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Sunday, December 04, 2022

On Ray and Path Tracing

Representing 3D Objects.

What Is Path Tracing?

March 23, 2022 by Brian Caulfield

Turn on your TV. Fire up your favorite streaming service. Grab a Coke. A demo of the most important visual technology of our time is as close as your living room couch. Propelled by an explosion in computing power over the past decade and a half, path tracing has swept through visual media. It brings big effects to the biggest blockbusters, casts subtle light and shadow on the most immersive melodramas and has propelled the art of animation to new levels.

Path tracing is going real time, unleashing interactive, photorealistic 3D environments filled with dynamic light and shadow, reflections and refractions.

So what is path tracing? The big idea behind it is seductively simple, connecting innovators in the arts and sciences over the span half a millennium.

What’s the Difference Between Rasterization and Ray Tracing?

First, let’s  define some terms, and how they’re used today to create interactive graphics — graphics that can react in real time to input from a user, such as in video games.

The first, rasterization, is a technique that produces an image as seen from a single viewpoint. It’s been at the heart of GPUs from the start. Modern NVIDIA GPUs can generate over 100 billion rasterized pixels per second. That’s made rasterization ideal for real-time graphics, like gaming.

Ray tracing is a more powerful technique than rasterization. Rather than being constrained to finding out what is visible from a single point, it can determine what is visible from many different points, in many different directions. Starting with the NVIDIA Turing architecture, NVIDIA GPUs have provided specialized RTX hardware to accelerate this difficult computation. Today, a single GPU can trace billions of rays per second.

Being able to trace all of those rays makes it possible to simulate how light scatters in the real world much more accurately than is possible with rasterization. However, we still must answer the questions, how will we simulate light and how will we bring that simulation to the GPU?

What’s Ray Tracing? Just Follow the String

To better answer that question, it helps to understand how we got here.

David Luebke, NVIDIA vice president of graphics research, likes to begin the story in the 16th century with Albrecht Dürer — one of the most important figures of the Northern European Renaissance — who used string and weights to replicate a 3D image on a 2D surface.

Dürer made it his life’s work to bring classical and contemporary mathematics together with the arts, achieving breakthroughs in expressiveness and realism.

The string’s the thing: Albrecht Dürer was the first to describe what’s now known as “ray tracing,” a technique for creating accurate representations of 3D objects on a 2D surfaces in Underweysung der Messung (Nuremberg, 1525),f15

In 1525 with Treatise on Measurement, Dürer was the first to describe the idea of ray tracing. Seeing how Dürer described the idea is the easiest way to get your head around the concept.

Just think about how light illuminates the world we see around us. Now imagine tracing those rays of light backward from the eye with a piece of string like the one Dürer used, to the objects that light interacts with. That’s ray tracing.

Ray Tracing for Computer Graphics    .... 

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