Three presenters at NVIDIA GTC, the conference for AI and the metaverse, talked about their adoption of real-time virtual production integrated with the technology giant’s end-to-end platform for building and operating 3D virtual worlds, a growing movement supported by Exxact Corporation, a Fremont, CA-based provider of high-performance computing solutions.
As the world of animation and VFX production increasingly moves into the virtual space, more and more companies – from major studios to smaller independent shops – are finding a variety of distinctive ways to incorporate virtual production into their creative pipelines. While the specific hardware and software configurations can be as individual as the professionals who use them, many are opting to make NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise a key part of their systems. And Fremont, CA-based Exxact Corporation, a provider of high-performance computing solutions, has been helping their growing clientele embrace this innovative technology.
Based on a Universal Scene Description (OpenUSD) framework, NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise is an end-to-end platform for building and operating 3D virtual worlds that allows artists, designers, and other team members to collaborate in real-time within a virtual space. As M&E workforces increasingly shift to remote production models, with design teams spread out across the world, more and more creators are looking at Omniverse to manage their pipelines and speed up production.
Some of the new and innovative ways Omniverse is being used in animation and VFX were highlighted at NVIDIA GTC, the conference for AI and the metaverse, held this past March, where a number of pioneering companies gave presentations.
Sony Pictures Animation
From the acclaimed The Mitchells vs. the Machines and Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, to the new Netflix series Agent Elvis, Sony Pictures Animation has produced a number of high-profile and diverse properties in recent years. As Executive Director of Technology Yiotis Katsambas explained at GTC, while they focus mostly on pre-production and outsource production to other studios, primarily sister company Imageworks, what they do comprises an “insane amount of work.”
“For a feature, the script itself will most likely change about 2,000 times, we will create about 120,000 storyboards, and we will do about 25,000 design variations from the beginning to the end of pre-production,” he shared. “So, for us, on the technology side of things, as engineers, we have to figure out what are the points of friction that slow down this process and what can we do to speed it up?”
One tool that Sony employs is Flixi, an offshoot of what became the commercial product Flix, which facilitates the syncing and conversion of files across multiple locations, so that an artist working on a project can easily access the latest iteration. However, with Omniverse, they were able to take things to the next level.
“One of the things that we always wanted to do was to make it easier for story artists to have access to our 3D environment,” Katsambas explained. “So, we created an app on top of Omniverse that we named FlixiVerse, which we described as ‘your portal to the third dimension.’ We explored tons of options and really enjoyed working within NVIDIA and the Omniverse team to create a really perfect solution for our story artists. So rather than sending this massive 3D file to an artist’s machine, we actually stream the content using technology that comes with the Omniverse kit. And because the machine is really beefy, with powerful NVIDIA RTX cards, we can load complex 3D environments and it doesn't slow down the viewing experience.”
disguise is, in the words of Chief Product & Technology Officer Raed Al Tikriti, “the platform that empowers creators to bring to life the world's most spectacular visual experiences.” Employing a combination of software, hardware, and technical services, disguise works with performers like Beyonce and Ed Sheeran, virtual filmmaking productions, broadcasters in sports and news studios, and brands creating unique experiences to connect with their customers. disguise has over 350 stages worldwide using their RenderStream technology, which transports information between third-party render engines, providing synchronization of camera-tracking data and content output.
“We see challenges in two key areas where Omniverse unlocks solutions for our customers,” Tikriti told attendees. “The first is unified content management and workflows, which is essential for remote collaboration. The second area is digital twins, where the need for providing simulation-quality pre-visualization of the disguise staging environment is greater than ever before.”
Tikriti said that the three specific challenges they faced were: (1) content creation and content rendering are very different workflows operating in very different spaces with different tools; (2) keeping up with fast-paced decisions made onset; and (3) edits made on the fly are often not versioned, which makes it difficult to access quickly. Partnering with Omniverse gave disguise the ability to meet all these challenges.
“With Omniverse, we created unified content management solutions that enabled artists to work with their tool of choice, reducing the need for specialists and unlocking familiar workflows,” he shared. “Whatever your engine, whatever tool or render, it's entirely agnostic, as long as there's an Omniverse connector available for it, and the list of connectors continues to grow. The Omniverse connector connects over the local network to a Nucleus server that's holding the scene and all the assets. An Omniverse adapter is written for the real-time render engine and receives live updates from the server. The adapter also updates the engine in real time while it's running.”
