Ray Tracing News

"Light Makes Right"

May 16, 1995

Volume 8, Number 2

Compiled by Eric Haines [email protected] . Opinions expressed are mine.

All contents are copyright (c) 1995, all rights reserved by the individual authors

Archive locations: anonymous FTP at ftp://ftp-graphics.stanford.edu/pub/Graphics/RTNews/,
ftp://wuarchive.wustl.edu/graphics/graphics/ray/RTNews/, and many others.

You may also want to check out the Ray Tracing News issue guide and the ray tracing FAQ.



Today I got my latest ray tracer to work, so it's time to celebrate by whipping out an issue. Life's been a tad hectic, as we've joined the real world and are trying to get a product out the door.

One of the interesting things that came up in creating this product was that naming it was a nightmare. It seems that the rate for new trademarks for computer software vs. new trademarks for everything else in the world has a ratio of like 100 to 1. So finding an unused real word is pretty tough. "Modelit"? Sorry, taken. Ditto with a few others. We did a name search on "Perspectives", and the coast was clear. In between the time the name search ended and our claim papers were filed (about 5 days), Borland had snapped up the name! Anyway, we went with Trispectives (commercial alert: which will run on Win95 and Windows NT, please buy a lot of them when they come out and help keep my kids fed and clothed. What's it do? Well, check out ftp://ftp.eye.com/TriSpectives for some info [eventually - we're still setting up]).

So, my advice is to come up with incredibly short, stupid programs ("this one computes prime numbers using the Sieve of Erastothenes, this one does towers of Hanoi, this one converts all text to lowercase,...") and trademark each one with whatever unclaimed cool words are left. Sell a few to relatives. Sit back and wait for someone to want to use one, and cash in. I expect a 10% cut.

The other thing I've been doing is converting the back issues of the Ray Tracing News to HTML for the Web. Old wine in new bottles, but there is some value in doing so: it's nice to link related articles together, and I like being able to directly connect from the issues to ftp sites mentioned (though for the older issues many of those ftp sites no longer exist. Raise your hand if you remember cs.uoregon.edu). These issues are available on ftp://ftp-graphics.stanford.edu/pub/Graphics/RTNews/html/index.html . Yes, ftp, not http, though if you point your browser there it will look like http. Do I understand? No, I leave it in Craig Kolb's hands, who kindly made a home for the files and set things up.

My one comment is that if you, dear reader, ever undertake anything similar, i.e. converting huge hunks of text to HTML, learn Perl. It's a wonderful text processing language (and much much more), works on everything, is free, etc etc. I could sing its praises for hours on end; instead, let me say it's simply the best thing I've learned about in the past year. Anyway, my perl program to do the conversion is about 500 lines and automatically adds headers and links where it thinks it should (and it's right about 80+% of the time) - this language takes much of the drudgery and mind-numbing editing out of conversion. Get it at ftp://ftp.cis.ufl.edu/pub/perl/. O'Reilly & Associates has some good books on perl; they're at http://www.ora.com/ and check out the "programming" section.

This issue covers some non-RT (Ray Tracing) RT's (Rendering Techniques). I'm half tempted to rename this ezine the Rendering Techniques Newsletter (name suggested by Steve Worley), but, nah, I'll keep the old name for now.

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Ray Tracing Roundup

If you'd like to join the Animator's Mailing List, mail to ([email protected]).

- Dave DeBry ([email protected])


Various Good Books

Another WONDERFUL text that just come out this year from the Waite group is 3d Modelling lab. It is AN EXCELLENT VERY VERY EASY read that will JUMP START you into the 3D world (w/rendering, raytracing, 3D modelling etc) is deemed "3d Modelling Lab"... The book for $40 COMES WITH IMAGINE 2.0, this is a VERY VERY powerful 3d Modelling program. I recommend it HIGHLY TO ANY graphics nut. It is the best $40 I have EVER spent on a book.

Tricks of the Graphics Gurus & The HOW TO ANIMATE book/CD can get ya the goods on lots of 3D oriented procedures to use w/your new found talents from 3D Modelling LAB (GET IT! Trust me!).

Stuff like all these ratraced mirror balls and the like are EASY AS PIE w/this book & IMAGINE. I just can't state enough... Buy it... You'll be thanking me... Honest.

