We are still quite a way off from quantum computers becoming household items. Heck, even the thought of owning a personal quantum computer might be a misnomer as quantum computers are fundamentally different from the laptops, and desktop PCs, and servers that we are all used to. As of writing, quantum computers look like this:
If you say that it looks like a steampunk chandelier, you are not wrong. But what’s stranger than its appearance is how quantum computers work.
You are probably aware of how normal computers work: at its core, a computer is composed of bits. A bit can hold two values – 0 or 1. This is why the basic language of programming is called binary. 0’s and 1’s form the language that all contemporary (or classical) computers understand and operate in. All calculations that happen inside your CPU occur in 0’s and 1’s. Example: In binary, the letter “A” is 01000001.
Now, a quantum computer also operates in bits that are called qubits. Aside from its spelling, qubits are vastly different in their nature compared to bits. Bits can only hold one of two values – 0 or 1. Qubits on the other hand can hold both values simultaneously.
Qubits can be 0 and 1 at the same time.
If you feel like your mind just lagged – well, you’re not alone. Quantum mechanics, the branch of physics that underpins quantum computing, is strange, to say the least. You see, in our world of everyday objects, things happen fairly intuitively. If there are two doors in front of you, you choose one and pass through it. Done. Simple. Rational.
But in the tiny, tiny world of subatomic particles like electrons, photons, quarks, and leptons, things don’t happen quite as predictably. If you shine a light on a surface with two slits, each photon (the particle that makes up light) can only pass through either one of two slits, right? Like you through one of two doors? Nope, that’s not what happens. If you have a detector behind your double-slitted surface, experiment after experiment has shown that the detector reads as if the photons passed through both slits.
But that can’t be possible, right? It is though. Here’s the crazier part: if you try to follow and observe an individual photon, or at least even put a camera or any observing tool to try to watch where each photon passes through, then the photon will pass through just one slit. But unobserved, the photon will “pass” through both slits again. In other words, the presence of an observer changes the behavior of a subject. This observed and verified property in quantum mechanics is called superposition – the ability of a particle to assume multiple states at the same time.
Superposition is what fundamentally separates qubits from bits. Because a qubit can be both 0 and 1 (or on and off) at the same time, it can perform exponentially more and faster calculations than our normal computers now. To illustrate the difference, let’s use an example: let’s say you are using Waze or a similar GPS app to find the fastest way home from the office. A classical computer does this by simulating all possible routes individually, one after the other, then shows you the one that yields the lowest time on the road. A quantum computer on the other hand will consider all possible routes simultaneously and then collapse the possibilities into the fastest route.
If that sounds like science fiction, that’s what most quantum physics really does.
Let’s say for a moment that all barriers to developing stable and reliable quantum computers have been surmounted. What happens if we replace all servers in a render farm with a quantum computers?
Everything becomes faster. If you remember, rendering is basically solving all the tricky mathematical calculations involved in translating a 3D scene into a 2D image. Instead of CPUs doing all that math linearly, quantum computers would perform those calculations simultaneously.
Quantum computers will also make render farm operations more efficient. Queues can become a thing of the past. As artists load their projects up on the farm, quantum computers can accept them right away even as they are rendering another project.
One of the aspects of rendering that greatly contributes to how long it takes is lighting. How light behaves in an environment and interacts with the objects within it is tough to calculate accurately. As such, realistic lighting in large and complex scenes makes for longer render times. Quantum computers, by virtue of being able to perform simultaneous calculations, can produce more vividly and realistically lighted scenes at *ahem* lightning speeds.
And what goes for lighting goes for all other properties – color, textures, materials, movement, etc. Let’s get into a bit more detail with some aspects of 3D that quantum computing can revolutionize:
Ray tracing deals with following individual rays of light as it comes from a source, hits an object, then reflects from that object and hits the virtual camera in the scene that acts as the viewer’s eye. As you can imagine, that can be computationally demanding. That’s why this technique is more found in pre-rendering materials like movies and cutscenes as opposed to actual interactive play in games. With quantum computing able to trace multiple light rays as they hit multiple objects in the environment efficiently, full ray tracing can become available for games without having to be blended with traditional rasterization.
Particle and material simulators in 3D have increasingly grown in popularity as they save artists so much time and energy. Without simulators, you’d have to model and animate every “particle” of dust, smoke, fire, debris, grass, cloth, and flowing water from scratch if you need them in your scene. Even with current classical computers, simulators have come a long way in producing realistic particles and materials.
Quantum computing is poised to simply take all of that to the next level. Not only does quantum computing promise more realistic-looking simulated particles and materials, but it will also bring more realistic-behaving and perhaps even self-optimizing ones. Say, you placed simulated smoke in your scene. Then later, you decided that a helicopter flies near the top of your burning building. Quantum computing can automatically adjust the direction and speed of the smoke in reaction to the push of the wind coming from the chopper. That’s awesome. The speed by which artists craft realistic environments and the level of realism of those environments will make a leap when quantum computers come around.
Machine learning relies on a system’s ability to process large datasets, find patterns and trends in the data, and optimize based on those patterns and trends. This has a lot of applications in 3D, not least of which is creating 3D models out of 2D photos.
Photogrammetry, as this technique is called, is already currently available but most photogrammetry applications need multiple photos of the same object taken from multiple angles. With quantum computing’s potential to exponentially beef up machine learning, you can train an algorithm to identify objects from photos and then use that to create an application that can turn a single 2D photo into a full-on and accurate 3D model. You can just imagine the implications of this technology – should it come to fruition – to movie production, game design, architectural visualization, and industrial design.
It’s wonderful to imagine the possibilities that quantum computers can bring to 3D and other fields. But it’s important that even in our dreaming, our feet stay planted on the ground.
Let us be clear about this: reliable, practical, commercially-feasible quantum computers are at least decades away. Whatever form of quantum computers we currently have are all in their earliest stages of infancy and they are all in the hands of big tech companies operating at the cutting edge of computer science.
This simply means that as of writing this article, quantum computers are out of reach for most people. In fact, quantum computers barely exist today. The fundamental science is in place, but the technology has a lot of catching up to do. Many of the current working designs for quantum computers require cooling a microchip down to near absolute zero temperatures just to get its components to start exhibiting quantum behavior. That takes a lot of power and a lot of money to operate. And even when these chips reach their quantum states, they are susceptible to noise or unwanted interactions from the environment. This makes it very tricky to reliably store and retrieve data from these quantum microchips. Quantum computers right now are unsustainable. We are at least a few technological leaps away from practical, repeatable, and scalable quantum processing units.
Quantum computers have the potential to make every aspect of 3D designing and rendering better – more realism, more efficiency, more speed, more creativity. When quantum computers finally become mainstream, I am sure that they will lead to more innovation that we simply cannot even begin to imagine today. But until that day comes, your best bet for fast, efficient, and cost-effective rendering remains to be online render farms, with their servers and servers of classical CPUs and GPUs.
Quantum computers are coming, but your deadline is coming first. If you are looking to render a project fast and within your budget, check out our cost calculator.