PC Compute Giants are Vying for Hollywood

Recent acquisitions in the PC industry suggest that major players are aiming to bring high end Hollywood special effects into the mainstream. What does this mean for the future of computing?

Hello readers,

Some of you may have noticed that nVidia Corp has recently announced their acquisition of Mental Images, the maker of mental ray®, a ray-tracing rendering engine that integrates with leading CAD and 3D content creation applications.


So why is this so noteworthy?

Well, to answer that question, consider that this is the most recent of several acquisitions in the computer industry this year, intended to bring Hollywood quality special effects onto the PC. Some of the largest customers of mental ray® include movie studios such as DreamWorks Animation, Lucasfilm, Sony Pictures Imageworks, and others, and is also used by leaders in the automotive, aerospace, and advertising industries.

Another recent purchase: Intel’s acquisition of Havok Inc as a wholly owned subsidiary. In September, Intel announced (and surprised many with) their intent to acquire the technology behind some of Hollywood’s biggest films – including “Poseidon,” “The Matrix,” “Troy,” “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”


So what does this mean, and why is this of interest to Intel’s research labs?

Both of these acquisitions mean that the industry is getting serious about high end, motion picture, visual and physical special effects. It tells me that we are about to hit an inflection point towards wanting to put professional level special effects into the mainstream, and that this will result in consumer demand for greater compute performance. Until only recently, a sizable gap existed between the compute capabilities of a personal computer, and the high quality special effects generated out of Hollywood. Although both graphics and compute performance have continued to improve dramatically over the last 10 years, the demand for higher compute performance has lagged somewhat behind. Although video games and media encoder software have required more horse power from the CPU and graphics engines, reaching the requirements necessary for professional visualization and physical special effects raises the bar quite a bit higher.

What that means for Intel is obvious.

When Hollywood does special effects, they have far more compute power at their disposal than what can be found in the most Extreme Editions of today’s personal computers. Quad cores are actually pretty quaint when compared to render farms filled with hundreds of cores that take hours at a time to render individual frames. In order to bring that kind of compute into a personal computer, one has to think a lot bigger in scale, to the point where trillions of operations can be computed per second. In Intel’s Microprocessor Technology Labs, we call that Tera-Scale.

Not only that, but to those who have been following these blogs, it should come as no surprise that Intel’s research division is quite familiar with these kinds of workloads. Intel has been working for quite some time to enable our future platforms to run things such as real time ray-tracing, enhanced game physics, and other highly scalable and advanced workloads. Intel’s acquisition of Havok happens to be highly synergetic with this work, and we are excited with the prospects of bringing even more Hollywood effects into the mainstream

Given the investments into Hollywood quality special effects studios, we now have an even better reason to bring Tera-Scale and advanced visualization and physics engines into the mainstream as soon as possible. Hollywood quality special effects will enable breakthroughs in video gaming, as well as professional areas such as architecture, engineering, and CAD. Putting larger investments in these areas will help to accelerate the rate at which this technology becomes available to the consumer. As this happens, it gives us in the research labs a higher goal in which to aim.

And I can’t wait to see the results.

3 Responses to PC Compute Giants are Vying for Hollywood

  1. Lee Whitney says:

    Hi Jeff,
    Just wanted to say people are getting your message and please keep it up.
    I am with one of the companies working to bring Hollywood effects into the mainstream, using every ounce of CPU and GPU power available in a 3d and video render farm that creates e-cards on the fly.
    Like others in this field, we could benefit from even a 100 fold performance increase in CPUs and GPUs, so let’s hope the evolution you describe continues, happens as quickly as possible, and inspires content not even thought of yet.
    Lee Whitney
    HD Greetings

  2. Chris says:

    Hey Jeff,
    Working with microsoft for me has been interesting for quite some time though i have been really focused in your blogs for real time ray tracing and intel’s efforts in larrabee. In addition i have also heard about intel’s purchase of the project offset engine which caught my attention. I hope you continue your blogs on RTRT. Please post a blog about updates on project offset because it seems serious essential on ray tracing. I have worked for the Xbox 360 hardware department for 2 years at most and many of my peers have been buzzing about RTRT in games.