As it turns out, Mental Images, the folk behind mental ray, thought so too. In fact, they thought so before I ever did, and went about making a product to do just that. It was recently announced, it exists and it's called iray.
There are caveats to using it. You need a professional card to use it, and it isn't yet implemented into many of the 3D software packages out there. I haven't actually seen this used in person yet.
But it exists.
That kind of takes the wind out of my sails, doesn't it? On the one hand, I feel like a smart little nerd for coming up with a concept that was also developed by smart folk that do this sort of thing for a living. But on the other hand, well, I don't have much to prove anymore. I must have been *close* to being right, or Mental Images would have never gone through the expense of making the iray product.
I could still make the argument and say that hey, using game engine tools makes animation even cheaper and available to the masses! (game engines are free or cheap, professional hardware is quite expensive) Just going through the videos I've posted here before has shown how this technology is up to snuff. If it's good enough for broadcast TV, it's good enough to be considered professional quality! And a few seconds of poking through youtube will show you a veritable army of people that are attempting to make machinima using these easy-to-get tools.
So henceforth, my thesis project is now:
I will demonstrate how high-quality animated entertainment can be produced via readily available game engine tools, such as the Source engine by Valve Software
So I'm no longer trying to prove the 'hardware versus software' debate. Those forces have been joined and the battle there is over. But in the words of my friend Alex, I don't need to prove that anyone should be doing anything. Instead I am going to point out that these tools exist, and can be used to make stuff that meets professional standards.
And we're going to prove it by making high-quality-awesome-things with said tools.