Turbulence Simulations Help Make Movie Magic

By Scott Gibson

August 8, 2013

One could aptly say that Nils Thuerey’s experiences in computer modeling and simulation lean toward the dramatic: He and three colleagues won an Oscar for Technical Achievement in 2012 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for developing an algorithm to create fast and controllable smoke simulations and explosions on film, and a 90-second scene from a feature film involving a burning horse and lots of slow-motion fire stands out in his mind as his most challenging visualization of late.

The horse and fire sequence was from “Rise of an Empire,” the prequel to the movie “300” about the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C. And specifically, Thuerey and colleagues Theodore Kim, Markus Gross, and Doug James won the Oscar for “the invention, publication and dissemination of Wavelet Turbulence Software.” The application employs a technique that has “allowed for fast, art-directable creation of highly detailed gas simulation, making it easier for the artist to control the appearance of these effects in the final image,” the description of the award reads. The software has been used in about 30 feature films, including “Avatar” and “Iron Man 3.”

“It’s great to see technology making a real impact in industry — to see that it’s useful, and ultimately being able to watch it on the big screen,” Thuerey said.

In a recent talk in San Diego at the XSEDE13 conference — the annual meeting of researchers, staff and industry who use and support the U.S. cyberinfrastructure — Thuerey provided an overview of the technical methodology involved in special-effects turbulence modeling and simulation research.

Simulating and Iterating 

The development of simulated special effects is accelerated by high-performance computing (HPC), with speed advantages afforded by the parallelization of data and the use of graphics processing units (GPUs). Thuerey explained that in movie-making, right next to art direction (project control) in terms of importance is the time required to run a special-effects simulation, and the average turnaround of one-half day allowed by HPC seems to suit film artists.

The control aspect of film production also includes rendering the chaotic turbulence in fire, smoke and water and its complexity with as much realism as possible. The general approach to doing that, Thuerey said, is to start with a coarse and fast simulation and turn it into one that is detailed and of high resolution.

Fluid simulations — which in this context can refer to fire, smoke or water — serve as the base layer of a special effect, to which overlays, textures and particles are added. “You can have each layer approved, and then the simulation can remain ‘locked’ and unchanged,” Thuerey said. “In general, all movies iterate a lot: an artist produces different versions with feedback from supervisors and clients until everyone is happy — or as happy as possible.”

To add the details to effects, the researchers examine what are referred to as octaves in wavelet (small wave) turbulence. Metaphorically akin to musical octaves, these separate the different sizes of vortices (whirling masses) in a turbulent flow, and the large ones can be broken down into smaller and smaller ones. “We need vortices of very specific sizes that we can correctly blend in with those of the coarse simulation,” Thuerey explained.

The workflow for special-effects creation devised by Kim, Thuerey, James and Gross consists of the iterative steps of conceptualizing the artistic goal and developing the coarse simulation, followed by the execution of the one-time actions of detail detection, the tracking of motion and the application of turbulence.

More Particles, More Realism

Thuerey and colleagues Tobias Pfaff of the computer graphics laboratory ETH Zurich and Jonathan Cohen and Sarah Tariq of NVIDIA developed a scalable method of resolving the fine details of turbulent flows and published a paper entitled “Scalable Fluid Simulation using Turbulence Particles” for SIGGRAPH Asia 2010.  Thuerey discussed highlights from the paper during his talk at XSEDE13, relating how in their methodology they use what’s called a two-equation K-epsilon model to compute the transport of turbulent energy, which they integrate into a base flow of smoke. In the next step, the researchers add particles for greater realism, without changing the overall flow of the effect. The end result is turbulent, billowing smoke. Thuerey added that the faster speed afforded by GPUs makes the computing of more interesting flows possible.

“The ‘classical’ use of turbulence models in computational fluid dynamics is to gain knowledge about, say, averaged quantities, for example,” Thuerey explained. “For graphics, we are more interested in synthesizing the turbulent flow over time to generate images with it. So there’s quite a difference in the goals for each direction.”

“Anything is Possible”

HPC can help not only with an explosion taking place in the foreground of the screen but also in the background in the form of what are called “invisible VFX.” “The easier it is to create these effects, the more we can use them in all parts of a scene,” Thuerey said. One example he gave during his talk was the computerized addition of bruises on an actor.