- Rich Gortatowsky ([email protected])


FreeForm3D Modeler

FreeForm 3D Bspline modeler brings truly affordable, super-fast Bspline modeling to your current 3D program rivaling that of high end workstations. FreeForm can output to Lightwave, Aladdin4D, Real3D2, Imagine and Caligari (POV and Rayshade are currently being added, as well as Renderman object) output, in spline format. FreeForm has real-time object and point editing in all views; and a real-time, 3D space, through the camera perspective view. In addition to the standard 3D tools, FreeForm has tension adjustment to Bsplines (giving NURB-like control, something that other Bspline modelers don't), deformations, rail extrusion, morph extrusion, cross sectional skinning, automatic Bones creation, real-time Bones manipulation and on-line help. FreeForm even gives Real3D2 users a faster, easier to use Bspline environment, and up to a 20 times faster grayscale preview curve rendering. FreeForm 1.7+ is $70, requires at least a 68020 with a FPU, and 1.2 megs of Ram. Usable demo of V1.7 on Aminet ftp in gfx/3D, on the Lightwave ftp tomahawk.welch.jhu.edu pub/LW/utils and on Compuserve. Cash, check or money order to:

Fori Owurowa
1873-75 Cropsey Ave
Brooklyn, NY 11214
718-996-1842 12 noon to 7pm Eastern
[email protected]


Knowledge Media Ray Tracing CD ROM (a commercial)

Knowledge Media, Inc. has been selling a CD-ROM with POV and other ray tracing applications plus thousands of other files for two years now. This CD-ROM is updated every year and lists for $ 25.

The disc is titled GRAPHICS 1 Resource and it is full ( 650 Megabytes). It contains more 3000 files, many of them zipped collections. The actual file count exceeds 12,000.

The disc contains the full POV set as well as DKB, RAYSHADE, RADIANCE, RENAISSANCE, RAYSLIDE, etc. It also contains image processing, image converters, fractal, geometric, mapping, phigs, and image editoring applications. Where source code is available it is included. The CD is an ISO9660 CD and can be used on most platforms. Where available code for every platform supported by the application has been included. The disc also contains hundreds of objects, scenes, and images.

The most recent version of this CD-ROM is being released this month (October, 94). The title has been changed to better reflect the contents. The new title is:

"GRAPHICS + : Image Processing & Ray Tracing".

The pricing is still $ 25.00

It not only contains the latest versions of these packages, it also has an easy to use Windows 3.1 visual file browser, entitled CLEAR VUE. CLEAR VUE permits multiple layers of folders ( subdirectories) and instant execution of the Windows 3.1 applications simply by clicking on them. Text can be read, images viewed, or sounds played in the same fashion. It makes Windows 3.1 as easy to use as the Amiga or Macintosh. All this for only $ 25.00

Knowledge Media may be contacted at 1-800-78-CD-ROM ( 1-800-782-3766) or 1-916-872-7487 voice, 1-916-872-3826 FAX, email: [email protected]

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Scanline vs. Ray Tracing, by Loren Carpenter ([email protected]) and Sam Richards ([email protected])

Loren Carpenter ([email protected]) wrote:
>That said, look around you. Pick some direction and point your imaginary
>camera over there. Now, how many pixels in that frame NEED a raytracer.
>Who cares if the doorknob reflects your face? Is it part of the story? Or,
>does the door just need a knob so it will look like a door? Why raytrace
>99% of an image that doesn't need it?

Sam Richards ([email protected]) replies:

I would just like to stick up my hand in favor of the poor old Ray Tracer. At Blue Sky we have a pretty good ray tracer. When I first got to Blue Sky I was dubious as to how much I actually would need it. I have been pleasantly surprised how much we use it. It is partly to do with the fact that we went through a phase of doing shaver commercials (which require diffuse reflections as well as normal reflections). But where it is really useful is having the ability of saying "what would this scene look like if it were in the real world" (We can do radiosity, too!).

Sometimes having gotten a single frame that looks very real we then figure out how to cheat it using similar techniques to what a renderman user might do. Often the render times are low enough that we don't need to do that and simply render it as final. While I agree that for a large part of the environment you don't need a ray tracer there are quite a lot of object types that do have diffuse reflections.

I followed your advice and picked some direction in the room I am sitting at. In practically every direction I looked at I could see nice soft shadows. The problem with shadow maps is that you have to define the radius of the shadow, however in the room I am in I can see the shadows getting blurier according to the distance all over the room. The overhead light has a diffuse reflection in the glossy ceiling. Diffuse reflections are everywhere (the floor, and numerous metal surfaces around the room). And that's not even talking about the ambient light in the room.

