Dawn is both the name of Nvidia's technology demo and its main character constructed for performance by Jim Henson's Creature Shop. The eponymous demo is called "the dawn of cinematic computing", and was used to showcase the capabilities of the GeForce FX series of video cards.
Dawn is a forest fairy with two translucent wings, pointy ears, and a pair of antennae on her head. She wears a revealing dress, made of leaves and blue petals. The demo is set in an enchanted forest, with a single tree branch floating in an environment that is created with forest foliage cube mapping. In animation mode, Dawn walks over the branch whilst a simple tune plays in the background, or sits on a branch smiling, dangling her legs. The demo can be paused so that the user can examine the graphics more closely.
The character model was created by Steven Giesler, a well-known 3D artist, who has also created many characters for Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, Final Flight of the Osiris, two films by Square Pictures. The model of Dawn is extremely realistic, with high-resolution photorealistic textures, a detailed facial model, and life-like animation. The animation is controlled with vertex shaders. The user can manipulate Dawn's facial expression with a set of sliders, although the number of controls in the released demo was limited.
The demo was first shown in November 2002 at the Game Developers Conference, running in real-time on a GeForce FX card. The downloadable demo appeared on Nvidia's website shortly thereafter. The demo was initially intended to showcase the GeForce FX 5800 card, but it may work on any DirectX 9.0 based graphic card from Nvidia.
Aside from hardware emulation; the demo can not be run on older DirectX 8.0 based graphic cards which include the high end GeForce 4 Ti series due to the unsupported of hardware feature. The demo can be run either in "Regular" or "Ultra" (with advanced shaders) mode. Ultra mode (at the time) runs faster only on mainstream FX5600 or high end FX5800 onwards.
A similar demo, named "Dusk" (a.k.a. Dawn's twin sister), was made for the GeForce FX 5900 card. This featured the Dawn character with realistic skin and hair, which was only possible at the time due to the high-performance vertex shaders of the GeForce FX 5900 GPUs.
Dawn was not the first computerized demo of a realistic human character, as such demos have been created in the past for game consoles (such as the Dreamcast title Shenmue) and also some video cards. Nvidia themselves had created a demo featuring the life-like characters of Aki Ross and Dr. Sid from Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within a year before.
Dawn, however, was innovative in that she operated in real time. Previous lifelike human characters had been pre-rendered. As with Lara Croft of the Tomb Raider games, Dawn's voluptuous curves attracted a substantial amount of media attention .
Nvidia has subsequently repeated this strategy with several more recent real-time female demo characters, including Nalu (a mermaid), Luna (a cybernetic being), and Adrianne, a digital representation of real-life model Adrianne Curry.
↑ Nvidia and Jim Henson's Creature Shop team up - Jan 09, 2004