A52 tests Nvidia's next-gen Maximus
A52's CG supervisor Kirk Shintani & TD Chris Janney
Issue: October 1, 2012

A52 tests Nvidia's next-gen Maximus

SANTA MONICA — We met Lon Grohs, VP of Business Development at Chaos Group, at Escape Studios this past Spring. We both happened to be presenting that evening — a52 was there to show off a beautiful Claymation spot directed by Andy Hall for the Red Cross, while Lon was there discussing V-Ray RT. Eventually we started talking to him about a52’s use of V-Ray, and how excited we were by the results. Lon mentioned that Chaos Group was working with Nvidia to test out the performance of their next-generation Maximus system configured with two Nvidia Kepler GPUs, and told us to shoot him an email in a few weeks to see if a52 could get involved. 

A52 technical director, Chris Janney.

Eager as we were, we reached out to Lon the very next day and asked him to get in touch as soon as possible. We had started working with the Chaos Group while we were creating the opening titles for Game of Thrones, our first project with the V-Ray system, and we had enjoyed every minute of the partnership. Knowing that Nvidia was at the very leading edge in GPU technology, we were more than a little excited to see what they were up to. Chris reached out to Lon, who was touring Australia as part of the Chaos Group Down Under Tour. 

Lon eventually made his way back to town and down to the a52 office where we were finally able to talk about the sort of project he had in mind. He asked us if we would be interested in testing out Nvidia’s next generation Maximus system with Chaos Group’s V-Ray RT to see what kind of speed and quality GPU rendering we could get with our content. Talk about an offer you can’t refuse! Soon we were sitting on a conference call with Nvidia and Chaos Group to discuss the project — the hardware, the software, and what sort of results they were hoping to see. We agreed to have weekly conference calls to discuss our progress. Two days later, the latest Kepler GPUs arrived at our office, and we immediately began to integrate them into our pipeline.

The great thing about taking on these sorts of projects at a company like a52 is that we all really, truly love technology. We’re constantly looking for ways to use the latest technology to push our artistry as far as we can. We often find ourselves on beta test lists for various software and hardware because we’re so eager to get that sneak peek at what’s coming, and to offer as much useful feedback as we can to the developers with whom we partner. When Chris broke the news that we’d be testing out the new next-gen Nvidia Maximus system with Chaos Group’s V-Ray RT, the excitement at the a52 office was palpable. All of us were excited to see what it could do. 

We dove in immediately, opening some really tough scenes to see what worked and what didn’t, updating Nvidia and Chaos Group with our results throughout the entire process. We began using them in our active productions right away to get a sense of the benefits of a Kepler driven Maximus configuration for V-Ray RT GPU rendering.  No one was disappointed.

A52's CG supervisor, Kirk Shintani.

We were able to get one system up and running right off the bat. We had some trouble with the other system, which we eventually traced to an issue with motherboard compatibility. Nvidia couldn’t have been more helpful, sending us an HP Z800 with two more Kepler GPUs in it that we put at an artist’s desk straight away. When we had trouble configuring the individual cards to work exclusively on separate tasks — driving interface or exclusively rendering with V-Ray RT — we were able to work with Chaos Group to tune V-Ray RT to use both cards. By calculating info in smaller packets we discovered that they divided their time better between user interface and rendering.  We found a sweet spot that worked perfectly for our needs.

Working with both the hardware and software partners really allowed us to troubleshoot and refine our look development process to get the most out of each component. To that end, we were able to complete our broad stroke color and lighting look development on the GPU before getting down to the more detailed issues of texture and math operations on our shaders. This allowed us to take the look through that final 10 percent of the development cycle.

Over the course of our testing with Nvidia and Chaos Group, we completed a spot for Lexus using the new next-generation Maximus setup as well as look development on several pitches.  We’re currently using the Maximus system to develop a really fun spot for Target, which will air during the Christmas season.  Our artists have become very comfortable with the system.  The time saved in look development is an incredible advantage, but the artists really benefit in the realtime feedback in rendering where they no longer have to wait for long renders to see how their color and lighting work is coming along.  We’re also now able to address client changes more easily than we could with earlier systems, a development that has made the creative process flow much more smoothly.