NVIDIA’s latest tech demo is A New Dawn

Ten years ago, NVIDIA introduced us to a character named Dawn - a beautifully detailed, animated fairy who had been designed to show off the power and programmability of GeForce FX. Now, Dawn is back, in a new tech demo, showing off just how far technology has advanced in a decade. (Spoiler: A lot.)

  Dawn A New Dawn
Environment Environment cube map Full 3D environment with undergrowth,
trees and living vines
Environment Complexity 7,000 triangles 4 million triangles
Skin Texture map
Detail maps
Rim based lighting
Texture map
Detail maps
Skin oil reflectance maps
Multi-Layered Subsurface scattering
Hair 1,700 strands, static 40,000 tessellated strands,
physically animated
Lighting Environment-based lighting Environment-based lighting
Local dynamic lights
Shadows None Perspective shadow maps
Screen space ambient occlusion
Post Processing None Depth-of-field rendering
Hexagonal bokeh filter
Filmic post processing
Antialiasing None FXAA
Default Resolution 1024 x 768 1920 x 1080
Target Hardware GeForce FX 5800 Ultra GeForce GTX 670 SLI

Dawn now lives in a lush rainforest - a far cry from the six-sided flowing cube she inhabited in her original demo. More than four million triangles are used to create Dawn's leafy environment, using DirectX 11 tesselation.

Another major improvement is to Dawn herself - with NVIDIA's James Wang dedicating a lengthy blog to the topic. He explains that while the original Dawn had a mere 1,700 strands of jet black hair (held in place by "a rock hard hairspray"), the New Dawn has 40,000, in a more natural brunette shade. Thanks to a special hair smoothing shader, advanced shading and other bits and pieces, Wang explains that "The final result looks soft and silky, as if she just jumped out of the shower after an extensive conditioner routine."

The blog also goes into great detail about the "trickiness" of simulating human skin (all the way down to fine hairs, bumps, imperfections and even the oil content). There's a spotlight on depth-of-field effects, bokeh filters, light blooms and sparkling fairy dust, and more tricks of the trade used to make Dawn as realistic and beautiful as possible.

Wang explains:

The original Dawn demo was the first to show a fully credible, 3D character in real time. The Nalu demo added detailed, physically simulated hair. The Adrianne Curry demo pushed the limits of realism in skin shading. A New Dawn demo is a synthesis of all of these demos, as well as over a decade of techniques and advancement made in the realm of real-time 3D graphics. It may not look ten times as good as the original, but from the perspective of a game developer, it's actually a lot more feasible to implement. There are no unreasonable tradeoffs, such as eliminating the environment and putting the GPU to work on a single character. The new Dawn lives in a world as rich and complex as herself. Let's hope games catch up to her real soon.

A New Dawn, from NVIDIA

A New Dawn, from NVIDIA

But of course Dawn is not just a video! She's a fully-fledged tech demo which you can download right now, and will happily showcase the capabilities of NVIDIA's flagship GeForce GTX 690 graphics card. However, following a few nips and tucks from the developer's side, Dawn will also run in a "less-demanding" mode, meaning GeForce GTX 670 and 680 owners can also check it all out.

System specs are here:

  • GPU: GTX 670 or 680 (GTX 670 SLI, GTX 680 SLI, or GTX 690 recommended for Ultra mode)
  • CPU: 2.5GHz Dual-Core or higher
  • System Memory: 4GB
  • Disk Space: 2GB
  • Operating System: Windows 7 or Windows Vista

...let us know what you think - is your PC up to scratch?

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