In tandem with RenderStream, which provides timing and control parameters, as well as moving image data on each frame, Omniverse offers the speed and versatility required for real-time creation and editing. And, as Tikriti notes, “what's really great here is that this dramatically expands the available pool of creative talent.”
“My topic today may sound astounding to our peers in the film and television industries,” began Joan Xu, creative producer at Versatile Media, a Chinese production company that opened headquarters in Vancouver three years ago. “Although more and more companies have begun to practice virtual production, very few have actually combined virtual production with Omniverse and applied it to the production of cinematic projects.”
Xu went on to describe how Versatile Media artists, using NVIDIA Omniverse, Unreal Engine, and RTX technology, were able to accelerate their virtual production pipeline and produce a sci-fi short film, New Air, entirely in an LED volume, in only 9 days, using three physical props, with real-time compositing and no VFX added in post-production. Working on the film, which went on to win the award for Best VFX Narrative Short Film in the 2022 Spark Animation Festival, convinced Xu and her colleagues that virtual production with Omniverse is the future of filmmaking, including future metaverse extensions of cinematic universes.
“Principal photography was accomplished in only four days, and, after shooting, the film immediately entered editing, color grading and sound production, all of which were done in just one day,” Xu related. For the project, NVIDIA Omniverse was used to connect Maya, Unreal Engine, and Omniverse USD Composer, replacing linear pipelines with live-sync creation. 64 NVIDIA RTX GPUs ensured optimal performance of the real-time rendered graphics. Changes and improvements in models, textures, and sets could be synced in real time in UE, and the asset preparation workflow was greatly enhanced through the USD file format.
Omniverse's lighting system also played an important role. Using RTX-powered rendering and real-time ray and path tracing in Omniverse, the artists could render photorealistic and physically accurate 3D content in real time.
Exxact Corporation Can Make It Happen
For anyone interested in moving into virtual production with NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise, but unsure of where to start, what equipment to acquire, and/or how to put together a seamless, optimized system, fortunately there’s Exxact Corporation.
A leading provider of high-performance computing, artificial intelligence, and data center solutions, Exxact is moving into the Media & Entertainment space by offering fully integrated, end-to-end solutions that support Omniverse. Long a go-to source for government and educational organizations, the Fremont, CA-based company is excited to be able to share its expertise and deep knowledge of computing hardware systems with the M&E industry.
“M&E is going through rapid change, and demand for high-quality content is higher than ever,” says Exxact Marketing Manager Khang Pham. “Workstations powered by NVIDIA RTX GPUs and running Omniverse Enterprise let studios maximize productivity, enhance communication, and boost creativity, while collaborating on the same 3D scenes from anywhere. With NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise, the possibilities are endless for creativity.”
With its extensive inventory and streamlined implementation process, Exxact can get a new client up and running much more quickly than other system integrators. They offer customized, turnkey solutions running either Intel Core or AMD Threadripper PRO CPU, with NVIDIA RTX GPU and preloaded with the tools clients need, which means they can design, create, and render out of the box. Exxact’s solutions are integrated with the client’s budget in mind and are scalable to grow as the client’s business grows.
Specific hardware options include:
- CPU: AMD Ryzen Threadripper PRO 5965WX 24-Core 3.80GHz
- GPU: NVIDIA RTX 5000 or 6000 Ada Gen
- Memory: 128GB DDR4 SDRAM 3200MHz (4-8 x 16GB)
- Storage: 2TB M.2 2280 PCIe NVMe 4.0 x4
All Exxact systems are backed by standard three-year warranty on parts and labor, with perpetual email and telephone support.
“NVIDIA Omniverse Enterprise fundamentally transforms complex design workflows for organizations of any scale,” says Pham. “It tackles the challenges by uniting teams, their assets, and software tools in a shared virtual space, enabling diverse workgroups to collaborate on a single project file simultaneously. With real-time interoperability across applications, infinite iterations come at no opportunity cost. Design teams can maximize creative risks to achieve new heights of quality and innovation with faster time-to-market.”
For more information on Exxact and its Omniverse Enterprise offerings, click here.
Dan Sarto is Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of Animation World Network.