challenge for the industry- all of your senses should come into play.” Continuing further, Randi explains that Intel has a perceptual computing SDK called RealSense that allows users to interact with the computer via gestures and voice. “The whole experience is not just the pixels you see on the screen anymore,” he insists.
“Are you involved in the perceptual computing SDK as well?” Steve asks. At this point, Randi says, they are at the early stages of experimentation. Soon, he anticipates, this will become a fairly standard part of the computing platform. Yes, Steve agrees, this should open all kinds of new possibilities.
Drawing the interview to a close, Steve asks Randi what has most impressed him at SIGGRAPH. For Randi, seeing DreamWorks unveil their new production pipeline built on Intel technology, specifically the tool “Premo,” was immensely gratifying. DreamWorks can now do what they do, he shares, because of their partnership with Intel. Intel has helped opened one more door for this industry, but there are still limitless possibilities to explore in the future.