AMD CEO Lisa Su Talks the Invisible Role of A.I. Chips in Oscar-Winning Films

"What used to take days to render can now be rendered in hours. That just changes the way you can make movies," said CEO Lisa Su.

AMD CEO Lisa Su
AMD CEO Lisa Su showcases AMD’s newest MI300 chip at SXSW 2024 on March 11, 2024 in Austin, Texas. Travis P. Ball/SXSW Conference & Festivals via Getty Images

The A.I. hype in the past year and half has made obscure semiconductor makers like AMD and Nvidia household names. AMD (AMD), short for Advanced Micro Devices Inc., is best known as a chip supplier to Big Tech companies like Microsoft and Meta. At this week’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, AMD CEO Lisa Su highlighted a not-so-well-known area the company’s chips are making a tangible difference: Hollywood.

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AMD chips are behind the production of Oscar-winning computer-animated films such as Avatar: The Way of Water, which won last year’s Academy Award for best visual effects, and War Is Over! Inspired by the Music of John & Yoko, the winner of this year’s Oscar for best animated short film.

“When you think about making these feature films and all the special effects that are required, what they require is a tremendous amount of compute,” Su said during an onstage interview with the business news commentator Ryan Patel yesterday (March 11), the day after the Oscar night.

Su mentioned Pixar and Wētā FX, a New Zealand-based visual effects and animation company, as examples of partners that use AMD hardware in film production. “We were very proud to be associated with some of these studios,” she said. “The idea was, how do we give as much compute as possible so that the creators can really accelerate their rendering, accelerate all the production that needs to be done….What used to take days to render can now be rendered in hours. That just changes the way you can make movies.”

Wētā FX, by the director Peter Jackson in 1994, created the animation and visual effects for both the Avatar sequel and War Is Over! The company’s executive VFX (visual effects) producer David Conley, who later joined the onstage discussion, said tech partners like AMD were critical in the creation of the Avatar sequel, whose production was significantly delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We would still be rendering Avatar today if it wasn’t for our partners,” Conley said.

“I met Lisa in January of 2019 and we started talking about the intersection of media and entertainment and technology…There’s an intrinsic link between compute power and art,” he continued. “Thirty years ago, Peter Jackson started a company, one computer, eight people, and created a movie called Heavenly Creatures. Now we have over 1,800 people and hundreds of thousands of cores and computers and machines all over the world creating movies like Avatar 2.”

Speaking about the future of filmmaking, the producer believes increasingly powerful chips, including the so called A.I. chips made by AMD and Nvidia (NVDA), will revolutionize filmmaking in the next three to five years.

“I believe the future of filmmaking is a partnership between passive entertainment and active entertainment and this is where we are going to see the intersection of games…and that is where films are going in three to five years,” Conley said. “We are not going to be able to do that without the help of companies like AMD where we get real-time processing and real-time rendering, and a lot of A.I. is going to help us get to that place.”

AMD CEO Lisa Su Talks the Invisible Role of A.I. Chips in Oscar-Winning Films