With the computational power and the advances made possible by research in special effects, “anything is possible, but it can be pretty expensive,” Thuerey said.

“The effects require very heavy computations, and the outcome is difficult to predict,” he explained. “So it takes many iterations to reach the desired shape, motion, etc.”

The content of Thuerey’s research and talk corresponds nicely with much of the activities taking place across the XSEDE ecosystem, according to XSEDE13 Technical Program Chair Amit Majumdar. “Scientfic visualization of terabytes to petabytes of data, produced by HPC simulations, is a big part of the end-to-end science process for XSEDE users,” he said. “Nils’ talk was excellent, as he discussed how he combines advanced algorithms and knowledge of domain science, such as turbulence, to generate these amazing visualizations.”

Thuerey praised the merit of XSEDE, saying, “It’s great to have such a strong organization for the high-performance-computing field.”

The annual XSEDE conference, organized by the National Science Foundation’s Extreme Science and Engineering Discovery Environment with the support of corporate and non-profit sponsors, brings together the extended community of individuals interested in advancing research cyberinfrastructure and integrated digital services for the benefit of science and society. XSEDE13 was held July 22–25 in San Diego; XSEDE14 will be held July 13–18 in Atlanta. For more information, visit https://conferences.xsede.org/xsede14.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate scientists the ability to use machine learning to identify e Read more…

By Rob Farber

Mellanox Reacts to Activist Investor Pressures in Letter to Shareholders

March 16, 2018

Activist investor Starboard Value has been exerting pressure on Mellanox Technologies to increase its returns. In response, the high-performance networking company on Monday, March 12, published a letter to shareholders outlining its proposal for a May 2018 extraordinary general meeting (EGM) of shareholders and highlighting its long-term growth strategy and focus on operating margin improvement. Read more…

By Staff

Quantum Computing vs. Our ‘Caveman Newtonian Brain’: Why Quantum Is So Hard

March 15, 2018

Quantum is coming. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon enough. Within 10 to 12 years, we’re told, special-purpose quantum systems will enter the commercial realm. Assuming this happens, we can also assume that quantum will, over extended time, become increasingly general purpose as it delivers mind-blowing power. Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Achieve Optimal Performance at Scale with High Performance Fabrics for HPC

High Performance Computing (HPC) is unlocking a new era of speed and productivity to fuel business transformation. Rapid advancements in HPC capabilities are helping organizations operate faster and more effectively than ever, but in today’s fast-paced marketplace, a new generation of technologies is required to reach greater scalability and cost-efficiency. Read more…

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise IT in its willingness to outsource computational power. The m Read more…

By Chris Downing

Deep Learning at 15 PFlops Enables Training for Extreme Weather Identification at Scale

March 19, 2018

Petaflop per second deep learning training performance on the NERSC (National Energy Research Scientific Computing Center) Cori supercomputer has given climate Read more…

By Rob Farber

How the Cloud Is Falling Short for HPC

March 15, 2018

The last couple of years have seen cloud computing gradually build some legitimacy within the HPC world, but still the HPC industry lies far behind enterprise I Read more…

By Chris Downing

Stephen Hawking, Legendary Scientist, Dies at 76

March 14, 2018

Stephen Hawking passed away at his home in Cambridge, England, in the early morning of March 14; he was 76. Born on January 8, 1942, Hawking was an English theo Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Hyperion Tackles Elusive Quantum Computing Landscape

March 13, 2018

Quantum computing - exciting and off-putting all at once - is a kaleidoscope of technology and market questions whose shapes and positions are far from settled. Read more…

By John Russell

Part Two: Navigating Life Sciences Choppy HPC Waters in 2018

March 8, 2018

2017 was not necessarily the best year to build a large HPC system for life sciences say Ari Berman, VP and GM of consulting services, and Aaron Gardner, direct Read more…

By John Russell

Google Chases Quantum Supremacy with 72-Qubit Processor

March 7, 2018

Google pulled ahead of the pack this week in the race toward "quantum supremacy," with the introduction of a new 72-qubit quantum processor called Bristlecone. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

