NVIDIA Demo: Nalu

NVIDIA Organizes a Demonstration: The GeForce 6800 Sessions
Part II: Nalu     [also see Part I: Clear Sailing and Part III: Timbury]

By Andy Eddy

NVIDIA invites you to take a peek into the construction of its latest product demonstrations, which illustrate the features of the new NVIDIA® GeForce™ 6800 graphics processing units (GPUs).

This is the second article in a three-part series, detailing the time and effort that went into the making of the “Nalu” mermaid demo.
As the old saying goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” For NVIDIA’s demo team, it can be pretty tough afterward, too.

Indeed, it was a daunting quest set before the NVIDIA demo team in Summer 2003: engineer William Donelly, engineer Hubert Nguyen, artist/modeler Bonnie O’Clair and animator Anders Beer were tasked with crafting a 3D real-time demo that would surpass “Dawn,” the demo character created to show off the NVIDIA GeForce FX family of GPUs. In fact, since Dawn’s first appearance, she’s become an NVIDIA icon, making appearances on many Web sites, in ads and magazines, and in various presentations—as well as inspiring a “twin sister” Dusk, who appeared in a subsequent demo for the NVIDIA GeForce FX 5900 GPUs.

The new demo character now gracing monitors at NVIDIA is “Nalu,” a graceful mermaid whose name is Hawaiian for “wave.” The name is fitting because of her long, flowing blonde locks, which shimmer and undulate in her underwater home. Nalu’s fluid tresses are also a contrast to Dawn’s and Dusk’s tightly cropped hairdos, which demonstrated the processing power of the GeForce FX to replicate realistic hair, but were kept short to limit the resources required of the GPU.

With her long mane of hair, Nalu does a great job showing off the power of the GeForce 6800 GPUs, but there were many other features that the demo team wanted to integrate into the minute long demo.

“We wanted to show massive performance, and a big jump in lighting and visuals,” Nguyen said. “We used some techniques, like the shadowing on the hair, the light flickering through the hair and soft shadows.”

Nguyen also noted other key challenges and goals, such as surpassing the effects used in previous-generation demos, including a character’s “skinning.” Skinning is a process used by developers to make joints appear more realistic, as if they are covered with skin, rather than appearing as two intersecting cylinders that overlap each other. It was also important to give Nalu a smoothly swishing fin. O’Clair indicated that she “wanted to do a mermaid that wasn’t typical Flipper—to have it be fluid, soft, and feminine.”
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