Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2020

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38 cgw e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 2 0 W hen one talks about workstation performance related to product development, CAD/CAM/CAE usually comes to mind. It's fairly easy to link design time-savings to greater productivity within the product development cycle. Yet, professionals producing graphics for media and entertainment (M&E) applications such as gaming, special effects, and 3D animation face very similar challenges when seeking to optimize their workflows. Just as one type of workstation config- uration does not fill the needs for all CAD applications and workflows, neither does it for media and entertainment. Performance is based on a complex web of interactions associated with the application itself, the system configuration, the type of models being constructed, rendering complexities, the myriad paths data and storage take, and the destination for the end product. What's good for Autodesk 3ds Max per- formance might not be as good for Maya. Likewise, what works for gaming might not work as well for special effects, 3D anima- tion, or architectural simulations. NO TWO MODELERS ARE THE SAME Modeling in M&E applications is marked by a series of interactions as the artist makes changes to the model and those changes are visualized in the viewport. The modeling process might appear simpler than it is in CAD, but looks can be deceiving, according to Alex Shows, chair of the SPEC Worksta- tion Performance Characterization (SPEC- wpc) subcommittee. "One of the differenc- es in modeling demands between CAD and M&E is the diversity of geometry versus ren- dering complexity," says Shows. "CAD spans a wider gamut of geometric complexity, while M&E applications incorporate some of the most sophisticated interactions among an incredibly diverse palette of materials." M&E models also have fewer demands placed on them within the design pipeline, according to Ross Cunniff, chair of the SPEC Graphics Performance Characterization (SPECgpc) subcommittee. "CAD modeling is typically driven by requirements of the back-end CAM pipeline, leading to design decisions within the application that can sometimes reduce graphics performance," says Cunniff. "In M&E applications, the image produced is the product. Unlike CAD, most models for M&E need to be only marginally functional. "M&E models typically just have to look good or be reasonably functional," says Trey Morton, chair of the SPEC Application Performance Characterization (SPECapc) subcommittee. "The time frame for M&E objects on the screen can be extremely short and the objects oen do not require great detail. A landing gear for a spaceship in a video game, for example, just needs to dis- appear into the fuselage, where on an actual CAD model of a space shuttle it needs to properly fold up and be stowed." Both CAD and M&E modeling are single- threaded operations that improve with CPU frequency. But as Shows points out, M&E material complexities place a much greater strain on the GPU and VRAM to deliver the frames per second needed for refresh- ing graphics on the screen when making changes to the model and interactively rotating, panning, and zooming around the scene. Modeling functionality is not monolithic across different M&E packages, of course. Beyond the differences in end-product requirements – size of the models, complex- ity of textures and effects, resolution of the final images, and length of time displayed on the screen – there are inherent differences in how the applications themselves handle modeling. There are also the continuous changes within versions of the same appli- cations as new technologies are implement- ed to speed operations and increase realism. "Different implementations between different versions of an application can make a large difference in the hardware required to maximize performance," says Cunniff. "Older versions of [Autodesk's] Maya, for example, required significant CPU overhead to transfer work to the GPU. Newer versions can store work directly on the GPU, removing the bot- tleneck and making higher-end GPUs much more useful for high-performance modeling." SAVING RENDERING TIME TO REINVEST For both interactive and non-interactive rendering in M&E applications, the focus shis from single threads to multi-threading, where more cores working in parallel can significantly accelerate performance. This is especially the case when dealing with very Working Together FOR M&E WORKSTATION PERFORMANCE, IT'S DIFFERENT STROKES FOR DIFFERENT FOLKS BY BOB CRAMBLITT Demanding apps such as Blender benefit from massive multi-threading.

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