SciNet Launches Niagara, Canada’s Fastest Supercomputer

March 5, 2018

SciNet and the University of Toronto today unveiled "Niagara," Canada's most-powerful supercomputer, comprising 1,500 dense Lenovo ThinkSystem SD530 high-perfor Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Part One: Deep Dive into 2018 Trends in Life Sciences HPC

March 1, 2018

Life sciences is an interesting lens through which to see HPC. It is perhaps not an obvious choice, given life sciences’ relative newness as a heavy user of H Read more…

By John Russell

Inventor Claims to Have Solved Floating Point Error Problem

January 17, 2018

"The decades-old floating point error problem has been solved," proclaims a press release from inventor Alan Jorgensen. The computer scientist has filed for and Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Japan Unveils Quantum Neural Network

November 22, 2017

The U.S. and China are leading the race toward productive quantum computing, but it's early enough that ultimate leadership is still something of an open questi Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Researchers Measure Impact of ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Patches on HPC Workloads

January 17, 2018

Computer scientists from the Center for Computational Research, State University of New York (SUNY), University at Buffalo have examined the effect of Meltdown Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Begins Power9 Rollout with Backing from DOE, Google

December 6, 2017

After over a year of buildup, IBM is unveiling its first Power9 system based on the same architecture as the Department of Energy CORAL supercomputers, Summit a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Fast Forward: Five HPC Predictions for 2018

December 21, 2017

What’s on your list of high (and low) lights for 2017? Volta 100’s arrival on the heels of the P100? Appearance, albeit late in the year, of IBM’s Power9? Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Nuclear Engineers Caught Cryptomining on Lab Supercomputer

February 12, 2018

Nuclear scientists working at the All-Russian Research Institute of Experimental Physics (RFNC-VNIIEF) have been arrested for using lab supercomputing resources to mine crypto-currency, according to a report in Russia’s Interfax News Agency. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Chip Flaws ‘Meltdown’ and ‘Spectre’ Loom Large

January 4, 2018

The HPC and wider tech community have been abuzz this week over the discovery of critical design flaws that impact virtually all contemporary microprocessors. T Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

GlobalFoundries, Ayar Labs Team Up to Commercialize Optical I/O

December 4, 2017

GlobalFoundries (GF) and Ayar Labs, a startup focused on using light, instead of electricity, to transfer data between chips, today announced they've entered in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How Meltdown and Spectre Patches Will Affect HPC Workloads

January 10, 2018

There have been claims that the fixes for the Meltdown and Spectre security vulnerabilities, named the KPTI (aka KAISER) patches, are going to affect applicatio Read more…

By Rosemary Francis

Perspective: What Really Happened at SC17?

November 22, 2017

SC is over. Now comes the myriad of follow-ups. Inboxes are filled with templated emails from vendors and other exhibitors hoping to win a place in the post-SC thinking of booth visitors. Attendees of tutorials, workshops and other technical sessions will be inundated with requests for feedback. Read more…

By Andrew Jones

V100 Good but not Great on Select Deep Learning Aps, Says Xcelerit

November 27, 2017

Wringing optimum performance from hardware to accelerate deep learning applications is a challenge that often depends on the specific application in use. A benc Read more…

By John Russell

Lenovo Unveils Warm Water Cooled ThinkSystem SD650 in Rampup to LRZ Install

February 22, 2018

This week Lenovo took the wraps off the ThinkSystem SD650 high-density server with third-generation direct water cooling technology developed in tandem with par Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Wins Another: Baidu to Deploy EPYC on Single Socket Servers

December 13, 2017

When AMD introduced its EPYC chip line in June, the company said a portion of the line was specifically designed to re-invigorate a single socket segment in wha Read more…

By John Russell

World Record: Quantum Computer with 46 Qubits Simulated

December 18, 2017

Scientists from the Jülich Supercomputing Centre have set a new world record. Together with researchers from Wuhan University and the University of Groningen, Read more…

New Blueprint for Converging HPC, Big Data

January 18, 2018

After five annual workshops on Big Data and Extreme-Scale Computing (BDEC), a group of international HPC heavyweights including Jack Dongarra (University of Te Read more…

By John Russell

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This