During the 2B term at uWaterloo (which was fall 2014 for me) all ECE students are required to do a 15 minute technical presentation on the topic of their choice. They decided to make this a degree requirement a number of years ago because too many engineers sucked at doing presentations. Fortunately I have done a number of presentations over the years and while I use to be awful at them, I think I’m rather good at them now.
I decided to do my presentation on Modern Real-time Hair Simulation and Rendering, in other words, next-gen video game hair. I decided to pick the topic because I knew it was cutting edge (I had only seen it in one game - Tomb Raider 2013) and it seemed pretty cool. When I started researching it over the summer I discovered that not only did AMD have a solution (called TressFX) but Nvidia has just released their solution called Hair Works.
As I continued researching I ran across a couple issues, AMD and Nvidia didn’t really document all the steps that their solution uses (which makes a lot of sense) and that I was going way too in-depth for a 15 minute presentation. Fortunately the second issue was pretty easy to get around, I just cut out the part where I explain how the DX11 pipeline works, but the first issue required me to blend some of the key points from AMD and Nvidia’s implementations to cover a general process. While I have mixed feelings on doing so, it kinda worked.
Anyways, my technical presentation went well, I almost got perfect marks (one of the judges took off half a point for some text being too dark) and my presentation was a fair bit better than the other ECE students I presented the same day as. Since the presentation was a pass/fail mark, we all got the same mark so my extra effort was kinda pointless… Except that there was a technical presentation competition on a few weeks later which had the same requirements and had cash prizes! The competition is part of the Sandford Flemming Foundation, or SFF, and not only were there prizes for the top 4 spots, the top 2 got to continue on to the provincial competition. The SFF competition had pretty good presenters but in the end I ended up winning! The prize was $400 and a paid trip to Toronto for the Ontario competition in January.
The provincial competition had a few added challenges, the presentations had to be 30 minutes and there were marks for explaining how your topic relates to social or environmental issues. This was a little bit of an issue, how can I make video game hair rendering a social issue (because the extra GPU powered required isn’t doing anything for the environment)? I ended up using the argument that modern hair simulation allows for the portrayal of more diverse female characters. I get into a much fuller explanation in my presentation, however since the PowerPoint on its own doesn’t really elaborate too much I’ll explain briefly. The current most common method of doing hair in games only really works for short hair or hair that is tied up (like a ponytail or bun). While these are great for action oriented characters - Faith (Mirror’s Edge), Chell (Portal), Nillin (Remember Me), FemShep (Mass Effect), etc. - it limit the types of female characters the designers can create. By giving to designers tools to create any hair style and the marketing advantage of doing so (people like to play games with new things) hopefully more female characters will be seen in the future, helping solve some of the inherent sexism in the industry.
Anyways, I put the presentation together a little quicker than I would have liked and didn’t get as many practice runs in as I was aiming for. The practice runs were all going well (I finished within the allotted time) but decided that I should note the time I should be at for various slides so that I saved enough time for my TressFX live demo at the end. Two mistakes here, 1: I had never practiced the TressFX demo and didn’t realize it would only take about a minute. 2: I wrote down the incorrect times. So when I was doing the presentation for real, about 1/3 of the way through, I thought I was way behind schedule. 3/4 of the way through I realized I was way too fast and tried to slow things down as much as possible but ended up finishing a couple minutes too early (which had a score penalty).
When all things were said and done I ended up coming 3rd. I never saw scores so I don’t know if I could have done better but I did get a $750 prize so no complaints from me! I would have liked to go to the national competition but there is always next time!
My presentation is posted here for your viewing pleasure, if it looks familiar, I might have borrowed Crytek’s PowerPoint theme from there GCD presentation on Ryse... Thanks!