Nvidia's New Dawn offers Ten Year Retrospective On How Far We've Come

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News Posted: Tue, Jul 24 2012 1:43 PM
Back in November, 2002, Nvidia announced a line of GPUs it dubbed the GeForce FX. These cards were the first to integrate assets Nvidia had purchased from 3dfx (hence the name). NV claimed that these new cards would usher in the dawn of cinematic computing and the company released the eponymous "Dawn" demo to prove it. Now, ten years later, Nvidia has revisited the classic character and updated her for DirectX 11.

Here's the technical specs for the two scenes, but we thought it would be more interesting to compare visuals directly, especially since A New Dawn requires a Kepler GPU.






Click to enlarge

The first thing you notice about Dawn 1.0 is that she holds up pretty darn well for a character who just celebrated her tenth birthday. Her skin tones are a tad jaundiced for modern standards and her wings aren't translucent, but she doesn't look ten years old either.


The new demo is a rich forest interior with leaf, vine, and tree detail that puts the original to shame -- in 2002, it took so much processing power to draw Dawn that her background was an artistic blur designed to imply "forest." What's more striking than this, given that we're comparing the character, is the difference in how she moves. Watch the full Dawn video from 2002, and she still walks and changes positions like a marionette. She's square in Uncanny Valley territory, with animations that are close, but not quite human.


In New Dawn, these visual cues are much reduced. Dawn 2.0 moves more like a human and less like a puppet; her gestures and arm motions don't have the same programmed jerkiness.

Then, of course, there's the hair. Hair is notoriously computationally expensive, which is why the majority of CG animated characters sport short, cropped do's. Dawn's hair is short in both demos, but in the 2012 version there's a slider that can be adjusted to make her hair ripple in the wind. It's an impressive illustration of how much we've advanced in a such a short time -- in 2000, the long hair of Aki Ross in Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within consumed a full third of the movie's render time while containing just 60,000 strands (half of a human's normal count). Nvidia didn't give a hair count for the character, but the animation is smooth and lifelike, even on a single GTX 670.

PC game graphics have felt hamstrung for years, artificially constrained by the limitations of console GPUs. It's great to see an updated example of what modern GPUs can do -- hopefully we'll see such effects translate through to shipping products sooner rather than later.
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CDeeter replied on Tue, Jul 24 2012 2:32 PM

Good news for owners of last gen Nvidia cards, I downloaded the demo and it runs nicely on my MSI GTX 580 @ 1080p, maybe it'll work on other cards as well. Her skin and hair are amazing.

BTW at 770+ MB, it's quite large. Guess it'll be awhile until we see this level of detail in games.

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How did you manage to run the demo nicely at 1080p on a GTX 580? Most of the demo ran from between 12-20 FPS on my GTX 590. It was all jittery and laggy. And I know it's not the i7-965 holding it back.

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CDeeter replied on Wed, Jul 25 2012 8:29 AM

Well to be honest, all I did was run the installer. No idea what the frame rate is, but it wasn't noticeably bad. A little judder in the first few seconds while panning thru the forest but other than that, it was fine.

Update: Well I guess ignorance is bliss. lol Ran the demo with fraps and got an average of 14 fps.

Maybe nicely is the wrong word to use, but it was certainly viewable and didn't come close to being a slideshow.

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Joel H replied on Wed, Jul 25 2012 10:37 AM

I ran it on a GTX 670 myself, so I can't comment on the GPU's performance. Make sure you aren't forcing AA or AF in-driver, though, Fierce Guppy. The hair stiffness and depth-of-field sliders also impact performance.

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14 fps...  Oh, sure, it's ~viewable~, but if I bought a game and it ran like that, i'd get a new gfx card the same day.

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I've since read other posts on the topic and the fps is about what to expect from a GTX 590 running this demo.  I  thought I had screwed up some settings somewhere, but no.  nVidia has in fact made a gfx card stress test tool.

 

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CDeeter replied on Thu, Jul 26 2012 8:09 AM

Agreed, and if a game had graphic details like this I'd buy it in a heart beat. Can you imagine the size of it though? lol

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CDeeter replied on Thu, Jul 26 2012 9:27 AM

Hmm, perhaps "Can it run New Dawn?" is the new benchmark for Nvidia cards? What do you think Joel, Dave, and Marco? Could you do some FRAPS runs on the cards you have on hand?

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rear1946 replied on Sat, Jul 28 2012 9:50 AM

Maybe nicely is the wrong word to use, but it was certainly viewable and didn't come close to being a slideshow.

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Jakman220 replied on Tue, Jul 31 2012 2:46 PM

I was able to run it with a single GTX 560 TI O.C. to 596/4900 Mhz on a 19" screen, 1280 X 1024. It was smooth for me at 16FPS, no ultra though. It looked stuningly beutiful.

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