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DNEG Helps ‘Dune’ Come Alive with NVIDIA RTX Technology

VFX studio contributed to over 1,000 shots across 28 sequences on the Oscar-winning film, with artists working from multiple locations using NVIDIA’s virtual workstation software and hardware.

Six-time Oscar winning Dune, was recognized for Best Sound and Visual Effects at last month's Academy Awards. Denis Villeneuve’s film, adapted from Frank Herbert’s 1965 classic sci-fi novel of the same name, brought the famed story of House Atreides and the Planet Arrakis to life through a stunning array of visual effects.

VFX studio DNEG used a blend of practical and visual effects to create the graphics that capture the dystopian worlds of Dune. The film’s production visual effects supervisor, Paul Lambert, noted that his focus was on seamlessly augmenting or enhancing what was already accomplished with the beautiful production design and cinematography — grounding the visual effects in reality.

DNEG contributed to 28 sequences and over 1,000 VFX shots in the film, with artists working from multiple locations using NVIDIA RTX Virtual Workstations.

A Mix of Sand and Simulations:

Sand played a major part in Dune, and 18 tons were used to make the film. But the VFX team also digitally replicated every aspect of it to blend simulated sand into the shots.

“One of the things we came up against early on was getting that essence of scale,” commented Paul Salvini, global CTO of DNEG. “In simulations, each grain of sand is literally the size of a pixel, which means we needed huge volumes of sand, and that turned into petabytes of data.”

In addition to digitally replicating the look and feel of sand, the team needed to capture its movement. This was even more challenging when finding a way to depict the massive sandworms moving through the desert.

The artists spent months building, modeling, and sculpting the creature into shape. With the movement of baleen whales in water as inspiration, the team discovered that large objects move through sand in a similar manner to how a whale moves through the ocean. The team then simulated each sand particle to see how it would cascade off a sandworm, or how the dunes would ripple as the creature moved around. For the latter, the practical effects team created a sand-displacement effect by placing a vibrating metal plate under real sand, and the VFX team expanded it to simulate the effect on a much larger scale.

“It’s tricky to do, because it’s super complex and computationally expensive to figure out how one grain of sand is connected to another grain — and have all of this act on a massive scale,” added Salvini. “It was an iterative process, and it takes a long time to actually simulate all of these particles.”

DNEG used a combination of Dell Precision workstations and Dell PowerEdge R740 servers with NVIDIA RTX and server GPUs to iterate quickly and make changes, ensuring the simulations with the sandworm looked realistic.

To add more realism to the creature, the artists looked to the bristly teeth of baleen whales. The VFX team modeled different versions of the teeth and used a scattering system in the Houdini app, which allowed them to populate the worm’s mouth at render time.

Using Isotropix Clarisse and NVIDIA RTX, DNEG artists rendered graphics in hours instead of days. This allowed them to receive immediate feedback on the visuals. It also helped increase their number of iterations, enabling final shots and high-quality images.

Enhancing Production Workflows with Virtualization:

DNEG was one of the first studios to implement NVIDIA virtual GPUs at scale with NVIDIA RTX Virtual Workstation software. NVIDIA RTX-powered virtual workstations provide flexibility, allowing for the adjustment of the number of users on a particular server based on the current workload.

As newer GPUs and expanded software packages enter the data center, DNEG can deploy these to its users to maintain optimal performance for each artist.

“To give our artists more compute power, we can easily increase NVIDIA vGPU profile sizes and reduce the number of users we put on each server,” explained Daire Byrne, global head of systems at DNEG. “We don’t need to replace any equipment to keep working with maximum performance.”

With creators securely logged into RTX-powered virtual workstations from anywhere in the world, the artists can work remotely, while still maintaining productivity.

“Every show we get is different from the last, and NVIDIA RTX Virtual Workstations let us scale the memory and performance characteristics up or down to meet the needs of our artists,” added Byrne.

Living in the Future of Virtual Worlds:

DNEG continues its work with NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise looking to the future of connected, collaborative workflows.

“The virtual world is where filmmaking is going,” remarked Salvini. “We now have advanced tools and technologies that are capable of delivering photorealistic virtual environments and digital characters, allowing us to create incredible, beautiful, stylized worlds.”

With the shift toward real-time technology and more collaborative content creation pipelines, DNEG sees greater opportunities to interact with the filmmakers and art teams across the globe, allowing for many more iterations to accomplish goals quickly.

DNEG uses Omniverse Enterprise with Dell Precision workstations with NVIDIA RTX A6000 GPUs, and Dell PowerEdge R7525 servers with NVIDIA A40 GPUs.

Source: DNEG

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Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.