Ray Tracing, RenderMan, Radiosity, Antialiasing and Much, Much, More

A Collection of Luminaries

Earlier this week, I had the privilege to attend an uncommon event in the field of computer graphics and visualization. There were some 130 people in attendance including:

    • People who have written or contributed to approximately 20 papers accepted for publication in the upcoming SIGGRAPH 2012 proceedings

    • 8 people who have won SIGGRAPH achievement awards, including two lifetime achievement award winners and four of the past eight “Significant New Researcher” award winners

    • The primary inventors or originators of ray tracing (Turner Whitted), radiosity (Don Greenburg), antialiasing (Frank Crow), and RenderMan (Pat Hanrahan)

    • Three or four dozen of the best computer graphics PhD students in the world

Some of the comments I heard from people during the event were, "This is a collection of the finest graphics researchers in the world," "Yesterday I saw SIGGRAPH Fast-Forward for 2012", and "A good chunk of the people I like to see at SIGGRAPH all brought together in a nice, small group."

The Unpronounceable Acronym

What was the nature of this event and what was its purpose? It was the 2012 retreat for people involved in the Intel Science and Technology Center for Visual Computing (ISTC-VC). This Intel-funded research consortium, launched a little over a year ago, has a mission to solve the biggest, baddest problems that remain in computer graphics. The ISTC-VC (and other ISTCs) were created by Intel Labs to focus on technology areas that align with its research focus areas. The lead university is Stanford, and the other universities involved are Washington, UC/Berkeley, UC/Davis, UC/Irvine, Princeton, Cornell, and Harvard. Others notable attendees included people from The Guildhall at SMU, University of Texas/Austin, KAUST, University of Illinois, Disney, Microsoft, Canada's GRAND (Graphics, Animation and New Media) Network, and of course lots of people from Intel.

Why was I there? As one of the SSG representatives to the ISTC effort, I was there to learn from the collected brainpower and share information about powerful visual computing tools and technologies such as Intel® Graphics Performance Analyzers (Intel® GPA) and Intel® Media SDK. I also manage SSG’s Visual Computing Academic Program which has become highly aligned with the ISTC-VC over the last 12 months. (I was a welcome participant to the meeting since I was able to bring T-shirts featuring the URL for the newly launched Visual Computing Source web site…it doesn’t hurt to come bearing gifts!)

A Packed Agenda

The event exceeded everyone’s expectations and the progress of the ISTC-VC over the past year astounded us all. The venue was the fantastic Oceano Hotel & Spa in Half Moon Bay, California. During the morning of the first day, we got updates on the research projects underway within the ISTC-VC’s four major research themes (Simulation, Perception, Content Creation, and Systems). There was so much progress that each of the theme leaders had to talk a mile a minute in order to get through the significant advances in the state of the art that have been made over the last twelve months. The afternoon session consisted of working meetings for each of the research themes. Over dinner, Turner Whitted of Microsoft Research painted a challenging vision for where the technology needs to go. He complemented the ISTC-VC, calling it a collection of world-class talent such as had never before been assembled. He urged students and researchers involved in the center to look upon it as both a challenge and an opportunity…great things are expected when so much great talent is working together to solve problems.

The after-dinner reception featured demos and posters of the various projects (46 altogether!). Some SSG colleagues and I were able to show demos of Diablo III and Skyrim running on our 3rd generation Core (Ivy Bridge) processors, some cool games running on second-generation core Ultrabooks, and give demos of the latest version of our Intel® GPA tool suite. Unfortunately, this meant that I didn’t have any time to check out the many interesting posters and demos being shown, but I intend to follow up and learn more about them and share my thoughts in future blog posts.

Lofty Goals

Details of many of the research projects will be made public at SIGGRAPH 2012. Indeed, it is the aim of the ISTC-VC to publish its results in a timely fashion and put in the public domain all software and results. The intention is to accelerate the visual computing industry in a significant fashion over the next 3-5 years. I can’t wait to tell you more about these research projects, but the research agenda is no less ambitious than:

    • Develop a virtual human with appearance and behavior that is indistinguishable from reality

    • Revolutionize photography

    • Build tools that allow users of all skill levels to create compelling 3D objects and environments

    • Build models the size and complexity of large, real world cities and render them at interactive rates

    • Automatically extract semantic information from images and videos

    • Develop methods for real-time sound generation

    • Develop methods to bring cinematic quality natural phenomenon (water, smoke, fire) to interactive games

    • Make virtual worlds an application platform as powerful as the world wide web

An explicit goal for all of the projects is help Intel learn what is needed for the graphics hardware and software of the future. Working together with so many bright minds in academia, Intel hopes to more quickly enable the entire computing industry to move to a place where astonishing interactive visual experiences are commonplace.

Stay Tuned

One thing about top-notch university researchers – they’re not afraid to take on daunting challenges. Whether they ultimately succeed or not, they are undoubtedly going to make key breakthroughs in advancing the state of the art in visual computing technology. I’m going to tag along for the ride and share some of the details of these projects with you…it might get bumpy at times, but it’s sure going to be a lot of fun!

ISTC-VC Retreat 2012


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