Monday, May 10, 2004

On Performance

After an inter semester hiatus, this blog should show activity again. This post is again from one of the logbook entries of a student last semester, Aagmik Parikh, and is being posted with his permission. It deals with computational and theatrical performance (see my slashed. "//" comments at the end of the posting). I offer it because there does not seem to be enough attention given to performance in the early stages of a project yet there are many instances where we still hit the wall on performance.

Even when performance is considered, the assumption is that the user will upgrade to match the needs of the software. For esoteric applications that is reasonable but it should be the exception not the rule. An extreme example of this cavalier approach to cycles is the rumored requirements of Microsoft's next generation operating system codenamed "Longhorn." According to slashdot,

Longhorn will require dual 4-6Ghz processors, 2 Gigabytes of RAM, new graphics processors, a Terabyte of disk and an extremely fast network. Be prepared to upgrade even your newest PC in a few years if you would like to keep up to the latest Microsoft operating system. I hope the rumor turns out to be unfounded. We need to stop the disposable computer attitude, regardless of the price drops. New PCs cause lost productivity during the transition (not to mention the costs of transition), the old PCs choke landfills and expenditure for supporting software tax corporate budgets. At the very least we should all petition for upgradeable machines! Flame off! Enjoy Aagmik's excellent and entertaining post. Later!

A true Masterpiece .....Lord of the Rings…….making of Gollum

This week we were shown a video of the making of the Lord of the Rings, emphasizing creation of the character Gollum. There are no doubts that the digital team involved broke all barriers in CG, but the creation of this character was really interesting. Initially they had implemented a methodology called key frame animation for creation of this character. I don’t want to go to the detail of the working of this method , but in short it revolves around the making an initial frame based on a model of the character and then working on the frame to produce motion. But with the talent of the actor Andy Serkis (voice of Gollum), and the digital team they redesigned the whole project to produce a new version , which became a spectacular hit. In their new approach they used Andy’s motion capture (another method used in animation) to produce Gollum’s movements. Hence their new approach used key frame animation along with motion capture. This concept was implemented for the first time and it became an instant success.

Analyzing their work, the first think that comes to mind is….anything for performance!!. In fact I am sure their animation success is going to be a benchmark for others. They redesigned their whole approach to strive ultimate performance. It can be also related to prototyping and throw away prototyping. Their initial model lacked the energy and performance present in their later models. I also think that this is a classic example of Business Process Redesign (BPR) as they redesigned the whole process, making changes in their approach.

//I do not know if it was Business Process Redesign as much as it was technical process redesign. They really did do a great job. It is interesting that you mention performance since performance in this instance takes on two meanings: the theatrical performance which was enhanced by th emotion capture and the skill of the actor and the animation performance/speed which was enhanced by their technology. When we build systems we do not pay enough attention to either brand of performance --- our systems are in front of an audience “our users” all the time.

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