Kun Zhou, 33
Creating movie-quality graphics in real time
Thanks to Kun Zhou, computer games will become more realistic and animated movies will reach cinemas faster. The Zhejiang University computer science professor has released software capable of rendering movie-quality scenes using graphics chips of the sort that most PCs use to create comparatively crude images.
These chips, known as GPUs, perform many relatively simple computations in parallel. While this design is adequate to synthesize images for today's computer games, it wasn't seen as a good fit for the complex algorithms required to create the truly photorealistic images produced by animation and special-effects studios. But in 2009 Zhou developed a programming language that could efficiently break up these algorithms in a way that suited GPUs. He used this language as the foundation of a rendering system called RenderAnts, which generates images more than 10 times as fast as traditional software. A Chinese animation studio is already using an early commercial version of the software to increase the quality of its television productions, and Zhou is collaborating with the Frankfurt-based gaming studio Crytek—maker of the popular Crysis series of games, which are often used to benchmark the graphics performance of PCs—to improve the realism of its products.
Making games more realistic while keeping them fast enough to respond instantaneously to a player's actions is a personal goal for Zhou. He says he got hooked on games as a young engineering student and has been trying to overcome their limitations ever since. —Peter Fairley