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!

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

ASC18: Tough Applications & Tough Luck

May 17, 2018

The applications at the ASC18 Student Cluster Competition were tough. Tougher than the $3.99 steak special at your local greasy spoon restaurant. The apps are so tough that even Chuck Norris backs away from them slowly. Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and the technology challenges ahead. These discussions happened in Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

HPC and AI Convergence is Accelerating New Levels of Intelligence

Data analytics is the most valuable tool in the digital marketplace – so much so that organizations are employing high performance computing (HPC) capabilities to rapidly collect, share, and analyze endless streams of data. Read more…

IBM Accelerated Insights

Mastering the Big Data Challenge in Cognitive Healthcare

Patrick Chain, genomics researcher at Los Alamos National Laboratory, posed a question in a recent blog: What if a nurse could swipe a patient’s saliva and run a quick genetic test to determine if the patient’s sore throat was caused by a cold virus or a bacterial infection? Read more…

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

ASC18: Final Results Revealed & Wrapped Up

May 17, 2018

It was an exciting week at ASC18 in Nanyang, China. The student teams braved extreme heat, extremely difficult applications, and extreme competition in order to cross the cluster competition finish line. The gala awards ceremony took place on Wednesday. The auditorium was packed with student teams, various dignitaries, the media, and other interested parties. So what happened? Read more…

By Dan Olds

Spring Meetings Underscore Quantum Computing’s Rise

May 17, 2018

The month of April 2018 saw four very important and interesting meetings to discuss the state of quantum computing technologies, their potential impacts, and th Read more…

By Alex R. Larzelere

Quantum Network Hub Opens in Japan

May 17, 2018

Following on the launch of its Q Commercial quantum network last December with 12 industrial and academic partners, the official Japanese hub at Keio University is now open to facilitate the exploration of quantum applications important to science and business. The news comes a week after IBM announced that North Carolina State University was the first U.S. university to join its Q Network. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Democratizing HPC: OSC Releases Version 1.3 of OnDemand

May 16, 2018

Making HPC resources readily available and easier to use for scientists who may have less HPC expertise is an ongoing challenge. Open OnDemand is a project by t Read more…

By John Russell

PRACE 2017 Annual Report: Exascale Aspirations; Industry Collaboration; HPC Training

May 15, 2018

The Partnership for Advanced Computing in Europe (PRACE) today released its annual report showcasing 2017 activities and providing a glimpse into thinking about Read more…

By John Russell

US Forms AI Brain Trust

May 11, 2018

Amid calls for a U.S. strategy for promoting AI development, the Trump administration is forming a senior-level panel to help coordinate government and industry research efforts. The Select Committee on Artificial Intelligence was announced Thursday (May 10) during a White House summit organized by the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). Read more…

By George Leopold

Emerging Advanced Scale Tech Trends Focus of Annual Tabor Conference

May 9, 2018

At Tabor Communications' annual Advanced Scale Forum (ASF) held this week in Austin, the focus was on enterprise adoption of HPC-class technologies and high performance data analytics (HPDA). It’s a confab that brings together end users (CIOs, IT planners, department heads) and vendors and encourages... Read more…

By the Editorial Team

Google I/O 2018: AI Everywhere; TPU 3.0 Delivers 100+ Petaflops but Requires Liquid Cooling

May 9, 2018

All things AI dominated discussion at yesterday’s opening of Google’s I/O 2018 developers meeting covering much of Google's near-term product roadmap. The e Read more…

By John Russell

MLPerf – Will New Machine Learning Benchmark Help Propel AI Forward?

May 2, 2018

Let the AI benchmarking wars begin. Today, a diverse group from academia and industry – Google, Baidu, Intel, AMD, Harvard, and Stanford among them – releas Read more…

By John Russell

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

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

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

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

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

AI Cloud Competition Heats Up: Google’s TPUs, Amazon Building AI Chip

February 12, 2018

Competition in the white hot AI (and public cloud) market pits Google against Amazon this week, with Google offering AI hardware on its cloud platform intended Read more…

By Doug Black

US Plans $1.8 Billion Spend on DOE Exascale Supercomputing

April 11, 2018

On Monday, the United States Department of Energy announced its intention to procure up to three exascale supercomputers at a cost of up to $1.8 billion with th Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

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

HPC and AI – Two Communities Same Future

January 25, 2018

According to Al Gara (Intel Fellow, Data Center Group), high performance computing and artificial intelligence will increasingly intertwine as we transition to Read more…

By Rob Farber

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

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

HPE Wins $57 Million DoD Supercomputing Contract

February 20, 2018

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) today revealed details of its massive $57 million HPC contract with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The deal calls for HP Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CFO Steps down in Executive Shuffle at Supermicro

January 31, 2018

Supermicro yesterday announced senior management shuffling including prominent departures, the completion of an audit linked to its delayed Nasdaq filings, and Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Portends ‘Sea Change’ for Oil and Gas Sector

February 1, 2018

The billowing compute and data demands that spurred the oil and gas industry to be the largest commercial users of high-performance computing are now propelling Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia Ups Hardware Game with 16-GPU DGX-2 Server and 18-Port NVSwitch

March 27, 2018

Nvidia unveiled a raft of new products from its annual technology conference in San Jose today, and despite not offering up a new chip architecture, there were still a few surprises in store for HPC hardware aficionados. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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