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Features List 13
From CAD User AEC Magazine Vol 14 No 01 - JANUARY 2001
Driving for Ultimate Rendering Capabilities using Dedicated Processors. David Chadwick investigates a new option, and highlights two successful customers
Attempting to produce the ultimate in rendering quality, producing images that could be mistaken for photographs, demands powerful rendering software backed up by equally beefy processors - quite often installed in render farms to share the heavy processing workload. In the same way that colour printers, faced with similar raster image processing problems devolve the effort to stand alone RIPs (raster image processors), designers can now call on the resources of hardware rendering devices to handle the job.
At the moment there is only one company producing such a device. Advanced Rendering Technology have produced the RenderDrive, a hardware ray-tracing processor, with its own dedicated software drivers, that speeds up advanced rendering techniques, replaces much of the tedious elements involved and, quite possibly, costs less than traditional methods.
The advantages of ray tracing are well known, but software ray tracing on general purpose processors is very slow and expensive, and therefore tends to be used only as the 'icing on the cake' when a particular effect is required - usually the super reflective effects needed when rendering shiny surfaces.
With RenderDrive, the hardware-assisted ray tracing is much faster, allowing users to use ray tracing as the main rendering method. Surfaces like glass, ceramics and other shiny materials render effectively, but other materials and scenes that do not major on these qualities are rendered to a much higher quality. Ray tracing concerns the accurate calculation of the effect of LIGHT on a scene, resulting in much more convincing renditions of every type of object and surface, and particularly accurate shadows. The quality of light is also something that designers would appreciate, and with visualisation practices often setting their computer generated materials into photographic scenes, it's very important for the overall effect that they can match the lighting conditions in the original photo.
Results from RenderDrive surpass those created by renderers that are considered to be at the top of the tree: more accurate, and more attractive.
Another important implication of full-time ray tracing is that the designers spend much less time faking environments, reflections, depth of field etc which are not rendered accurately by scan-line renderers. If you can rely on ray tracing to do all these things for you without spending time on all the tricks, you can be much more productive and spend more time on raising the quality of the modelling, animation etc.
Improved quality gives businesses an edge over the competition, but also allows them to expand and move into new business opportunities. For instance, small architectural visualisation practices are able to pitch to much larger clients on the basis of quality, (a consultancy doing the visualisation for a UK motor manufacturer finds the US parent sending all their work over because it's better than they can do themselves).
The RenderDrive images we have seen can pass for photographs, and they are used this way by many clients in 'virtual photography' applications - creating photographic quality images of things that don't yet exist: pre-manufacture products that need to feature in a catalogue published months ahead, buildings that have yet to be constructed that need to be presented in the most convincing way to planning committees.
Producing high-quality rendering from more conventional means, requires choosing from a number of software ray tracers and assembling enough processing resources to meet your needs. Typically, rendering software requires a licence per processor, so you may be looking at a number of those. You would also need to consider what your rendering options are depending on the 3D package you use. In many cases, the choice of modelling and animation package ties you in to proprietary rendering software, so you may have to accept some compromises.
Then you need to put together enough processing power to meet your deadlines and volume of work, either installing a dedicated render farm, or using your networked workstations for distributed rendering. For each processor in your facility, you will need to remember that a rendering licence is needed, so added to the cost of the hardware, you have the cost of the software licence. Either way, the per-processor cost of this method is much greater than the equivalent cost of a RenderDrive.
RenderDrive is also much more compact - you can install it on a desktop, whereas the equivalent render farm would require a room to itself, or at least a sizeable soundproof alcove. Depending on the model, a single unit is equivalent to a render farm of tens of CPUs. Each RenderDrive is supplied with a single one-size-fits-all licence, so any number of designers can make use of it without the cost of extra licences.
The RenderDrive System
RenderDrive comprises a hardware system based on ART's unique ray tracing processors, on-board rendering software, and a plug in to integrate with 3D design packages.
The processors, developed by ART handle the ray tracing workload, taking it off the designer's workstation so that work can continue, unaffected by the rendering. Onboard disk and ram capacities allow models of 12 million polygons to be rendered with ease. Being platform agnostic, it can also be used with Unix, Linux, Wintel or Mac systems. It is also capable of using more software applications -Alias/Wavefront or 3D Studio Max etc, producing the same consistent results. It is also network ready - connect it to your Ethernet (or fibre channel) and it's available as a resource to any user on the network.
