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Frantic Films and NVIDIA:
Creating Groundbreaking Visual Effects

Frantic Films“Our 3D rendering and animation work requires the fastest graphics hardware we can get for our custom software. We use NVIDIA Quadro graphics so that we can generate more shots in a shorter amount of time and with the highest quality possible.” Chris Bond, president, Frantic Films

The Screen Test
Creating a blockbuster motion picture requires the talents and resources of a small army. These people work for the major studios and for hundreds of smaller companies that provide specialized services. To create visual effects, the major studios can choose from an entire industry of creative firms that compete in this dynamic, cutting-edge market. Frantic Films has managed to survive and thrive in this fast-paced industry, and today uses NVIDIA Quadro® graphics solutions to provide stunning visualizations for both pre- and post-production stages of film production. Their tools and techniques also bring film-quality effects to commercials and other television productions.

“We have gained a reputation as the studio that can achieve the impossible, and we rely on NVIDIA graphics to help us maintain that reputation,” explains Chris Bond, president of Frantic Films. “We are still small enough that we can react quickly and change our pipeline for a new challenge or project. We tend to be asked to do things that have never been done before because our clients know that we apply the newest and best graphics technology and develop the tools that are needed to get the job done.”

Getting the job done usually means providing pre-visualization assistance or post-production effects to the makers of major motion pictures at Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures, and Warner Bros. Studios. Frantic also works for ABC and other broadcasters, and creates their own award-winning live-action productions, including docu-series for Canada’s History Channel.
Background: Frantic Films provides a variety of pre- and post-production visualization services to filmmakers and advertisers, relying on NVIDIA graphics to support the efforts of their creative teams.

Challenge: Directors and production crews require the ability to preview scenes and sets in real time, making changes on the fly. The creative team at Frantic must also be able to deliver stunning visual effects for the final production, including completely realistic fluids, surfaces, and lighting.

Solution: NVIDIA Quadro FX graphics products provide enough computational power to support sophisticated fluid simulation algorithms. The Cg shading language and optimized NVIDIA driver software streamline the programming efforts.

Benefits: The power of the NVIDIA Quadro platform supports interactive manipulation of virtual sets for efficient pre-production planning. The power of the NVIDIA Cg shading language allows the incorporation of more realistic surfaces, materials, and lighting throughout entire scenes for high-quality previews and highly satisfied clients. With ever-increasing throughput, the NVIDIA GPUs effectively take on tasks traditionally computed on the CPU, introducing more power into each system and changing the way that work is done in pre- and post-production.
Frantic Films uses NVIDIA Quadro FX graphics solutions to create unprecedented effects in films like Scooby-Doo 2: Monsters Unleashed. Frantic used NVIDIA Quadro FX graphics to create a fluid monster. The Frantic Films repertoire recently extended to include the dynamics of a frozen fluid, for a very cold monster in Scooby Doo 2
Copyright 2003 Warner Bros. Studios. Images provided by Frantic Films

Lights, Camera...
“For pre-production projects like we did on X-Men, directors count on us to create a 3D virtual world of their film. With our model of their set, they can check out lighting designs, camera positions and angles, actor positions—every aspect of each scene. Instead of working out the details on location, with a crew of 100 people and million-dollar actors standing around, they can plan out every scene ahead of time and really nail it when it goes into production,” says Bond. Besides saving time and money during production, directors use Frantic’s pre-production technology and techniques to demo their ideas and pitch their movies to studios. Actors and the crew can also be prepared for complicated scenes by walk-throughs on the virtual sets.

Pre-production comes down to painstaking visualizations—giving directors, studio executives, actors, and production crews a realistic preview of the end product. The virtual sets and scene previews are created using high-quality, high-count meshes and require all the raw computing power possible. Ben Houston, a visualization expert at Frantic, explains, “The main CPU runs at 2 or 3GHz. An NVIDIA Quadro graphics board gives us an additional eight processors and each of those processors can execute four floating-point computations per clock cycle. That adds up to 12GHz of processing power—way more than the main CPU can give us. This is really affordable power, too. We combine this hardware speed with the high-performance NVIDIA driver software to get the best possible OpenGL performance and deliver real-time interactive capabilities to our clients. When a director asks for a change to a scene during a meeting with us, the performance of the NVIDIA Quadro graphics lets us make the adjustments on the fly.”