All the things I saw in my room can be achieved, with varying degrees of success with renderman and probably many other commercial and public domain scan line renderers. However it does require operator intervention. The nice thing about ray-tracers is that you don't have to think about it! You just give the lights a radius and the shadows that they cast are soft and correct. We definitely pay a rendering cost for this. But as machines get quicker, the more the computer should do automatically.

However, currently there is a downside, which is that it is definitely slow, there have been some jobs that I would dearly loved to have RenderMan, however there are other jobs where if all I had was renderman I would have had many nightmares over trying to figure out how to render the scene.

In my ideal world, I would have both a scan-line and ray-tracing renderman, so that I at least could switch on the ray-tracing when I really needed it for particular objects. This would at least give me the speed of the scan-line renderers and the power of the ray-tracers when I need it.

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Pyramid Clipping, by Erik Reinhard ([email protected]) and Erik Jansen ([email protected])

[The paper concerning this work will be presented at the Sixth Eurographics Rendering Workshop in Dublin. -EAH]

Within a student project by Maurice van der Zwaan an implementation has been made of a directional ray traversal method that encloses a bundle of rays with a pyramid that is intersected with a bintree prior to tracing the rays. This pyramid clipping algorithm is similar to Ned Greene's algorithm in Graphics Gems IV, which intersects general polyhedrons with boxes.

We have compared the pyramid-bintree algorithm with the recursive ray-bintree and the standard ray-grid intersection algorithm. Testing was done on a Silicon Graphics Onyx workstation with 256 MB memory, allowing rather large models to be rendered. The balls and teapot models were taken from Eric Haines' standard procedural database. The grid method is from the standard Rayshade distribution and the bintree methods were implemented by us.

Rendering times (in seconds) for primary rays only are as follows:

Balls model:
Number of objects   ray-grid   ray-bintree   pyramid-bintree

11 21.40 28.16 25.50 92 23.06 33.25 27.86 821 24.68 37.95 30.24 7382 27.10 40.76 32.72 66431 31.71 42.98 37.30 597872 42.21 46.39 49.80

Teapot model: Number of objects ray-grid ray-bintree pyramid-bintree

23313 28.00 34.81 28.83 54433 30.82 36.52 31.60 98553 33.62 37.54 33.54 155673 36.10 39.12 35.98 225793 39.19 39.71 38.55 308511 40.78 40.85 40.44 403364 43.99 42.40 43.25

Despite the sheer size of the models, the three algorithms are remarkably similar. Pyramid clipping does not give additional advantages over the other two if used for speed purposes only. However, in parallel implementations it may be a superior method, as the number of objects referenced per bundle of rays is lower than that for single ray techniques. It may therefore be viewed as a technique to improve data coherence for efficient caching.

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Copyrighting Raytraced Images, by J Edward Bell ([email protected]), Benton Holzwarth ([email protected]), and Keith ([email protected])

>How do you copyright a raytraced image?

J Edward Bell comments:

Well, copyright is really quite simple. In the case of a photograph, when you take it, it is copyrighted. (It's not registered, which is a bit more involved, but *that* only adds certain rights, such as the right to receive damages for unauthorized usage.) All you have to do is afix to each copy the statement "1994 (c) Name" (assuming, of course, that the image was created in 1994, and that you put your name in for Name). That's all there is to it.

Now, in the case of a *synthesized* image, I would think that you would have to do two things to truly protect it--you would not only have to copyright the generated image, but (I would think) you would have to copyright the model file that generated it. For, in strictly legal terms, each run of the model file through a ray-tracer (again, I would think) would generate a *different* (and copyrightable) image. Copyrighting the model file is the same as the image--just put "1994 (c) Name" in the file.

So, in summary, since 1976, the gist of copyright is: you create it, it's copyrighted. As long as you label it as such, anyone using it without your permission is guilty of infringement, and can be tried and found guilty of a felony. For you to sue for damages, you have to register it. Details of that can be obtained from the Trademark and Copyright Office. It's a fairly simple process, but it's not free.


Benton Holzwarth ([email protected]) followed up:

I had an opportunity to chat with one of the company patent lawyers, who pretty much confirmed all this:

If you produce something, you hold copyright to it, whether you add the copyright mark/message or not. If it lacks the copyright mark/message, an infringer can claim to be an 'innocent infringer'. By adding the mark/message you deny them this defense.

He suggested the C-in-a-circle (I believe a 'C' in parenthesis is sufficient for textual materials) with your name, year, and the words 'All rights reserved.' which evidently has some international implications.

