Seeing is Believing, In this World and the Next

(This is a cross-post from our linked-in page.)

We all know the old adage, one picture is worth a thousand words. Imagine then what a high resolution, hyper-realistic 3D render can say. In the world of interior design, it speaks volumes. But there is one thing that can amplify a message even louder and clearer.

An interactive one!

That’s why at Collov, our virtual interior design and shopping platform, we are always striving to use the latest cutting-edge technology to put the most vivid and accurate presentation of our clients’ future room right in front of them. Be it the reflection of a marble table top, or a ray of afternoon sunlight slipping through a window casting a soft shadow on the tile floor — every detail matters when it comes to taking out the guesswork in the interior design and home decor process for our clients.

Let’s take it a step further and insert the ability to replace one marble-topped coffee table with a lacquered oak one in real time. Or seeing how a wall color looks at breakfast time versus sunset. Or how a silk curtain blows in the breeze through the window compared to a chiffon one. See the difference? It’s like virtual magic.

Sounds simple enough to achieve, right? This stuff exists everywhere nowadays doesn’t it? Wrong.

There’s an infamous story that circulates the semiconductor industry, and it focuses around one specific law. You may have heard of it — Moore’s law. Essentially it states that the number of transistors as well as the speed of our computers doubles every 18 months. Pretty impressive, if you ask me. As you can imagine, its prestige and merit made it so popular that it became the natural assumption for related industries like computer graphics and its ability to advance at the same speed.

I hate to be the one to burst that bubble, but that is simply not the case. In fact, there is another infamous principle called The Law of Constancy of Pain. It was invented by Pixar engineers to describe the fact that the rendering speed of movies has been stagnant at three hours per frame for the past 30 years. Though the image quality has improved phenomenally, rendering has always been a computational challenge. Why, you ask? It all comes down to the difficulty of light simulation.

Generally speaking, computer graphics fall into two main categories. One is the real time, or rasterization based graphics, and the other is ray traced, or path traced, graphics. The former method sacrifices image quality and betrays the law of physics for greater speed. It is often used in video games, because interactivity is so important. Although games are becoming more realistic, what you see is actually an illusion at best.

https://developer.nvidia.com/discover/ray-tracing

The ray traced graphics, on the other hand, tries to be as physically accurate as possible by simulating the way light rays travel through a physical scene and bounce on and from different surfaces. Usually for each pixel on the final rendering, multiple rays need to be traced, which adds up to a tremendous amount of calculations. The benefit, however, is that we get soft shadows, refraction, global illumination and many other visual effects that are important for conveying this level of realism with ease. Interactive applications usually cannot afford this amount of computation, which is why it remains accessible mainly in the multi-billion dollar movie industry where quality matters most. We often refer to ray tracing as the offline rendering method, because it usually takes hours or even days for the rendering process to complete.

Being able to combine the benefits of the two methods — the quality and the speed — has been a dream of the computer graphics industry for years — longer than my entire lifetime. And it’s been that way until…

[Cue NVIDIA, world stage left]

In September 2018, NVIDIA, an American multinational technology company, released its Turing architecture with a special hardware unit called ray tracing cores, which is meant to handle some of the intensive computation, including bounding volume hierarchy (BVH) traversal and ray-triangle intersection.

All of sudden, things began to shift in the direction of progress after a 30 year lull. They released a demo game called Marbles at Night using this technology. The realistic global illumination and lighting effects make it feel like a cinematic scene, and yet every bit of it is controllable like a video game. While watching, you can’t help but get the feeling you’re controlling a movie. The stunning rendering of the marbles magnificently showcases the capabilities of this technology. Don’t take my word for it, check it out below for yourself.

Now let’s zing back to the world of interior design. Imagine an interior designer getting their hands on this technology that can replicate a client’s home down to the lace on grandma’s frock in a black and white photo you have atop your mantel, complimenting a brand new, blue velvet tufted sofa from Crate & Barrel they’ve had your eye on for months, but weren’t sure it would mesh well with the essence of their home. Seeing is believing, and with this technology — you’ve just made them believers that it’s the perfect sofa to create the warmth of home. It’s these personal touches that take you from the customer’s screen and straight to their hearts — eliminating any anxiety they had around seeing the real thing before making a purchase, emphasizing the way it would really look and, most importantly, feel inside their home.

NVIDIA is not the only company spearheading this design revolution. Epic Games, which is known for its powerful Unreal Game Engine, has also demonstrated their work on bringing digital design with unmatched interactivity and image quality enabled by real time ray tracing. In the following video about an architectural configuration software Buildmedia (linked below), we can see the precision in which an interactive design experience would look like when using it.

So what does this all mean, this progress in a budding technology that’s breaking from the confines of highly skilled film creators?

It means that, eventually, generating high quality renderings will no longer be a unique task only professional designers can carry out. This is huge.

Everyone — you, me, Aunt Cathy, the kid riding his skateboard past your house everyday — can make any adjustment easily, including things like changing the lighting condition, comparing and swapping materials, adjusting view angles, or even switching the scene outside the window. The 3D rendering becomes an interactive, controllable movie.

Ok, still not making the connection, so what does this accessibility and speed mean for our clients and our interior designers? This technology is the gateway to significantly shortening the lengthy interior design cycle. What used to take hours, weeks even, and a great deal of communication time between a designer and a customer to create the perfect home can now be accomplished within minutes, and in real time.

We believe we are witnessing the tipping point of a new round of digital design revolution, or a design rip curl if you will. Our mission at Collov is to get ahead of that wave to make interior design more approachable, more accessible, and more attainable to customers, first, by utilizing these new advancements and technologies like real time ray tracing, AI, and AR. We will then make our own waves, creating experiences of the future in our home decor and online interior design industry.

At this point, you might be thinking to yourself, this all sounds awesomely futuristic, but how much is this going to cost me to invest in? While real time ray tracing hardware is still not in the mainstream, we are starting to see the dawn of this cutting edge technology becoming accessible to the masses.

With the new WebGPU standard being supported by most vendors, some pioneers have demonstrated the potential of applying ray tracing to the web browsers. We are inching closer and closer to having a photo realistic 3D design software that doesn’t require intensive time commitments and investment, heavy download or installation. So the real question you should be asking yourself is, how can I be one of the first pioneer investors stimulating a new frontier before it’s too late, and dawn propels into day.

Software engineer & wantrepreneur. Interested in computer graphics, bitcoin and deep learning.

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