Computer Graphics World

Edition 2 2020

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e d i t i o n 2 , 2 0 2 0 c g w 3 9 large, realistic models produced in high-res- olution for television and movie production, and architectural models incorporating real- world shadows, reflections, and textures. "The critical components for increasing rendering performance in an M&E applica- tion are high core count processors, whether they are general-purpose CPUs or massively wide vector processing engines like the compute cores found in a GPU," says Shows. "Which of these is more important depends on your application and workflow." Interactive rendering, when an artist makes a change to a scene and wants to quickly see the newly applied textures and lighting in the viewport, is heavily reliant on the massive computing cores found in the GPU. The speed of both interactive and non-in- teractive rendering strike at the core of pro- ductivity: A fast GPU with enough memory will calculate changes on the fly, eliminating waiting time for the artist. A powerful GPU can also cut down overall render times for a scene and save a studio hours of time that can be reinvested into the artistic process or later production phases. PARALLEL PROCESSING SPEEDS ANIMATION The animation process – creating or changing motion for characters and objects, then seeing the scene played back in real time – is heavily reliant on multi-core CPUs and GPUs. Maya is particularly optimized for animation operations, incorporating parallel processing and playback caching to stream- line performance. Parallel processing assigns a computa- tional task to the best available core, while cached playback saves calculations to system or GPU memory so the application doesn't need to load the changes to every frame, enabling smooth playback. "Animators looking for the best performance need to invest in a high-core-count CPU and a high- end GPU with enough memory to cache full animation sequences," says Cunniff. WHAT'S THE FINAL PRODUCT? As with CAD, the end result of the M&E production cycle has an impact on what configurations will provide the best ROI for hardware investments. Film and TV sequences are rendered at 4K or sometimes 8K resolution per frame at 24 or 60 frames per second. The large number of high-reso- lution, uncompressed frames places a pre- mium on network or local storage to address the high data rate demands. Game development has dual require- ments: creating the game in applications such as Maya, 3ds Max, or Blender, then integrating the assets into game engines such as Unreal or Unity. The emphasis in this process is optimizing animation and effects such as lighting and shadows to create a seamless gaming experience. A modern GPU with multiple cores and a large VRAM buffer gives game developers the speed they need to create scenes and make changes interactively. A fast CPU then allows quick transfer of files into the game engine. Other functionality within M&E appli- cations can stress computing resources as well. Transcoding, the act of converting a media file or object from one format to another within an application, puts a tax on a workstation and can benefit from GPU acceleration, according to Cunniff. MEASURE TO GET BETTER Beyond ascertaining how different M&E applications interact with workstation com- ponents, professionals concerned about performance should be aware of their own usage patterns. Ideally, workstation users would devel- op their own benchmarks specific to their workloads, the M&E applications they use, and the functionality they rely on the most. But, this is difficult, and the terrain is constantly shiing, as new versions of appli- cations introduce new ways of maximizing efficiency. The next best thing to homegrown perfor- mance measurement is to use standardized benchmarks that most closely align with your application and provide the granularity to measure the myriad paths that an appli- cation takes. In that vein, there are SPECapc benchmarks based on 3ds Max and Maya that run on top of those applications. If you want a smaller, self-contained benchmark, the current version of SPECworkstation includes workloads for 3ds Max, Maya, Blender, and open-source applications such as the Handbrake media encoder and the LuxCore physically-based renderer. If you are interested primarily in graphics performance, the SPECviewperf benchmark (available in Windows and Linux versions) provides workloads (called viewsets) based on 3ds Max, Maya, and Showcase. All of these benchmarks are available to users for free download. Vendors of computer-related products and services that are not mem- bers of SPEC/GWPG are required to pay a licensing fee. THE EVOLUTION NEVER QUITS Users don't need the biggest or fastest of every component, but will benefit from upgrades that address their most problem- atic bottlenecks. Benchmarks that deliver alignment with an artist's day-to-day work can help organizations make the decisions that will guarantee the best price/perfor- mance ratio. Whatever way you decide to benchmark, be aware that it is a commitment no different from dedicating yourself to continuous edu- cation about technologies that can contrib- ute to the quality and speed of your work. "Applications are continually evolving," says Cunniff. "A GPU that might be big enough for yesterday's application might well be a bottleneck once the next version of the application is released." Bob Cramblitt is communications director for SPEC. He writes frequently about performance issues and digital design, engineering, and manu- facturing technologies. Heavy use of textures, like in this model, puts a strain on GPUs and VRAM.

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