Frantic Films uses NVIDIA Quadro FX graphics solutions to free the CPU from computationally intensive algorithms required for special effects like this fluid simulation.
The visualization experts at Frantic also take advantage of the NVIDIA® Cg compiler and programming tools. The Cg shader language simplifies programming efforts and allows the team to render higher-quality objects in real time. Combining the NVIDIA Quadro graphics hardware with Cg results in more depth and textures in every scene, more realistic color, and accurately reflecting lights. The ability to fool the eye with wood grain, stucco walls, windows that reflect the environment and an infinite number of other effects contributes to the unbeatable quality of the Frantic pre-production creations.

…And Action!
In the post-production stages, Frantic generates some of today’s most spectacular effects, action sequences, and computer-generated (CG) scenes. The team of engineers and artists at Frantic are known for their in-house tools. Bond explains, “Almost every feature film project that we’ve done has involved writing a custom tool or figuring out a technology from scratch. For example, in The Core, we had to figure out a way to handle millions and millions of polygons to create liquid lava, and many other effects that had never been tackled before. We take advantage of lots of the CAD software solutions out there, but we often end up falling back on custom software. We write shaders, tools, scripts, little applets—anything we need for a particular project. Some of our tools carry forward to lots of other projects, like our software for handling liquids—Flood. We’ve submitted patents for some of that liquid technology.”

The Flood tool, which took almost a year to develop, was originally developed as a CPU-based application. The fluid simulation system was successful in the earliest deployments, but achieving realistic-looking fluid was incredibly computationally intensive. After brainstorming with NVIDIA developers, the Frantic team set out to modify Flood to take advantage of NVIDIA GPU floating-point power. Today, NVIDIA Quadro FX hardware gives Flood a 50 percent boost in performance, and the ability to generate the highest-fidelity visual realism for fluids. Another visualization expert at Frantic Films, Mark Wiebe, says, “Converting our most computationally intensive algorithms from CPU-based implementations to GPU-based solutions was not difficult—the new high-level shader languages such as Cg give us a straightforward way to access the floating-point throughput of the GPU. As we continue to work with NVIDIA, we are confident that we can fully exploit the evolving capabilities of the NVIDIA Quadro family and use the hardware acceleration to change the way that we work when it comes to generating the most realistic fluid effects.”

Frantic’s Flood tool uses NVIDIA Quadro FX graphics hardware to create stunningly realistic CG effects for water and other liquids. Side views, reflections, distortions from the splashing fluid—great attention to detail can be achieved using NVIDIA graphics and Frantic tools. High-performance NVIDIA Quadro FX graphics renders photorealistic complex animations for objects, like this knotted shape, that move through fluids.

NVIDIA in the Supporting Role
The Frantic creative teams need as much graphics power as they can get. They employ NVIDIA Quadro FX 2000 and NVIDIA Quadro FX 3000 workstation graphics solutions for the most demanding of their projects—photorealistic creations for post-production projects. According to Bond, “Post-production is a moving target—every project is different. Our 3D rendering and animation work requires the fastest graphics hardware we can get for our custom software. We use NVIDIA Quadro graphics so that we can generate more shots in a shorter amount of time and with the highest quality possible. Some of the scenes we create are massive, and we have to create lighting effects, character generation, and bring animation and camera movement into the scene. I can’t imagine handling the hundreds of megabytes of model geometry, and four to five gigabytes of textures for objects, without the NVIDIA performance.”

NVIDIA also gives Frantic the advantage of a range of graphics platforms. Frantic often uses NVIDIA® GeForce™ FX graphics solutions for the pre-production work, when they have to deliver a large number of shots and scenes in as short a time as possible. With the GeForce platforms, Frantic can deliver the same visual quality that characterizes today’s video games—fast visualizations that are perfect for the purpose of production planning. “For pre-viz applications, the NVIDIA GeForce cards are so affordable that we can go out and buy all new cards for every project and get the latest features and performance levels,” says Bond. “And if our 3D models have the same visual quality as the latest video game, it’s a real competitive advantage for us in pre-production.”

When customers ask for effects that have never been done before, the team at Frantic has to deliver. High expectations have led to their groundbreaking achievements and the development of many innovative Frantic tools and technologies. They need the fastest hardware they can get to power the tools of their trade. Frantic counts on NVIDIA to deliver the leading performance today, and to be ready when they need the next-generation solutions. As Bond explains, “We always want more—more performance, more memory on the video cards, more throughput on the buses. That’s why we’re excited about where NVIDIA is going with the NVIDIA Quadro family. We can’t wait to get our hands on the next NVIDIA solutions and see what we’ll be able to do with them. Our business is all about delivering more—more quality and a bigger scale in every project. The trend is all about bigger, better, and more. We have to keep pushing the envelope and pushing the industry forward, and I think NVIDIA is doing that.”

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