The same technology that’s at the core of the crypto-currency Bitcoin could soon be used to render 3D visual effects for the next Hollywood blockbuster.
HBO-backed cloud rendering expert Otoy recently unveiled an ambitious plan to use Blockchain technology for distributed cloud rendering of VR and other video content. Now, the company is looking to raise as much as $134 million with a token sale to kick-start those efforts, which the company calls Rndr. “It’s a really fundamental shift,” said Otoy founder and CEO Jules Urbach in an exclusive interview with Variety.
Here’s the idea behind RNDR in a nutshell: Instead of using expensive supercomputers to render holographic 3D and other visual effects, Otoy has long been using GPUs, the visual computing-optimized chips that power everything from graphic cards of powerful gaming PCs to the visuals on your phone. As the industry has moved towards GPU computing, companies like Amazon have begun to offer GPUs in the cloud to offload graphics-heavy calculations — like, say, the intro sequence of HBO’s “Westworld.”
Using GPUs the cloud is a lot cheaper than having a dedicated supercomputers running on premise — but it can still be very expensive, which is why Otoy now wants to offload those computing tasks to millions of PCs, and eventually even mobile devices, around the world. “There are a lot of GPUs out there that are doing nothing important,” said Urbach.
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An iPad Pro has as much computing power as a high-end desktop PC just a few years ago, he argued — but during much of the day, that power goes unused. Putting these devices to use to render graphics for AR and VR experiences, or maybe even Hollywood movies, could make rendering a lot cheaper by doing away with the need for a lot of commercial cloud computing infrastructure, Urbach said. “We don’t need to worry about building giant data centers.”
Rndr isn’t the first attempt to harness a kind of P2P network for computing tasks. Back in 1999, scientists began to enlist the public in the search for extraterrestrial life with the Seti@Home project, which has been relying on unused computing power to analyze radio signals from outer space ever since.
Otoy’s approach isn’t just different because it makes use of GPUs for graphics rendering. Rndr, also uses blockchain, a technology commonly associated with crypto-currencies like Bitcoin that essentially provides a global, distributed ledger.
For Rndr, Otoy is using the Ethereum blockchain, which will allow the company to keep a permanent track record of all rendering jobs to make sure that buyers actually get what they ordered, and track rights associated with those jobs. What’s more, each user who takes on rendering jobs gets paid in tokens, with Otoy taking just a small cut of the transaction.
Otoy plans to launch Rndr in multiple stages. On September 12, anyone will be able to register for the token sale online. Later this month, the company is then going to sell approximately 537 million tokens to raise $134 million to further develop and deploy Rndr.
In early 2018, the company aims to start blockchain-powered rendering with a base of 7 million users who already have access to its software tools via the popular 3D engine Unity. Following that, Otoy wants to target a completely different set of users to participate in Rndr: crypto-currency enthusiasts who have at one point or another bought powerful graphics hardware to mine Bitcoin, as the act of calculating hashes for the crypto-currency is commonly called.
Mining Bitcoin can make users some money, but those returns are by design diminishing over time. Urbach believes that the same users will be able to make a lot more by rendering 3D assets. “The people have been starving for some sort of use of the blockchain,” he said.
Otoy is betting it can provide just that — and make Hollywood happy at the same time.