PROJECT SOL PART 1 : A Real-Time Ray-Tracing Cinematic


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ROLE

ART DIRECTOR // DESIGNER // PROJECT MANAGER // STORY DIRECTION

WHAT IS SOL ?

In 2018 NVIDIA announced the Turing architecture-based GPUs, revolutionizing the work of designers and artists by enabling them to render photorealistic scenes in real time. To celebrate this occasion we decided to push the boundaries of what was thought to be possible with it by creating a cinematic that would run entirely in real-time on a single GPU.
The cinematic would be announced and shown during the Turing launch at Siggraph 2018 by NVIDIA’s founder and CEO - Jensen Huang and about a week later at Gamescom in Germany when we announced the Geforce RTX cards lineup. The first SOL was greatly received by the live audience as well as the internet audience, leading to the creation of two subsequent cinematics, SOL part 2 and SOL part 3. SOL 1 follows the story of an unnamed hero that goes through the process of suiting up leading to an interaction between him and his robotic assistants that takes a surprising turn.

WHAT DOES SOL MEAN?

SOL means “Sun” in Latin. The RTX technology at the core is all about bringing realistic lighting simulation to the screen. The sun is the original source of light known to mankind so I thought it was fitting to use it. Additionally, SOL is an acronym for “Speed of Light” so it was fitting as well.

THE PROJECT

I had the honor to lead and art direct the team that created the real-time cinematic that was used to showcase our NVIDIA RTX development platform. The entire cinematic the team created runs on Unreal 4 with real-time ray tracing - and best of all, it runs on a single RTX 2080Ti. For the first cinematic - SOL 1 - other than art directing I also contributed as a designer, by designing and modeling the interior where the cinematic takes place. I wanted to establish the design language for the potential cinematics that would follow.

My first goal was to nail the interior room design, set the mood and tone for the whole hard-surface in the sequence. I knew what I wanted to have, a circular platform where the guy would be suited up. Circular and iconic. I started with the middle ring design. This is the first block-out I did for the set., in order to establish the proportions of where he would be standing while being suited up.

I started with the very inner ring and began to model inwards from outwards. I find this to be very successful in certain situations. It helps me establish the overall direction I want the design language and overall complexity to be, which will be informative of the rest of the set.

At this point I created a super quick render with the character for scale, the block-out model of the robot arms that Lead Designer Gregor Kokpa was working on - some simple lighting and materials to check out the overall direction of where this was headed. I felt satisfied so I knew this was the direction I wanted the overall piece to follow. OTOY’s Octane allowed me maximum flexibility to test materials, lighting while being blazing fast - which is very important in the prototyping phase.

At this point I had an overall good mock-up of the whole set, felt good with the direction and decided to flash out more environmental props and various interconnecting parts.

Up until this point most of the work has been done around layout, composition and design - without worrying about materials.

This is where I started to work on the look-dev. Below are some of the materials I have created in Octane. I tend to create a whole new material library per project to define the overall look of the sets. It really forces you to think what type of setting you want. For this project, I knew this set would consist mostly of metals, as well as paint and industrial rubbers. I love creating materials in Octane, it’s very intuitive. Once I was done, I rendered them as well and then they were handed off to the environment artists in order for them to recreate them in Substance Painter/Designer and Unreal.

The central disk is one of the parts that would be seen in focus the most, so I spent some extra time on it, and started to assign my newly created material library here.
I started to render these work in progress tests using the materials I had created as well, since up until this point, all renders were mostly just simple metals good enough to describe the shape.

The central platform containing the main inner ring where our hero character would come out.
In terms of color labeling, I thought yellow was the best candidate as it would be working from an actual functional stand-point as well it was perfectly fitting the rest of the palette.

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At this point I started to assemble all these pieces together with the larger set I was modeling

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In an earlier version of the vis-dev, I opted for gold rather than yellow, however while cool looking it did not make too much sense functionally so I opted towards the yellow for its actual usage in real life.

At this point the external wall paddings, outer PC stations as well as exit doors and floor cables were also added. Some of these were a collaboration with Andrej Stefancik

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The first of the more final renders - with some more post processing and more environmental FX.

The final environment is a collaboration between me and Andrej Stefancik who did as usual the amazing job of cleaning up my CAD geometry and optimizing it for real-time usage, doing a fantastic sub-d work.

For those that enjoy some viewport and topology beauty, here are some screenshots from 3ds Max of the final assets. As well as a few shots of the AO passes from my concept renders.

Above you can see a flythrough from 3ds Max’s viewport of the finished set.

As part of the material vis-dev work, I have textured and shaded a lot of the designs crated by other team members to guide the final look in engine.
This is the servo arm's hand mechanism, designed and modeled by Gregor Kopka - which I shaded and rendered in Octane.

The mechanical arms that suit up the hero during the cinematic. Greg did a fanstic job designing this and matching the overall design language that I had established with the early sketches and block-outs of the environment.

And these are the upper arms attachments upon which the whole ring with the assembly arms are mounted

Below you can see some of the assets from the Substance Painter viewport - optimized and ready to be placed in engine.
The team did a fantastic job with the final texturing. Assets below from Jacob Norris and Pierre Fleau

For the character design I had the pleasure to work with Cki Vang- who is an amazing artist, designer and badass all around.
Originally we started to work on a bulkier, more exo-military suit type of design, however we quickly realized that it made more sense to go with a more super-hero direction.
Below you can see some of the initial design progress from the heavier design.

Ilya was in charge of the internals and mechanisms that would latch the suit together and strap onto the body as well. He did a phenomenal job. Below you can see some of the designs as well as the motion of how the pieces work. Ilya executed the animations himself to show our animator, Brian how the suit would work.

Below you can see the final renders I processed with final vis-dev material and look - as usual, done in Octane.
After many combinations I felt the perfect color-combo for our hero was white matte paint and gold.

The first SOL cinematic was an amazing team effort, everyone - full-time and contractors pushed it to the limit.
It was a major achievement to get such a polished, heavy on polygons and textures cinematic to run in real-time with ray-tracing. The engineers at NVIDIA did a phenomenal job on the RTX implementation within UE4 as well as created a fantastic AI denoiser. Needless to say, our amazing art would have not worked without all their contribution to it.
NVIDIA is a company that marries art and technology and you can see the results of it.
Below you will find some screenshots from the final cinematic in UE4 as well as the video itself. Hope you enjoyed this breakdown.