Registration is only really necessary if you begin legal proceeding against an infringer. It may be *desirable* to register some items, but only after they've shown some degree of permanence.


Keith ([email protected]) comments on:

>So, in summary, since 1976, the gist of copyright is: you create it, it's
>copyrighted. As long as you label it as such, anyone using it without
>your permission is guilty of infringement, and can be tried and found
>guilty of a felony. For you to sue for damages, you have to register it.
>Details of that can be obtained from the Trademark and Copyright Office.
>It's a fairly simple process, but it's not free.

True, but not 100% accurate. You CAN sue for damages but the amount you can receive is limited (I think to $25,000). There are different forms to register different types of material so it's good to write for information before registering for the first time. Registration costs $12 but if you've got something you'll be distributing it can be worth the time and trouble.

BTW, Here's the address for more information and registration: Copyright Office Library of Congress Washington, D.C. 20559


and Keith added this:

Here's the actual section from a little publication called Circular 1 from the Library of Congress, Copyright Office. Circular 1 is their document describing "Copyright Basics."


For works first published on and after March 1, 1989, use of the copyright notice is optional, though highly recommended. Before March 1, 1989, the use of the notice was mandatory on all published works, and any work first published before that date must bear a notice or risk loss of copyright protection. Use of the notices is recommended because it informs the public tat the work is protected by copyright, identifies the copyright owner, and shows the year of first publication. Furthermore, in the event that a work is infringed, if the work carries a proper notice, the court will not allow a defendant to claim "innocent infringement"-that is, that he or she did not realize that the work was protected. (A successful innocent infringement claim may result in a reduction in damages that the copyright owner would otherwise receive.) the use of the copyright notice is the responsibility of the copyright owner and does not require advance permission from, or registration with, the Copyright Office.

Form of Notice for Visually Perceptible Copies

The notice for visually perceptible copies should contain all of the following three elements::

1. _The symbol_ (c) (the letter C in a circle), or the word "Copyright," or the abbreviation "Copr."; and

2. _The year of first publication_ of the work. In the case of compilations or derivative works incorporating previously published material, the date of first publication of the compilation or derivative work is sufficient. The year date may be omitted where a pictorial, graphic, or sculptural work, with accompanying textual matter, if any, is reproduced in or on greeting cards, postcards, stationery, jewelry, dolls, toys, or any useful article; and

3. _The name of the owner of copyright_ in the work, or an abbreviation by which the name can be recognized, or a generally known alternative designation of the owner.

Example: (c) 1991 John Doe

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Octrees and Whatnot, by Steve Worley ([email protected]) and Eric Haines

[Steve wrote about how his SO and he were writing a ray tracer for her class assignment]

The octree we decided to use in particular was pretty successful. We decided to add a bounding box to the objects in each octree node, and this seemed to be a quite good speedup. Note that this change really makes the octree almost more like a hierarchical bounding volume as opposed to a space partition, especially after we allowed each node to hold objects as well as children nodes.

Anyway, I know you're a big fan of hierarchical bounding volumes. Any suggestions on good algorithms for making good partitioning? I can see how an octree-like partitioning algorithm could be a good starting point for one, especially when you start making the octree's three dividing planes free to "slide" to even out the objects in the nodes. (This is a lot like color quantization algorithms, eh?) But there's got to be some better references to building hierarchical BV's, and I can't remember any papers that talk about specifics. (I DO remember you talking about a neat rendering optimization though, when you trace a ray starting with the last hit object then moving up and out to the root instead of the other way around.)

Ah well. Sometimes going back to the basics really sparks things up again. I'm in the middle of designing a new hybrid rendering method, mostly octree-sorted Zbuffering for primary and ray tracing for secondary rays. It isn't that exciting for small scenes, but start adding lots of polygons and the thing cooks... rethinking my octree for by girlfriend's tracer has got me rethinking my space subdivision for my new, "real" renderer. Better to research now, before I start writing code!


[Steve writes again later discussing his octree idea]

Consider an octree for ray tracing acceleration, straight from Glassner. It's just a space partitioning. It uses object density to help control the depth of a local node split, but other than that, it's pretty object-ignorant.

Now, as a first level enhancement, each node of the octree isn't completely filled from side to side with objects of course. It will have objects in just a part of it. Now construct an axis aligned bounding volume for the node, so you know a tighter bound for where the objects are, inside the node. When you're traversing the tree, you can intercept the ray with this node bounding volume and decide whether to enter the node or not. The "pure" octree algorithm never "shrinks" the nodes, so nodes are definitely opened, even when the ray passes far away from the objects. With the extra layer of bounding boxes, you get trivial rejection a bit faster.

