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The Digital Bollywood Initiative: NVIDIA Goes to India

J. Paul Peszko reports on NVIDIA's expansion into India as part of a global strategy to reach emerging markets.

Silicon Valley's NVIDIA has created the Bollywood Initiative in Mumbai, which serves as the company's entrée into India's thriving film industry. Courtesy of iStockphoto.

When we look at the future of visual effects, we cannot discount the impact that emerging markets will have on the content that will be generated. Each culture will no doubt add its own kind of energy and creativity to whatever they produce. So, when domestic companies look at future expansion, the emerging markets are very much in their focus. One such company has recently reached all the way across from California's Silicon Valley to India.

If you had told NVIDIA's Laura Dohrmann a year ago that she would be spending a good deal of her time in Mumbai, she would have wondered what you were talking about. But Dohrmann, who heads NVIDIA's Digital Bollywood Initiative as worldwide marketing manager for Digital Film, is now doing just that. I caught up with her during her return to California for the holidays and asked her about NVIDIA's presence in India.

"The Bollywood Initiative is our entrée into working with our customers there and helping them become a player in the film industry because there are a lot of exciting things happening over there. There are up and coming studios all over the country, not just in Mumbai. So, we have been actively involved in supporting them through training and education and working with the studios directly with our technology."

Since training and education are top priorities in the Bollywood Initiative, which kicked off in November, NVIDIA has wasted no time in getting right into it. "One of the things we did is launch a lecture series," states Dohrmann. "We just had Andy Daffy, who is one of the U.K.'s top animators, go through a four-city tour with us. He basically talked to a thousand people at each location about his work at Framestore working on Dinosaurs and about the work he has done at his studio, House of Curves. It was great -- a most unbelievable experience. One of the most touching things was a woman got up in Dehli and she was the mother of one of the students and said, 'This is unbelievable. Thank you for coming.' She was in tears because they just haven't seen it before. They were so excited to see the work and to see the people that came."

NVIDIA's Bollywood Initiative events, co-hosted by ASIFA (above) and TASI, have drawn big crowds and have helped build a lot of momentum in India. Photos courtesy of NVIDIA.

As it turns out, Daffy was a big hit in India. "Daffy was swamped afterwards," Dohrmann happily adds. "It was like being with a rock star, signing autographs and doing all kinds of interviews. He could have stood there for six hours talking with people. It was a really great event for us. It was what is needed over there to kind of expose folks to what is happening in other parts of the world in terms of film production, animation and visual effects." It is exactly this kind of reaction that has convinced NVIDIA that they are on the right tract, and they fully intend to continue their training and education efforts there on a regular basis.

With an emphasis on Digital Content Creation (DCC), which encompasses the entire spectrum of media entertainment, the Bollywood Initiative is specifically focusing on film production, visual effects and animation. "Anything within that realm is where we have been working initially," Dohrmann attests. "Of course, we will expand into other areas of Digital Content Creation, but we had to start somewhere..." But their efforts are not necessarily set on bringing Indian producers up to speed. "There are quite a few studios over there that are doing very good work...We're really trying to make more of a global effort to be involved in emerging markets because we feel they're going to be very important players moving forward into film production."

Altogether, the Bollywood Initiative has five basic goals. "Our first is to have Gelato, our software rendering tool, used as a product. We have been very committed to having it used in India," Dohrmann affirms. "We have studios that are actually using it in India now and are happy with it and are integrating it into their pipelines and using it in productions." Among those are Anibrain, a studio based in Mumbai using both Quadro and Gelato in their pipeline, and Acris, based in Chennai, using Quadro FX technology and a Gelato test site. NVIDIA also has a permanent support person in place in India, whose sole task is servicing their products.

As mentioned above, the second goal of the initiative is training and education, and much of this centers on Gelato and is available to anyone. "We're actually over in India this month doing a transit trainer series for people who are going to be training on Gelato. We're providing training, education and curriculum to anybody...It's not selective in any way, shape or form."

Furthermore, you don't need to be connected with a studio to afford a copy of Gelato or to acquire the training. "We have two versions [of Gelato]," Dohrmann explains. "We have a professional version that is for sale, and we also have a free version that is downloadable off of our website. And that is a fully functional, production-ready renderer that we are just out there trying to build community with. We launched that essentially in conjunction with our digital Bollywood launch to a make sure that people get to use the product and get to learn about it. Our curriculum will also be available so that people can download that and learn how to use the product. For us it's an opportunity to have the product used because you really have to make sort of a global outreach to have [Gelato] embraced."

