Marcos Fajardo – Creator of Arnold Rendered – CGA2019 Interview

marcos1 - Marcos FajardoMarcos is the founder of Solid Angle, where he lead the development of the Arnold path tracing renderer which he has worked on for 20 years. Prior to that, he was a visiting Software Architect at Sony Pictures Imageworks, a visiting researcher at USC’s Institute for Creative Technologies under the supervision of Dr. Paul Debevec, and also consulted at various CG studios around the world. In 2017 Marcos and his team received a Scientific and Engineering Academy Award for their work on Arnold. More recently, he co-produced the feature film “Despido Procedente” and the short film “La Noria”. He is a frequent speaker at SIGGRAPH, FMX and EGSR. His favorite sushi is Hokkaido uni, with engawa a close second.


First time in Belgrade? What are your expectations from your visit?

Yes, this is my first time in Belgrade! It’s exciting to see such an active CG community there. Also I hear from my friend Nikola Milosevic that the city is a lot of fun and that we will watch some basketball. I played for Unicaja in Malaga in my teen years.

2 - Marcos Fajardo

Have you had a chance to meet the real Arnold?

Sadly, no. Maybe someday? It almost happened at the 2017 Sci-Tech academy awards, when the organizers contacted his agent to see if he could deliver the award to me and my team, but I guess he was too busy or something. I wonder whether he’d find it funny or annoying that I used his name for a software product? Also, back in Siggraph 2015, I hired an Arnold look-alike actor for our Solid Angle party at the rooftop of the Standard hotel in downtown Los Angeles, as well as a few bodybuilders as waiters. He was so good, and my customers loved taking pictures with him!

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m not writing as much code as I used to, but as always I’m keeping an eye on new rendering techniques with the aim on discovering what will benefit Arnold the most in the future. Outside of work, I’m helping friends with projects unrelated to rendering. For example, my sister just started a new art space (dondedore.com) in my hometown in Malaga, Spain, where we invite talented 2D and 3D illustrators from all over the world to give short 1-3 day workshops focusing on their craft and techniques.

You have been involved in a couple of films recently. What are the challenges of being a producer?

To be fair, I acted more as an executive producer making sure the finances were in place, in two projects that were already well into production. But even then, there’s a million things to keep an eye on, and a lot of people to meet and events to attend. In the case of the short film “La Noria”, I also helped with the technical rendering issues during production, as well as making sure the team had enough render licenses to complete the short on time.

As the Arnold creator for many years, how do you see your journey from this point of career?

It has been an incredibly exciting journey! When i was studying computer science in Malaga back in 1995 or so, I really had no idea what i wanted to do, but i found myself spending more and more time with 3D computer graphics. I can’t believe I’ve had the luck to make a contribution to the state of the art in film making. In retrospect, the thing I’m most proud of is to have built such an amazing team of engineers, to surround myself of smarter people than myself, people that allowed me to grow and to expand the limits of what was possible in rendering. And of course to make so many friends along the way. It hasn’t been easy, and a few times I was close to throwing the towel, but I wouldn’t change one bit of it all.

Game of Thrones © 2017 HBO. All rights reserved.
Game of Thrones © 2017 HBO. All rights reserved.

Arnold is supporting GPU and CPU rendering and it’s highly optimized to render huge scenes, Is it still possible to even more optimize render algorithms or is it all up to CPU scaling at this point?

Of course it’s possible, and we are still working on both low-level code optimizations, as well as high-level algorithmic optimizations. Arnold will continue to get faster, specially in the most complex scenes, with lots of polygons, hairs, or light sources. It’s a never ending race for speed!

02-11-19 - Marcos Fajardo

What is the new technology or research that excites you?

Hard to say. I’m keeping an eye on all the machine learning research, but to be honest i still haven’t seen a practical way to reap the benefits seen in other industries as it applies to path tracing rendering. Also, I’m waiting for quantum computation to get to the point where we can sketch rendering algorithms on such computers … but that might still take decades before becoming practical, probably after my time.

9_Cinesite_MLou_AQF__2020__main__v030.1366-BURN-1 - Marcos Fajardo

Can you share an anecdote from the early days of developing Arnold?

Back in 1996 or so, I remember telling a colleague that I was going to work even deeper on rendering, at a time when commercial renderers did only basic raytracing and mostly scanline rendering. He was surprised to hear and told me that “rendering was already a solved problem”. I admired him and for a moment freaked out and thought that he was right and that I should change careers … but now i’m glad I stuck to my guns.

What will be the topic of your CGA2019 talk?

I will discuss a bit of the history of how Arnold came to be, and how rendering has changed over the years. I would like to end the talk with a screening of La Noria, a very special project for me.

 

Thank you Marcos! See you at the CGA2019

 

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