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!

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “pre-exascale” award), parsed out additional information ab Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tsinghua Crowned Eight-Time Student Cluster Champions at ISC

June 22, 2017

Always a hard-fought competition, the Student Cluster Competition awards were announced Wednesday, June 21, at the ISC High Performance Conference 2017. Amid whoops and hollers from the crowd, Thomas Sterling presented t Read more…

By Kim McMahon

GPUs, Power9, Figure Prominently in IBM’s Bet on Weather Forecasting

June 22, 2017

IBM jumped into the weather forecasting business roughly a year and a half ago by purchasing The Weather Company. This week at ISC 2017, Big Blue rolled out plans to push deeper into climate science and develop more gran Read more…

By John Russell

Intersect 360 at ISC: HPC Industry at $44B by 2021

June 22, 2017

The care, feeding and sustained growth of the HPC industry increasingly is in the hands of the commercial market sector – in particular, it’s the hyperscale companies and their embrace of AI and deep learning – tha Read more…

By Doug Black

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Creating a Roadmap for HPC Innovation at ISC 2017

In an era where technological advancements are driving innovation to every sector, and powering major economic and scientific breakthroughs, high performance computing (HPC) is crucial to tackle the challenges of today and tomorrow. Read more…

At ISC – Goh on Go: Humans Can’t Scale, the Data-Centric Learning Machine Can

June 22, 2017

I've seen the future this week at ISC, it’s on display in prototype or Powerpoint form, and it’s going to dumbfound you. The future is an AI neural network designed to emulate and compete with the human brain. In thi Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Brings AI and HPC Together on Flagship Supers

June 20, 2017

Cray took one more step toward the convergence of big data and high performance computing (HPC) today when it announced that it’s adding a full suite of big data and artificial intelligence software to its top-of-the-l Read more…

By Alex Woodie

AMD Charges Back into the Datacenter and HPC Workflows with EPYC Processor

June 20, 2017

AMD is charging back into the enterprise datacenter and select HPC workflows with its new EPYC 7000 processor line, code-named Naples, announced today at a “global” launch event in Austin TX. In many ways it was a fu Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion: Deep Learning, AI Helping Drive Healthy HPC Industry Growth

June 20, 2017

To be at the ISC conference in Frankfurt this week is to experience deep immersion in deep learning. Users want to learn about it, vendors want to talk about it, analysts and journalists want to report on it. Deep learni Read more…

By Doug Black

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Tsinghua Crowned Eight-Time Student Cluster Champions at ISC

June 22, 2017

Always a hard-fought competition, the Student Cluster Competition awards were announced Wednesday, June 21, at the ISC High Performance Conference 2017. Amid wh Read more…

By Kim McMahon

GPUs, Power9, Figure Prominently in IBM’s Bet on Weather Forecasting

June 22, 2017

IBM jumped into the weather forecasting business roughly a year and a half ago by purchasing The Weather Company. This week at ISC 2017, Big Blue rolled out pla Read more…

By John Russell

Intersect 360 at ISC: HPC Industry at $44B by 2021

June 22, 2017

The care, feeding and sustained growth of the HPC industry increasingly is in the hands of the commercial market sector – in particular, it’s the hyperscale Read more…

By Doug Black

At ISC – Goh on Go: Humans Can’t Scale, the Data-Centric Learning Machine Can

June 22, 2017

I've seen the future this week at ISC, it’s on display in prototype or Powerpoint form, and it’s going to dumbfound you. The future is an AI neural network Read more…

By Doug Black

Cray Brings AI and HPC Together on Flagship Supers

June 20, 2017

Cray took one more step toward the convergence of big data and high performance computing (HPC) today when it announced that it’s adding a full suite of big d Read more…

By Alex Woodie

AMD Charges Back into the Datacenter and HPC Workflows with EPYC Processor

June 20, 2017

AMD is charging back into the enterprise datacenter and select HPC workflows with its new EPYC 7000 processor line, code-named Naples, announced today at a “g Read more…

By John Russell

Hyperion: Deep Learning, AI Helping Drive Healthy HPC Industry Growth

June 20, 2017

To be at the ISC conference in Frankfurt this week is to experience deep immersion in deep learning. Users want to learn about it, vendors want to talk about it Read more…

By Doug Black

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Pulls Back the Covers on Its First Machine Learning Chip

April 6, 2017

This week Google released a report detailing the design and performance characteristics of the Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), its custom ASIC for the inference Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

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

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Facebook Open Sources Caffe2; Nvidia, Intel Rush to Optimize

April 18, 2017

From its F8 developer conference in San Jose, Calif., today, Facebook announced Caffe2, a new open-source, cross-platform framework for deep learning. Caffe2 is the successor to Caffe, the deep learning framework developed by Berkeley AI Research and community contributors. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

MIT Mathematician Spins Up 220,000-Core Google Compute Cluster

April 21, 2017

On Thursday, Google announced that MIT math professor and computational number theorist Andrew V. Sutherland had set a record for the largest Google Compute Engine (GCE) job. Sutherland ran the massive mathematics workload on 220,000 GCE cores using preemptible virtual machine instances. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

US Supercomputing Leaders Tackle the China Question

March 15, 2017

Joint DOE-NSA report responds to the increased global pressures impacting the competitiveness of U.S. supercomputing. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

DOE Supercomputer Achieves Record 45-Qubit Quantum Simulation

April 13, 2017

In order to simulate larger and larger quantum systems and usher in an age of “quantum supremacy,” researchers are stretching the limits of today’s most advanced supercomputers. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum. Read more…

By John Russell

Knights Landing Processor with Omni-Path Makes Cloud Debut

April 18, 2017

HPC cloud specialist Rescale is partnering with Intel and HPC resource provider R Systems to offer first-ever cloud access to Xeon Phi "Knights Landing" processors. The infrastructure is based on the 68-core Intel Knights Landing processor with integrated Omni-Path fabric (the 7250F Xeon Phi). Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

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