Another enhancement is when you have a large object, say one that intersects 4 or 5 nodes of the 8 possible. In this case, copying the object (well, a pointer to it) into each subnode becomes wasteful, since the object will come up for intersection multiple times (this is not that a big deal with a mailbox ID to prevent multiple testing, but that's still overhead.) So sometimes it's nice to keep an object in an octree node and NOT distribute the object to children nodes.

Now if you do both these optimizations, you get a nice little speedup from the "pure" octree. (100% to 70% for Tetra, 100% to 90% for the fractal mountain.) Not revolutionary, just a nice little boost. But if you notice, the octree space partition has been awfully corrupted from what it was. You have objects in middle nodes, and effectively have oddly-sized bounding volumes. It's getting closer to an object bounding hierarchy, not a space partition.


[and he discusses his octree z-buffer]

Ah, my hybrid. Still in the "designing in my head" stage, but I think it has a lot of promise.

You see, as perfect and wondrous as Ray Tracing is, it, sadly, has a problem. It's slow! For primary rays, especially in polygon scenes, Z buffering or scanline wins often by a factor of 2 or more. [Me, I'd say by 200 or more... - EAH]

Now a standard Z buffer sorts its objects from front to back before rendering, so there is surprisingly little overlap. The pixels that need to be multiply shaded are trivial, like just a few percent. So no, octree sorting is unnecessary and overkill in this respect.

What *I* am thinking of is the biggest disadvantage of z buffering. You still need to scan-convert each primitive. If a certain poly is hidden, it's pretty fast, but it still needs to be tested.

Now ray tracing, at its very very simplest, does just the same thing: it tests every polygon for every ray. This, of course, is insane, so we've designed everything from bounding volume hierarchies to NuGrid to make as few tests as possible, by rejecting collections of objects at once.

This same idea can be used for scan conversion. If you have a scene which is a little cabin in a forest, it is silly to scan convert the 10,000 polygons in a tree that can't be seen since it's behind the cabin.

So my idea (inspired by the paper from last year's SIGGRAPH, I shouldn't even say it's my idea! [Ned Greene's work, I assume]) is to scan convert (invisibly) an octree node. If any part of the octree node is visible, you need to open the node up and scan convert the children.

This suddenly makes the complexity of scan conversion MUCH less dependent on the number of primitives. Instead of being proportional to the number of polygons, it's more like it's proportional to the number of VISIBLE polygons.

Now the neat part is that we can use the same, IDENTICAL octree, and trace rays for shadows and secondary reflections. It's free, ready to go!

Anyway, that's the whole idea, and it should, in practice, help complex scenes a lot but not make any big changes for small ones (say with a mere couple thousand polygons).


Part of my reply:

>Now, as a first level enhancement, each node of the octree isn't
>completely filled from side to side with objects of course. It will

Yes, that's a good one, and I'm trying to recall if I've heard it before. Not offhand; I think it's one of those ideas that gets mentioned and not tested. Snyder & Barr in Siggraph '87 talk about clipping triangles directly to the cell (instead of just using the bounding box) in order to hit fewer cells, but that's not the same thing. Maybe in one of those GI octree optimizing papers? I know Glassner also talked about some octree tricks in his "Spacetime Ray Tracing for Animation" paper in IEEE CG&A, March 1988. More to the point, Subramanian studied octree variants for a long time, coming up with K-D tree methods (where the "octree" walls do slide). Unfortunately, it's only a tech report, never made it to a journal. Also interesting is J. David MacDonald's "Heuristics for Ray Tracing Using Space Subdivision" in GI '89, which also does k-d tree explorations.

It's an interesting question that isn't clear in my mind: say that one corner of an bintree cell is occupied. Is it better to just put a BV box around it (as you do, and which seems better to me) or to do what Subramanian and MacDonald contemplate: finding the optimal dividing plane for the cell, i.e. a dividing plane which tries to get equal numbers of primitives in each of the two sub-cells while also minimizing the total number of primitive pointers (i.e. given 40 objects, a 25/25 split is probably better than an 35/5 split, even though the latter has no primitives in both cells). Hmmm, maybe the answer is "both": slide the walls when the cell has a lot of primitives (and don't bother subdividing above some criteria. For example, a 38/38 split would be pretty useless), and use bounding volumes as you have when you get to the point where further subdivision is useless.

