Chaos Announces Project Arena, a Simple Alternative to Game Engines for Virtual Production

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In the dynamic realm of virtual production, the emergence of innovative tools is akin to unlocking new dimensions of creativity and efficiency. Among the vanguards of this revolution stands Chaos, a trailblazing force renowned for its cutting-edge solutions in the realms of rendering and visualization. Recently, ProductionHUB had the exclusive opportunity to delve into the depths of Chaos' latest breakthrough with Phillip Miller, the VP of Product Management, and Vladimir Koylazov, the Co-Founder and Head of Innovation.

Enter Project Arena – a game-changing toolset poised to redefine the landscape of virtual production. In our captivating discussion, Miller and Koylazov unveil the transformative capabilities of Project Arena, offering virtual production teams a compelling alternative to conventional game engines. At the heart of this innovation lies a promise of unprecedented speed, cost-effectiveness, and efficiency, revolutionizing the way artists bring their visions to life.

With Project Arena, the once-daunting task of seamlessly integrating V-Ray assets and animations onto LED walls is streamlined to a mere fraction of the time previously required. In a matter of minutes, artists can harness the power of production-quality ray tracing, all while leveraging the familiar pipelines they know and trust. The implications are staggering – potentially saving days of production costs while empowering teams to navigate seamlessly from pre-production to post-production without the need for cumbersome conversions or time-consuming do-overs.

Join us as we embark on an illuminating journey into the heart of Chaos' Project Arena, where innovation meets imagination to shape the future of virtual production as we know it.

PH: What were the key challenges encountered during the development of Project Arena, particularly in integrating real-time path-tracing technology into the virtual production workflow? 

There were three main challenges. The first was related to rendering simultaneously on multiple machines and making sure that they render the same frame at the same time in a synchronized manner. The second challenge was implementing camera tracking where we could process data coming from various tracking systems and use that data to move the camera in the virtual world. The final challenge was to produce smooth and noiseless images from very rough path tracing images. Key for this final challenge was Nvidia’s DLSS-RR denoising method that was introduced last fall.

PH: How does Project Arena streamline the production pipeline by eliminating the need for scene stripping, asset conversion, and baking? Can you elaborate on the specific technical processes involved? 

Project Arena is based on the real-time path tracing renderer of Chaos Vantage. This means that effects like precise reflections and global illumination can be computed dynamically, without the need for baking. It also means that because it is using a pure ray tracer, Project Arena doesn’t have to worry about geometric complexity, which means teams don’t need to simplify the scenes. Further on, Project Arena works directly with the files exported from existing deep V-Ray integrations for popular DCCs like Maya and Houdini so that no further data conversion is required.

PH: Could you explain how Project Arena ensures work continuity by using the same V-Ray assets across all production stages? What measures have been implemented to simplify the pipeline for production teams?

By reading the same V-Ray scene files that are used for final renders without conversion, Project Arena supports the high fidelity rendering of V-Ray materials, as well as massive geometry of trillions of triangles. Teams working on virtual production can use the same assets and pipelines – without having to learn complex new tools – to create production-quality results. That makes virtual production more accessible and much less costly. Add to that higher quality rendering that features real reflections and global illumination, and it also greatly increases the realism of LED walls. 

PH: Scalability is crucial for handling scenes of immense complexity. How does Project Arena address scalability challenges, especially when dealing with large-scale virtual environments or intricate visual effects?

Raytracing as a technique can deal efficiently with large numbers of triangles. Since Project Arena is 100% ray traced, it doesn’t get slower as the face count climbs – even into the trillions – and does not require any special geometry preprocessing.

PH: Realism and flexibility are key aspects of Project Arena. How does the solution balance delivering highly realistic results with providing the necessary flexibility for on-set adjustments in real time?

Both the realism and flexibility are derived from the use of path tracing as the rendering technique. It is currently the technique most often used for producing photorealistic renderings and its real-time implementation in Project Arena preserves this aspect. Path tracing also does not rely on any light baking or other scene preparation and any changes to the scene – including adjustments of light sources, environment lighting, rearranging objects etc – are immediately visible in the final result on the LED wall. 

PH: In what ways does Project Arena contribute to maximizing efficiency and reducing production costs in virtual production? Are there any specific case studies or examples that demonstrate these benefits?

Project Arena allows studios to create scenes directly in their tool of choice, using their preferred pipeline, and take those scenes right to the LED walls without needing additional prep of simplification or data conversion. That makes it faster, and means artists don’t need to learn additional tools. It’s a quicker and simpler way to create VP, which means it’s also less expensive. Chaos is currently working on an original short that will help to demonstrate the full potential of Project Arena (more on that soon), and we are also working with several filmmakers before the commercial release. 

PH: Can you discuss any future plans or enhancements for Project Arena? How do you envision the solution evolving to meet the evolving needs of virtual production in the coming years?

Before we announced Project Arena, we reached out to several Chaos clients that either work with VP, or had an interest in it. We listened to what they needed and what they wanted, and built Project Arena around that. Future developments will be focused on more convenient deployment and also on streamlined workflows for adjusting the render output to match the desired creative choices. We will also be working to support industry standards like USD and MaterialX.

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