Ray-tracing is big news at GDC this year – but Epic goes one better with Stormtrooper demo

It just wouldn’t be a proper GDC without a graphics rendering buzzword – and this year it’s definitely realtime ray-tracing. Nvidia has been showing off its RTX Ray-Tracing technology and EA has its Pica Pica demo, but this tops all of that.

Not to be left out, Epic today unveiled its realtime ray-tracing demo – and it blows the rest away because Epic has Stormtroopers.

Working with Industrial Light and Magic’s ILMxLab – which is responsible for the Star Wars: Secrets of the Empire VR experience – and using the Nvidia RTX technology, it’s created a showcase for real-time ray-traced lighting that provides a pre-rendered, cinematic finish to scenes.

And if that shiny white armour wasn’t enough to wow you, ILMxLab has also dropped Captain Phasma into the demo to provide a full mirror-like surface to bounce its new lighting tech off.

The graphics demonstration includes a raft of impressive effects, all of which were shown off in real-time. Textured area lights, Ray-traced area light shadows, Ray-traced reflections, Ray-traced ambient occlusion, Cinematic depth of field, and NVIDIA GameWorks ray tracing denoising (that’s noise reduction to most of us). 

All of that is powered by Nvidia’s workstation-grade Volta GPUs – so don’t expect these effects to hit consumer’s PCs quite yet.

And because you can’t have a great demo with a two-letter acronym, epic threw in a bit of AR too, using an iPad running ARKit as a virtual camera to show off the details.

The whole thing is topped with a scripted short about a couple of hapless stormtroopers who encounter Captain Phasma in a lift.

“Ray tracing is a rendering process typically only associated with high-end offline renderers and hours and hours of computer processing time,”said Epic Games Founder and CEO Tim Sweeney. “Film-quality ray tracing in real time is an Unreal Engine first. This is an exciting new development for the media and entertainment linear content worlds—and any markets that require photorealistic visualization.”

"At ILMxLAB, our mission is to create real-time rendered immersive experiences that let audiences step into our stories and connect with cinematic universes that look and feel as real as the ones on the movie screen. With the real-time ray-tracing technology that Epic and NVIDIA are pioneering, we are a pivotal step closer to that goal," said Mohen Leo, ILMxLAB Director of Content and Platform Strategy.

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