It's interesting to think of mixing the methods. For example, at the 38/38 split the bintree is useless, so maybe you go to grids or BV's or whatever. Arvo's old idea of mixing schemes [RTNews1] (and wouldn't that be a fun coding task...). My gut feeling nowadays is that Jevans' nested grids show a lot of potential: essentially you get the power of octrees (i.e. non-uniformly filled space doesn't kill the scheme) along with grid traversal speed. Hmmm, it's so hard to know... and I guess the savings are not going to be more than 2x overall, so probably pointless to worry about.

Which reminds me of another BV paper: Subramanian & Fussell in GI '91 talks about criteria for various methods ("Automatic Termination Criteria for Ray Tracing Hierarchies"). I should read this one again, I just skimmed it before.

>This same idea can be used for scan conversion. If you have a scene
>which is a little cabin in a forest, it is silly to scan convert the
>10,000 polygons in a tree that can't be seen since it's behind the

Having an octree or BV hierarchy definitely comes in handy for z-buffering. I know that some packages out there already do things like check for full clipping of the bounding boxes and so toss out a lot of data as time goes by. The nasty part of having to check each box against the z-buffer is the obvious: you gotta check each box against the z-buffer! There are some tricks, there, at least: use the closest z value for the box for all z comparisons (to save on all that interpolation), use the 2D screen bounds for the box (also sloppy, but then you avoid all the edge table set up), etc. I suspect there might also be some way to quickly categorize octree nodes and their primitives. For example, the closest node to the eye obviously does not need box testing (except for the quick clip test). If this node has something in it, then all neighboring nodes behind it could need the box z-buffer test, and so on - by assuming that a node does not need the box z-buffer test until there's evidence that something was in front of it might result in some savings. Anyway, fun to contemplate, I'll be interested to see what you come up with!

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Learning Radiance, by Kevin Matthews ([email protected])

One way to smooth out the Radiance learning curve is to build models with DesignWorkshop, a commercial Macintosh-based 3D modeler (with a really nice live 3D interface). DesignWorkshop has a direct export function for Radiance that not only provides a geometry file, with sophisticated sky function all set up, etc., but also automatically creates a couple of shell scripts sufficient to completely automate your initial rendering of a view of a model.

Of course, if you become a Radiance fiend you'll want to do more than the DW translation builds in, but even them it is a major time-saver and dumb-error preventer.

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Radiance vs. Pov, by "Cloister Bell" ([email protected])

Jonathan Williams ([email protected]) wrote:
>: My question is, I do basically artistic renderings, and am not incredibly
>: hung up on reality. What benefits (if any) does Radiance have over Pov? I'm
>: looking at things such as easier syntax (not likely),

Easier syntax is certainly not one of Radiance's benefits. Writing Radiance files, until you get the hang of it, is truly tortuous. It's really not that bad once you do get the hang of it, but the learning curve is very steep. I would say that the biggest benefit to the artist is that Radiance's scene description language, while being difficult, supports generic shape primitives and texture primitives. This allows you to create anything (well, within the limits of your machine's memory, etc.) you can think of. POV, by contrast, does limit you to the fixed and not entirely general shape primitives that it has (although heightfields somewhat make up for this, albeit in a less than elegant way), and even more so to the textures that it has. A secondary (or at least, less important to me) benefit is Radiance's more accurate lighting. If you have the CPU to burn (and the patience), you can get much better lighting in your scenes than with POV.

POV's strong points are that it does have a heck of a lot of different shape and texture primitives, and that its input language is much simpler. POV is truly a great renderer for the beginning and intermediate computer artist. But it lacks some of the more advanced features that Radiance has, and in the end that's why I switched.

[email protected] (Joel Hayes Hunter) writes [about POV vs. Radiance]:
>: more built-in shapes,

Well, yes and no. POV has more primitives, but Radiance handles shapes generically. If you like lots of primitives, then that's a plus for POV and a minus for Radiance, but that is also a limitation since you're limited to what you can do with those primitives. Notice the incredibly prevalent use of heightfields in POV to get around limitations of primitives. On the other hand, if you don't mind a little math in order to specify interesting shapes generically, then Radiance wins hands down even though it only has 9 or so object primitives. It has the primitives you are most likely to want, and anything else can be made (with varying degrees of effort) by parametrizing the surface you want to construct and specifying functions of those parameters which yield points on the surface. Clearly Greg Ward (the author of Radiance) had this tradeoff in mind when he wrote Radiance. I'd be willing to bet that he was faced with the choice between implementing dozens and dozens of procedures for handling all sorts of primitives and doing the job once, generically, and so he chose the latter.

