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Renderings, questions regarding CPU, GPU

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This subject cropped up in an IRC channel that i attend, regarding the difference between gaming and rendering (ie 3ds max, maya etc) I was under the impression that is was all done on the gfx card, but then somone mentioned render farms and them not having a gfx card. And then i stumbled... he he When creating games we tend to use vertex/pixel shaders that we write for the effect in our game that were looking, eg smoke, fire etc. So when create a material, or a complex hierarchy of maps such as reflection, bump, spec, etc in 3ds Max, isn't that just creating a vertex/pixel shader that creates that effect? That gets sent to the gfx card along with the vertex data, to apply the material onto the object? ive been told that Maya, 3ds Max renderers (mental ray, brazil etc) all work using just the CPU, and that the GPU is only used to display the viewport previews. so is a zbuffer, colour buffer, stencil buffer etc being used in the CPU/ram the same way as on a graphics card? what is a render farm actually doing? whats going on when we hit render, as compared to when we are playing games? kinda confused here

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When rendering for FMV you use Raytracing which in short means doing all the photon physics math in order to get accurate light results. Rendering a single frame using ray tracing can take from seconds to minutes, maybe even hours.

For real time interactive video as in video games, there is no time to waste so most effects must be approximated with shaders.

A render farm renders animation frames in parallel (1 frame per computer or maybe even 1 frame distributed between 2 or more computers at a time), somehow speeding up the process of rendering raytraced images.

Check out what Quake 3 would look like if we had 36Ghz computers and we used ray tracing for real time video (go to downloads): Quake 3 Raytraced.

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