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Leveling the 3D playing field

How Otoy is using blockchain technology to speed the creation of resource-intensive graphics

Leveling the 3D playing field
Otoy’s OctaneRender was used by artist Aaron Westwood to add Hollywood-level photorealistic effects to one of his recent video projects.

Historically, computer graphics artists depended on local graphics processing unit (GPU) hardware to render their designs in three dimensions. Installed in a PC, these pieces of circuitry can be expensive—with prices skyrocketing during the pandemic—and oftentimes limiting, as work and studio demands could stretch their capabilities beyond one machine. This all changed with the advent of cloud computing. Graphics-processing power, at levels previously unheard of, was now accessible on the internet, provided by tech giants such as Microsoft, Google, and Amazon.

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Having access to 100 GPUs worth of processing power in the cloud means a job can be done 100 times faster than on a single computer, says Jules Urbach, founder and CEO of the cloud graphics company Otoy. But there remains an issue of accessibility. Identifying the problem for which his company found an innovative solution, Urbach explains: “There’s not 100 GPUs per customer on all the public cloud providers combined.”

In response to the growing demand for processing power, Otoy developed the Render Network, the industry’s first blockchain GPU marketplace. The technology has the potential to make the rendering process thousands of times faster for creators of all sizes—from top NFT artists like Pak and Beeple to major motion-picture studios—and earns Otoy a spot on Fast Company‘s list of the world’s Most Innovative Companies.

A FASTER, SIMPLER WAY TO RENDER

The Render Network democratizes access to GPU power. “Instead of spending tens of thousands of dollars on hardware on premises,” Urbach says, “you can move all that [to] the cloud.” The Render Network allows creators to connect globally distributed GPUs through a blockchain network. The system is powered by the ERC-20 “RNDR” token, a cryptocurrency run on the Ethereum network. Creators can pay to access vast amounts of processing power through the network, and they can be likewise compensated for putting their unused GPUs to work providing processing power to others.

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The use of cryptocurrency is flexible and simplifies complex models of payment on the system. For example, an NFT artist who uses prefabricated 3D models in their scene may leverage smart contracts to seamlessly pay royalties to the model’s creator when the NFT is sold, rather than buy the model up front. The system also provides security through end-to-end encryption. And the blockchain provides a ledger that records ownership of projects, preventing creative material from being “scraped” and sold as another’s work.

Otoy has recently unveiled the Octane X RNDR app—the first cinematic production-ready GPU renderer for iPhones and iPads—which will give aspiring creators with mobile devices the identical renderer Otoy provides to Disney and Marvel for their films. “That’s going to be huge,” Urbach says. “There are billions of mobile devices out there, and they’re all eventually going to be able to render film-quality CGI content and also become a part of the Render Network.”

The increase in GPU power and access will result in the growth of many innovations currently in development, from holographic technologies to AI applications (that can learn to fill in 3D graphics even as an artist is designing them). Increased access to GPUs will also be critical to artists successfully creating and linking 3D worlds and scenes inside the metaverse.

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“The things that artists will do with these tools are going to transform our industry and democratize content creation,” Urbach says. “We’re here to provide the foundation to build the platforms of tomorrow.”

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FastCo Works is Fast Company's branded content studio. Advertisers commission us to consult on projects, as well as to create content and video on their behalf.

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