NVIDIA GPUs Render Visuals in New Universal Studios Transformers Ride

Universal Studios took the wraps off its latest attraction today, a $40 million technological tour de force stuffed with more high-tech gadgetry than an electronics superstore.

The new Transformers: The Ride at Universal Studios, Hollywood, is purpose-built to deliver a more immersive jolt than audiences have ever experienced.

A fleet of custom-designed motion-platform vehicles takes 12 passengers at a time on a simulated ride through a Transformers battlescape, pausing before towering screens depicting attacking Transformers in photorealistic 3D. This is where several elements come together to make riders feel like they’ve entered a real robotic rumble:

  • The 3D imagery boasts 4K x 4K resolution, or four times greater than the typical movie
  • Some of the ride’s 14 screens are curved around the audience, deepening the illusion of being immersed in the action
  • Each vehicle is like a flight simulator, whose motion is synchronized to the on-screen action
  • Every vehicle is outfitted with a 5,000 watt, 14 channel audio system to heighten the experience

The ride’s impressive visuals were painstakingly rendered at Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) over the course of two years. The challenge: render all-new content using huge datasets in 4K resolutions, in 3D, at the correct perspective for each screen (some of which are compound curved). It turned out to be harder than the folks at ILM expected, but the team leveraged NVIDIA GPUs to make the high-resolution magic happen.

Chick Russell, Universal Creative’s show producer, said, “We were using every single server and computer that ILM had. This was the most complex project ILM ever worked on.”

Jeff White, the visual effects supervisor at ILM, said, “Almost all of our work is in 3D. The Transformers, the robots, the backgrounds — all of it is the heaviest, most complicated characters we can possibly work with. Optimus on the first film was over 10,000 pieces — every robot is easily over a million polygons.

“The real key to the creative part of the process is the ability to iterate fast,” he said. “That’s why the NVIDIA GPUs are such a big part of our work. When you’re able to animate Optimus or Megatron and see them play back in real time, it is so key to judge their real performance. Because these characters are so difficult to work with, that’s where we rely on the speed of the Quadro GPUs, for that real-time feedback.”

Of course Universal Creative needed a sophisticated way to blast all those pretty pixels onto the screens. They do that through an array of 34 Christie projectors with custom 3D lenses.

Russell summed it up neatly: “This is without a doubt the most technically advanced ride that Universal Studios has ever done.”

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