This tradeoff is a win for shapes that do not easily decompose into geometric primitives, but a lose for ones that do. Some examples are in order (taken from a scene I'm working on currently):

1. Consider a 90 degree section of a tube. In POV this is a trivial CSG object, something like:

intersection {
  difference {
    cylinder {  // the outer cylinder
      <0,0,0>,  // center of one end
      <0,1,0>,  // center of other end
      0.5       // radius
    cylinder {  // the inner, removed, cylinder
  box {         // the 90 degree section of interest...
  texture {pigment Blue}

In Radiance, this object is difficult to produce. Consider that it has six faces, only 2 of which are rectangular. Each face has to be described separately:

# the rectangular end pieces:
polygon blue end1
  .4 0 0   .5 0 0   .5 0 1   .4 0 1

polygon blue end2
  0 .5 0   0 .4 0   0 .4 1   0 .5 1

# the curved corners of the towelbar

!gensurf blue right_outer_corner \
          '.5*cos((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          '.5*sin((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          's' 1 10 -s

!gensurf blue right_inner_corner \
          '.4*cos((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          '.4*sin((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          's' 1 10 -s

!gensurf blue right_bottom \
          '(.4+.1*s)*cos((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          '(.4+.1*s)*sin((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          '0' 1 10 -s

# same as previous, but translated up
!gensurf blue right_top \
          '(.4+.1*s)*cos((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          '(.4+.1*s)*sin((3+t)*PI*.5)' \
          '0' 1 10 -s | xform -t 0 0 2

Clearly POV wins hands down on this shape. But that's because this shape has such a simple decomposition in terms of regular primitives (actually, I do Radiance a small disservice with this example, since Radiance does have some CSG facilities which this example doesn't make use of).

2. Consider a curved shampoo bottle (modelled after the old-style "Head and Shoulders" bottle, before they recently changed their shape). This bottle can be described in English as the shape you get when you do the following:

Place a 1.25 x 0.625 oval on the ground. Start lifting the oval. As you do, change its dimensions so that its length follows a sinusoid starting at 1.25, peaking soon at 2.0, then narrowing down to 0.5 at the top, while the width follows a similar sinusoid starting at 0.625, peaking at 0.8, and ending at 0.5. By this point, the oval is a circle of radius 1 and is 8 units above the ground. The shape swept out by this oval is the bottle.

In Radiance this bottle is described as:

# the above-described shape
!gensurf blue body \
  '(1.25+.75*sin((PI+5*PI*t)/4))*cos(2*PI*s)' \
  '(.625+.125*sin((PI+5*PI*t)/4))*sin(2*PI*s)' \
  '8*t' 20 20 -s

# the bottom of the bottle, which i could leave out since no one will
# ever see it:
!gensurf blue bottom \
 's*1.7803*cos(2*PI*t)' \
 's*0.7134*sin(2*PI*t)' \
 '0' 1 20

# an end-cap, which people will see.
blue ring endcap
  0 0 8   0 0 1   0   0.5

In POV, well, I'll be kind and not describe how this could be made in POV. The only answer is "heightfields", which a) are tedious to make, and b) take up lots of space. Clearly Radiance kicks butt over POV on this example. That's because this shape doesn't have a simple breakdown in terms of geometric primitives on which one can do CSG, but it does have a simple description in terms of parametric surfaces.

So depending on what sort of objects are in your scene, you may decide to go with POV because they're simple and POV makes it easy, or you may decide to go with Radiance because they're not and because you like the feeling of mental machismo you get for being able to handle the necessary math to make "gensurf" (the generic surface constructor) do what you want.

>: different lighting and texture models, etc.

Radiance does win hands down for lighting simulation. That's what it was written for, and it's hard to compete with something that is the right tool for the job.

With textures, you are again faced with the choice of having a system with several primitive textures that you can combine however you like (POV), and a system that gives you many very good material properties and allows you to define your own textures mathematically in whatever way you can dream up. There are textures that Radiance can do that POV simply can't because POV's texture primitives can't be combined to handle it.

