Game developers have battled each other for decades about whether voxels or polygons are best for game graphics. A voxel is volume element, a way of illustrating a 3D image without using traditional polygons. Atomontage‘s founders believe voxels are a much better way to create fully interactive 3D applications, and they’re unveiling a new platform to enable voxel art in high-end video games and other 3D applications.
Atomontage’s technology is the result of 15 years of research and development by Branislav Siles, who has more than 23 years of experience in graphics programming and volumetric technology. In an interview with GamesBeat, he said breakthroughs in the tech could change the way people create, share, and engage with 3D content.
The tech will enable volumetric simulations to scale massively in fully interactive 3D applications, with billions of voxels. The company’s prototypes show that augmented reality and virtual reality rendering and interaction with large voxel scenes is possible on low-end VR-ready hardware today.
“We’re unlocking the potential of the volumetric computer graphics paradigm to make it possible for people to enjoy and edit deeply interactive 3D environments with little to no technical experience,” said Siles.
Atomontage also announced the initial core team, which is comprised of games, visual computing, medical, and other marquee industry veterans. They include Siles, president Dan Tabar, who has experience as a technical producer, tools and games designer and developer; and Trevor Snowden, vice president of production, who has 24 years of experience shipping more than 50 products.
The investors and advisers include Justin Roiland, co-creator and executive producer of Rick and Morty and co-founder of Squanch Games; Tommy Palm, CEO of Resolution Games; and Laszlo Tabar, a world-renowned mammography screener, researcher, and teacher.
“The currently dominant 3D graphics and simulation paradigm, based on polygon meshes, is fundamentally flawed,” said Tabar. “It is burdened by a large technical debt, which is paid for by increasingly complex tool chains, high skill requirements, costs, and general friction in all areas. On the other hand, the sampled volumetric geometry we’ve created presents a simpler and more granular representation of a scene, which makes most of these issues simply go away.”
Siles has created a universal format that he says can replace traditional polygonal 3D graphics, just as mp3 files came to represent the main format for music and jpegs for pictures. He saw big flaws in polygon 3D graphics many years ago, and he believed large virtual worlds would only be manageable with a paradigm shift.
Right now, it takes years of work to be able to use complex tool chains for 3D graphics, and if you want to make a specific change in the art, you often have to go back to the right tool in the chain to make the change, Siles said.
“Voxels are the solution, and they have been around since the 1970s,” Siles said. “Voxels are more like manipulating clay. With polygons, you have a problem when you scale from millions to billions of polygons. It’s a data management problem that is hard to overcome. We have the software breakthrough to this with voxels now.”
Scalable volumetric sampled geometry is absolutely necessary for creating deeply interactive and detailed virtual worlds, like depicted in popular sci-fi like Ready Player One’s OASIS, Snow Crash’s Metaverse, and The Matrix, Siles said.
He added, “With our technology, we can play back fully volumetric video that have been captured for film and sports. Imagine you’re immersed in a movie or basketball court, where you share the space with the characters or players, and not only look around like with traditional 360 video, but also move around freely in the space, seeing it from any angle you want.”
“Imagine being able to view and edit large photogrammetry data sets without ever having to worry about polygon counts again,” Tabar said. “Or, helping doctors screen 3D medical imaging data in a much more intuitive manner through VR, so they can find cancers quickly and reliably. Or something like Minecraft, but with rich physics and super high voxel resolution, making the big blocks almost disappear. We’re getting an immense amount of interest from users across industrial, medical, education, film, games, and other use-cases.”
The company has completed its initial prototypes. It hopes to create plug-ins for its technology to work with game engines such as Unreal and Unity, and then it expects to launch a beta version in 2019. Atomontage is working with a team in Slovakia.
“It’s not a game engine. It’s a lower-level tech that can be integrated with other existing game engines,” Siles said.
Atomontage is developing this platform for use across multiple industries. The platform will streamline the capture, creation, editing, distribution, and consumption of all forms of interactive 3D computer graphics. Siles said voxels are compatible with ray tracing technology.
The company’s name comes from Atoms, the little cubes and particles that are the basic building blocks of voxel images, and they can store more data than just a color (e.g. physical material properties, normals, authorship, etc). The “voxel” is a graphics-specific term, but it doesn’t capture this additional capability of the company’s “montage of atoms.”
Of course, the polygon has decades of dominance as its advantage. We’ll see whether the time of the voxel has come, or if it will have a hard time overcoming the polygon’s installed base.