Modeling and gaming

People involved in modeling are serious guys, who deal with creating simplified abstract views of particular aspects of reality (planetary climate, combustion flames, financial systems….) to build virtual systems to play with.

There is another seemingly unrelated community, whose members also deal with creating virtual systems to play with, but with different purposes: I’m thinking about the game developers and digital effects wizards.

I recently stumbled on this video of a flame:

could this be the perfect model of natural gas burners for the power industry ?

What about these colored smoke plumes ?

Could any of you imagine applications to contaminants propagation or mixing ?

Quite obviously the models used by the gaming / special effects guys do not aim at exactly reproducing reality based on its physical laws, but just try to mimic its appearance. Nevertheless the analogies are striking, just have a look at the Blender 3D manual section on Fluid Simulation (!). They talk about viscosity, gravity, {Noslip, Free-slip and Part-slip} boundary conditions, {Lattice Boltzmann, Navier-Stokes and Smoothed Particle Hydrodynamics} solvers … now that should sound familiar to you CFD guys !

And this is an open source code – I wonder to what level of detail these techniques have been pushed by the big names in computer-animated films and video-games in their in house tools. After all, the money involved in the entertainment industry is huge: Toy Story films 1+2+3 = 320 M$ – Avatar 2009 film: estimate varies between 200 – 500 M$ – Grand Theft Auto IV video-game estimated budget = 100 M$.

When I compare these figures with the budgets available for projects in scientific and industrial modeling, I get a feeling it’s a different world. But see how it could be good news for science:

For hardware, scientists nowadays enjoy easy and cheap access to powerful workstations, parallel CPUs and 64 bit architectures mostly thanks to the push of the consumer market for computational power, required for multimedia and gaming !

For software, perhaps it is time for the scientific and engineering community to start reading the computer graphics literature and study the optimizations used in their simulation engines: the next generation CFD code might well borrow from a state-of-the-art computer graphics software.

As a side-effect, this contamination could cheer up their work a bit and provide awesome, animated and interactive presentations to the colleagues !