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21 October, 2016

Cinematography, finally!

I made some screen grabs from the recently released Red Dead Redemption 2 announcement trailer.

These were quite hastily and heavily processed (sorry) in an attempt to make the compression artifacts from the video show less.

Basically these are an average of 5-6 frames, a poor man's temporal anti-aliasing let's say (and the general blurring helps not to focus on the general balance of the image instead of being distracted by small details), and tons of film grain to hide blocking artifacts.

I am in love. Tasteful, amazing frames that don't look like something that was just arbitrarily color-graded to make it seem somewhat cool last minute like a bad Instagram filter.

Enjoy. Ok, let me spend a couple more words...

Some made this to be a technical comparison between titles. In a way it is, but it's not a comparison on resolution and framerate, or amount of leaves rendered, texture definition and so on.

In all these accounts I'm sure there are plenty of engines that do great, even better than RDR2, especially engines made to scale to PC.

Thing is, who cares? This shouldn't matter anymore. We're past the point where merely draw more pixels or more triangles is where technology is at. We're not writing tri-fillers, we're making images. Or at least, we should be.

Technology should be transparent. Great rendering should not show, great rendering happens when you can't point your finger and name a given feature, or effect implementation. We are means to and end, the end is what matters. And it is a matter of technology, or research and of optimization. But a different one.

It is absolutely easier to push a million blades of grass on screen than to make a boring, empty room that truly achieves a given visual goal.

It is absolutely easier to make a virtual texturing system that allows for almost one-to-one texel to pixel apparent resolution than to accurately measure and reproduce a complex material.

It is absolutely easier to make a hand optimized, cycle-tight uber post-effect pipeline than to write artists tools for actual rapid iteration and authoring of color variants in a scene.

I'm not claiming that this particular game does any of these things right. Maybe it's just great art direction. Maybe it's achieved by lots of artists iterating on the worst engine and tools possible. Or maybe it's years of R&D, it's very hard to tell, even more from a teaser-trailer (albeit it totally looks legit real-time on the platform). But that's the point, great rendering doesn't show, it just leaves great images.

And I hope that  more and more games (RDR is certainly not the only one) and art departments and engineers do realize that, the shift we're seeing. Rendering hasn't "peaked" for sure, but we need to shift our focus more and more towards the "high level".

We solve concrete problems, technology otherwise is useless. And, yes, that means that you can't do good tech without artists because you won't ever have great images without great art. Working in isolation is pointless.

And now... Enjoy!

The first Red Dead Redemption also holds up quite well all things considered... These are respectively from the introduction cinematic and one of the first missions:

And as "bonus images", some screens I've found from the recent Battlefield 1 and The Witcher 3.

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