Speaking of building community, that is NVIDIA's other main goal for India. "It's very important that there's a community over there to support the industry, very similar to SIGGRAPH or The Visual Effects Society," adds Dohrmann. "We have been instrumental in trying to support anything that's going to help build community there. There are quite a few active organizations [in India]. There's ASIFA, an international organization that has built a lot of momentum in India, and then there's TASI, another animation community group/user group. ASIFA did their first real event there this past fall, and we were one of the sponsors. They were hoping that maybe 300 people would come. They had over a thousand people attend. It was one of the most impressive things I have ever seen in terms of coordination and the talent that was there and what they were able to do and the sheer number of people that came to the event. We will certainly be involved with it next year and continue to take an active role in it."

Dan Vivoli, svp of marketing for NVIDIA, speaks at a recent Bollywood Initiative event. NVIDIA has five goals for the Initiative: wide usage of Gelato, training and education, community-building, technology and commitment.

Building community is an important part of NVIDIA's Bollywood Initiative and their approach to emerging markets in general because it creates more opportunity for filmmakers and as well as an overall enhancement of DCC. Working with the ASIFA, TASI, ABAI and other animation societies, and tailoring its Gelato rendering software and Quadro graphics technology for the Indian market, NVIDIA is partnering with MAAC and Whistling Woods to teach the Digital Production Curriculum in their respective schools. "The advantage with us is that we are not a film studio, so we're not a competitor," Dohrmann emphasizes. "We are very neutral in that we can basically help everyone because everyone uses our product. So, it's not like we're in there trying to get work from other people. It's not who we are. We're a neutral party. So, it enables us to be quite effective in our ability to help."

Dohrmann says their fourth goal is technology, "Keeping people abreast as to what's happening with our technology, our Quadro and our Quadro Plex [1000, the first dedicated visual computing system] and giving them opportunities to learn about them and use them, so they can have a very effective pipeline and can take advantage of our technology to make their work that much more efficient." Quadro is a professional workstation technology, used in film studios worldwide. "That's how we got involved in India. We had so many customers over there at studios who were using our product, and these folks were obviously doing some really great stuff. So, that's what kicked it off for us."

The fifth and final goal of NVIDIA's Bollywood Initiative is simply commitment. "It's just being able to provide support and be there as a presence and to be really committed to the industry and be committed to what's happening in India and being there in a very steadfast approach," says Dohrmann, who will be returning to Mumbia where she is based in early February. NVIDIA also has two R&D offices in India, one in Pune (pronounced Pun-ay) and one in Bangalore, which are growing very quickly.

Jesh Krishna-Murthy, ceo of Anibrain, speaks at the Bollywood Intiative. Anibrain of Mumbai uses both Quadro and Gelato.

What else is on the horizon for NVIDIA beyond India? "The emerging markets are very important for us. It's something that we're looking at very seriously, and something our ceo, Jen-Hsun Huang, is very supportive of and very interested in. So, as you continue to see us progress, not only will we be active in Silicon Valley, where our corporate headquarters are based, we we'll also be doing a global outreach and looking at the emerging markets. For me, in particular, [emerging markets are] where there are a lot of exciting things in the film industry happening worldwide. There's stuff happening in China. There's stuff happening in Moscow and St. Petersburg. So, all of a sudden, the world has gotten a lot smaller. So, we're just kind of watching and seeing. As I said, it was that we looked at India as a kickoff because of all the great things that are happening there and all the great work that's being done in film production and the fact we had a base there already in terms of the Quadro market."

Meanwhile, Jeff Brown, general manager, Professional Solutions Group, discussed NVIDIA's developmental roadmap now that it has introduced an innovative unified shader approach with the release of the G80 graphics card: "This architecture is a substantial investment and the result of four years of R&D. The next year, I think, it'll be based off of the same concept of unified architectures, so what will happen is that scalability will be important, performance, of course, will just naturally increase over time -- that's a function of silicon process technology. But I think the key is applications taking advantage of it [in the GPU]: the ability to dynamically create geometry or to do things with geometry. For realtime applications, the benefit will be increased realism for things like facial animation or for any geometry that displaces naturally... cloths or flesh or rubber. All of this is related to the concept of general programmability, not just for computation applications but also for graphics applications. I think you'll start to see a merging between the two so that you're doing both of those tasks interactively: you're iterating design faster and understanding the impact of those iterations."

J. Paul Peszko is a freelance writer and screenwriter living in Los Angeles. He writes various features and reviews as well as short fiction. He has a feature comedy in development and has just completed his second novel. When he isn't writing, he teaches communications courses.