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Ray Tracing Overview

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Whether used to generate images in computer games, your favorite movie, or professional-level Computer-Aided Design (CAD), the ultimate goal for computer-generated graphics is the creation of real-time computer-generated images indistinguishable from those of photo-realistic imagery. The more realistic the rendered image, the greater the ability of the artist to conceptualize their idea and improve people’s experiences.

Today, professional-level graphics (such as Hollywood films) are rendered offline (as opposed to real-time) using powerful workstations or render farms (many, many computers dedicated to generating images). However, in the last few years, techniques have been developed for real-time rendering of higher quality images through the use of dedicated accelerators using a rendering technique known as rasterization. This has enabled a new level of graphics realism. As rasterization evolved, photo-realistic effects such as physically correct lighting, accurate shadows, reflections, and refractions have required programming tricks in order to fit in the computational constraints of rasterization technology.

An alternate approach to rasterization is ray tracing. This rendering technique generates photo-realistic images and animations by simulating the actual physics of light. Rendering, however, often takes hours or days to calculate. Fortunately, advances in computing architecture, such as multi-core processors, are helping to bring the vast amounts of parallel processing needed for real-time ray tracing into the mainstream. As a result, interest in ray tracing for photorealistic animation is increasing.

Read the full Ray Tracing Overview White Paper.