VFX: AMD giving artists more time with their art
James Knight
Issue: May/June 2022

VFX: AMD giving artists more time with their art

Whether it’s a feature film artist iterating their visual effects shot, an animator putting motion to a character they’ve created, or shooting realtime visual effects (aka virtual production) one thing is universally true: AMD CPUs are giving artists more time with their art.

As the demand for films and the believable CG characters & photo-realistic environments within them grows, this means the compute demand to render those visual effects is not waning. Great content enables the suspension of disbelief. The goal is always to submerge you in the story, not take you out of it because something does not look quite right. 

Image (top) courtesy of Blur Studio

Years ago, I took my father to see Master and Commander with Russell Crowe. After the film I said, "What an amazing visual effects film." He replied, "What do you mean? There were no visual effects in that film." I quipped, "Exactly! That makes it a good VFX film. You didn't notice them."

Deadlines for release dates do not change and neither do delivery dates, yet AMD’s CPUs are continually battling away at this universal pain point: creators needing a little more time with the art. Just imagine what magic can be unlocked by artists having 20 percent more time with their art. Two extra hours in an eight-hour workday for collaboration, feedback, iteration and experimentation. That is what AMD CPUs are giving VFX artists across this industry.

Paul Lambert, VFX supervisor for Dune, for which he won an Oscar this year, is an artist who was afforded more time his shots within preexisting deadlines due to our tech.  

“We have rendered an incredible amount of frames with EPYC and Threadripper Pro processors,” says Lambert. “The magic is in the iterations. A single visual effects shot could have hundreds or more updates, and it takes immense processing power to turn around these iterations quickly.” 

Nick Rasmussen is principal engineer and architect at Industrial Light & Magic. He recently told us, “Threadripper Pro 5000 WX-Series were the best performing processors we have tested for ILM StageCraft. It’s significantly faster than the equivalent Threadripper Pro 3000 WX processor, and we saw up to a 2x or more speedup on CPU-heavy loads versus our performance baseline. This high performance, coupled with the extensive I/O capabilities, makes Threadripper Pro 5000 WX-Series an ideal workstation processor for our cutting-edge virtual production work.”

That is quite a distinction considering the vast amount of virtual production work being done by the studio. 

Impressing VFX pros is not just a momentary thing for AMD. Since 2017, when it first released redesigned processor silicon, AMD has pushed the limits of what’s possible in compute. 20th Century Fox VFX lab made sure 95 percent of the CPUs in its facility were AMD’s. This was because, out of the box, AMD processors were 15 to 20 percent faster than the best CPUs from our competitors when it came to rendering Unreal Engine sequences. 

In 2020 we worked with Blur Studio. Based in Los Angeles, they were the first studio to have Threadripper Gen 3 in their facility. Their VFX supervisor working on Terminator: Dark Fate said, “Normally, 75 to a hundred layers will put a CPU to a halt and then things start to slow down…with 3rd Gen Threadripper, it’s instantaneous. Something that normally would take five minutes was taking five seconds.”

So since we came out with our redesigned Zen architecture in 2017 for both artists’ workstations and render farms, our tech has steadily bled into visual effects and animation. We are now powering any new LED virtual production wall being built and we have become the industry yardstick for the best in rendering or artist workstations.
While it might be the norm for us to hear such comments as the above, we are not deterred from increasing our compute regularly. AMD is the only processor company in the world offering 64 core CPUs to the VFX industry, and later this year, the company will release 96 core CPUs. That is unheard of.

AMD technology is genuinely having an impact in the art of filmmaking, whether it be rendering, animation or virtual production. And beyond the tech, it is AMD partnering and collaborating that brings success. 

VFX and media & entertainment continues to be a great place to implement new technology, push it to its very limits and use that limit to create the next version. We’ve already done this three times over. And we can render faster than any CPU on the planet. One can infer how our tech would do flying through complex financial modeling, car design or medical imaging…We’ve been told by two major animation studios we have ‘changed the economics of rendering.’ We are enabling more revisions of artists’ creations, which means we are giving the artist more compute power to create the most unnoticed, believable VFX — which hopefully translates to more “bums in seats,” at the cinema as my dad used to say. 

James Knight is the Global Director, Media & Entertainment/Visual Effects at AMD (www.amd.com).