There are currently two models: the RD3000 and RD5000, identical in functionality, with the 5000 having increased performance.
Beating the drum for Dyson
RenderDrive assists Dyson with another ground-breaking invention
For the launch of its ground-breaking Contrarotator™ washing machine, household goods manufacturer Dyson used ART's RenderDrive ray tracing appliance to create photographic-quality realisations of the new product's innovative wash action. You already know Dyson for its successful launch of the typhoon vacuum cleaner. Having 'cleaned up' in that market, Dyson is now moving into other domestic appliance arenas with the equally innovative washing machine, The Contrarotator™, the first to feature dual-drums which spin in opposite directions to flex clothes. The technology was engineered after Dyson's research and development department found that even the best conventional washing machines deliver poorer cleaning performance than traditional hand washing. By developing two opposed rotation drums, the R&D department found it could mimic the action of hand-washing with visibly better results.
To coincide with the product launch, Dyson developed a new website with extensive animation explaining the concept and demonstrating how the unique dual-drum system improves wash results. Studio Manager Chris Graham tested a variety of rendering solutions before choosing RenderDrive's hardware-assisted ray tracing environment for its outstanding image quality and rendering speed.
Working with design visualisation specialists Theseus Projects, Graham's team created a series of images ranging from close ups of the product to life size side views of the technology. As well as the web-based animations, the team created high-resolution still images for use in the product brochures.
ReplicaNation produces 'real' images for the Web ReplicaNation, the recently-launched virtual furnishings provider are using RenderDrive to deliver the ultimate visual realisation of their stock-in-trade - exceptionally accurate 3D data - to strategic partners and customers alike.
RenderDrive enables ReplicaNation's designers to create extremely realistic 3D images of its' customers furniture, which can be downloaded from its' web-site and used by interior designers and architects to populate architectural spaces.
ReplicaNation builds digital clones of contemporary and classic designs, and, to provide images that will faithfully replicate even the texture of materials in use, ReplicaNation chose RenderDrive's hardware-assisted ray tracing environment. 'Our premium models have to be perfect even in a tight close-up, and to convey the quality of the data, we chose the best rendering system available,' says Digital Content Manager James Mann. 'When we first saw RenderDrive we were seduced by the quality of the images, and we carry that seductive image quality through to our partners and customers.' The images are free to ReplicaNation's customers. Furniture manufacturers assist in funding the project, convinced that the photorealistic images being produced are of benefit to them - and, incidentally, overcoming any mistrust they may have about committing their brands to a 3D environment.
As Mann explained, 'authenticity is vital, not only in the geometry, but also in the surfaces and materials. RenderDrive allows the manufacturers to see how good our data is, and the images are so believable that it's quite hard to convince some manufacturers that they aren't looking at photographs.' ReplicaNation's designers put great care into details such as the stitching on seams, and the shape and 'softness' of upholstered elements.
To create the best possible effect, Mann's team used a clean, crisp rendering style using RenderDrive's area lights to produce convincing shadows. 'The first simulations were created against a white background, but RenderDrive produces such realistic reflective surfaces that we were having to dumb down the way elements, such as chrome, were being rendered. Now, we put them against a darker, neutral background so that all the detail is visible.'
RenderDrive was also able to show when the data needed improving. 'A highly accurate renderer is a useful tool in quality control. Delivering consistently accurate results helps us analyse how and where we can make improvements to data.' Physically-accurate rendering methods on RenderDrive allow architects and designers to work intuitively with 3D models in a rendering universe that adheres to the same rules that govern our own. Light sources, surfaces, reflections and refractions all behave naturalistically, enabling it to achieve outstanding images without the complicated workarounds and idiosyncrasies required by other rendering products.
Success using ART's RenderDrive has been instrumental in enabling
ReplicaNation develop key relationships with a number of internationally
renowned furniture suppliers, including Knoll, Herman Miller, Moroso,
Poltrona Frau, BLux, HumanScale and Fixtures Furniture. CU
For more information visit: www.art-render.com
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