Multithreading for Visual Effects: 1st Edition (Hardback) book cover

Multithreading for Visual Effects

1st Edition

By Martin Watt, Erwin Coumans, George ElKoura, Ronald Henderson, Manuel Kraemer, Jeff Lait, James Reinders

A K Peters/CRC Press

255 pages | 99 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2014-07-29
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Tackle the Challenges of Parallel Programming in the Visual Effects Industry

In Multithreading for Visual Effects, developers from DreamWorks Animation, Pixar, Side Effects, Intel, and AMD share their successes and failures in the messy real-world application area of production software. They provide practical advice on multithreading techniques and visual effects used in popular visual effects libraries (such as Bullet, OpenVDB, and OpenSubdiv), one of the industry’s leading visual effects packages (Houdini), and proprietary animation systems. This information is valuable not just to those in the visual effects arena, but also to developers of high performance software looking to increase performance of their code.

Diverse Solutions to Solve Performance Problems

After an introductory chapter, each subsequent chapter presents a case study that illustrates how the authors used multithreading techniques to achieve better performance. The authors discuss the problems that occurred and explain how they solved them. The case studies encompass solutions for shaving milliseconds, solutions for optimizing longer running tasks, multithreading techniques for modern CPU architectures, and massive parallelism using GPUs. Some of the case studies include open source projects so you can try out these techniques for yourself and see how well they work.


"Multithreading applications is hard, but for today’s performance-critical codes, an absolute necessity. This book shows how the latest parallel programming technology can simplify the daunting challenge of producing fast and reliable software for multicore processors. Although the instructive case studies are drawn from visual effects applications, the authors cover the gamut of issues that developers face when parallelizing legacy applications from any domain."

—Charles Leiserson, MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory

"Multithreading graphics algorithms is a new and exciting area of research. It is crucial to computer graphics. This book will prove invaluable to researchers and practitioners alike. It will have a strong impact on movie visual effects and games."

—Jos Stam, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Autodesk, Inc.

"Visual effects programming is undergoing a renaissance as high-end videogame effects technology approaches the state-of-the-art defined by blockbuster Hollywood movies, empowered by the capabilities of multi-Teraflop GPU hardware. A wealth of graphics algorithms are now graduating into the realm of real-time rendering, yet today’s programmers face a formidable challenge in structuring these algorithms to take full advantage of today’s multi-core CPU architectures and deliver on their potential.

This book, the collaborative result of many industry luminaries, wonderfully bridges the gap between the theory of multithreading and the practice of multithreading in advanced graphical applications. Join them on this journey to bring real-time visual effects technology to the next level!"

—Tim Sweeney, CEO and Founder of Epic Games

"…valuable not just to those in the visual effects arena, but also to developers of high performance software looking to increase performance of their code."

—Scott R. Garrigus, NewTechReview

Table of Contents

Introduction and Overview James Reinders


Overview of Case Studies


Program in Tasks, Not Threads

Value of Abstraction

Scaling and Vectorization

Advancing Programming Languages for Parallel Programming

Parallel Programming in C and C++

Data Movement and Layout


Additional Reading

Houdini: Multithreading Existing Software Jeff Lait

What Is Houdini?

Rewrite or Refactor


Copy on Write



The Presto Execution System: Designing for Multithreading George ElKoura



Presto's Execution System

User Extensions

Memory Access Patterns

Flexibility to Experiment

Multithreading Strategies

Background Execution

Other Multithreading Strategies

Debugging and Profiling Tools


LibEE: Parallel Evaluation of Character Rigs Martin Watt



Specific Requirements for Character Animation Graph


Scalability: Software Considerations

Scalability: Hardware Considerations

Production Considerations

Threading Visualization Tool

Rig Optimization Case Studies

Overall Performance Results

Limits of Scalability


Fluids: Simulation on the CPU Ronald D. Henderson


Programming Models

Fluid Simulation


Bullet Physics: Simulation with OpenCL Erwin Coumans


Rewriting from Scratch Using OpenCL

GPU Spatial Acceleration Structures

GPU Contact Point Generation

GPU Constraint Solving

OpenSubdiv: Interoperating GPU Compute and Drawing Manuel Kraemer

Representing Shapes

The Control Cage

Uniform Subdivision

Serializing the Mesh Representation

Transition from Multicores to Many-Cores

Reducing Branching Divergence

Optimization Trade-Offs

Evaluating Our Progress

Fundamental Limitations of Uniform Subdivision

Feature Adaptive Subdivision

Implementing the GPU Rendering Engine





Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
COMPUTERS / Computer Graphics
COMPUTERS / Programming / Games