For example (don't worry, this isn't as nasty as the previous), how about a linoleum tile floor with alternating tiles, like you often see in bathrooms, where the tiles form groups like this:

    |___| | |
    |   | | |
    | | |___|
    | | |   |

You get the idea. The problem is how do you get the lines to be one color/texture and the open spaces to be another? In POV, the answer is "you use an image map". This is fine, except that it leaves the scene's author with the task of creating an actual image file to map in, for which s/he may not have the tools readily available, and that image maps take up a lot of memory (although probably not for a small example like this), and tweaking them later may not be simple. In Radiance, you can describe this floor mathematically (which is pretty easy in this case since it's a repeating pattern):

{ a tile floor pattern: }

# foreground is yellow, background is grey
foreground = 1 1 0
background = .8 .8 .8

xq = (mod(Px,16)-8);
yq = (mod(Py,16)-8);
x  = mod(mod(Px,16),8);
y  = mod(mod(Py,16),8);

htile(x,y) = if(abs(y-4)-.25, if(abs(y-4)-3.75,0,1), 0);
vtile(x,y) = if(abs(x-4)-.25, if(abs(x-4)-3.75,0,1), 0);

floor_color = linterp(if(xq,if(yq,htile(x,y),vtile(x,y)),

Granted, this is horribly unreadable and is rather tricky to actually write. What it boils down to is a bunch of conditions about the ray/floor intersection point (Px, Py) such that some of the points are eventually assigned to be the foreground color, and some the background color. I won't explain the details of how those expressions produce the above pattern, but they do. Also note that I've simplified this example down to one color channel; in an actual Radiance function file you can specify wholly different functions for the red, green, and blue channels of the texture you're defining.

The salient feature of this example is that Radiance has facilities (even if they're hard to use) for creating any texture you like, so long as you can describe it mathematically in some form or another. And if you can't, you can always fall back on an image map as in POV.

POV, on the other hand, offers you a pile of built in textures, but to create a fundamentally different texture you have to actually add some C code to POV. Many users are not programmers, or may happen to be on a DOS system where you don't actually get a compiler with the system, which makes this solution impractical. And even if they can program a new texture, it will be a long time before it can get incorporated into the official POV distribution and thus be available to people without compilers.

Of course, POV has lots of neat ways to combine textures and do some pretty eye-popping stuff, but we all know how much of a speed hit layered textures are. This is, in my opinion, why we see such an overuse of marble and wood textures in POV; marble and wood are reasonably interesting to look at and anything else is either boring, not worth implementing in C, or too slow to do with layered textures.

>: I'm not really concerned about speed, as I'm running on a unix box at
>: school, but if it's going to take days to render simple images (a ball on a
>: checkered field), I'd like to know.

I've actually been pretty impressed with Radiance's speed. It compares quite well to POV. I would say that it is on the whole faster than POV, although as scene complexity increases in different ways, that comparison can go right out the window. For example, POV gets really slow when you have layered textures and hoards of objects. Radiance does fine with lots of objects because of the way it stores the scene internally, but also slows down with complex textures. Radiance suffers more (imho) than POV when adding light sources, especially if there are any reflectives surfaces in the scene. This is due to the mathematical properties of the radiosity algorithm. Also, Radiance has a lot of command line options that allow you to cause the rendering to take much much longer in order to further improve the accuracy of the simulation. Life is full of tradeoffs.

In the balance I'd say that for the day to day work of previewing a scene that is under development, Radiance is faster. Radiance wins in simple scenes by using an adaptive sampling algorithm that can treat large flat areas very quickly while spending more time on the interesting parts of the image. When you crank up the options and go for the photo-quality lighting with soft shadows, reflections, and the whole works, be prepared to leave your machine alone for a few days. The same is true of POV, of course.

>: Also I believe its primitives and textures are quite limited (only a few of
>: each).

See above. In addition, Radiance has a lot more primitive material types than POV does. POV treats everything more or less as if it were made out of "stuff" that has properties you can set about it. That's fine most of the time, but isn't very realistic; different material types do actually interact with light differently in a physical sense. Radiance gives you different material types to handle those differences. Radiance takes the approach to materials that POV takes to shapes -- lots of primitives.

>: But apparently nothing in the whole universe models actual light as
>: accurately as this program does, so if that's what you want go for it...

Well, it's a big universe, so I'd hesitate to say that. :) But I would venture to say that Radiance is the best free package that you'll find for doing lighting simulation. It's still missing some features that I'd like to see like reflection from curved surfaces [i.e. caustics] and focussing of light through transparent curved surfaces. Of course, I know how hard those things are to implement, so I'm not seriously criticising any renderers out there for not doing them.

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Overlapping Refractors, by Steve Worley ([email protected]) and Eric Haines

I've done it! I've finally implemented a full ray tracer and it's finally complete. I do Whitted and Torrance/Cook shading, distributed BDRF reflection and refraction, algorithmic textures, image mapping, adaptive antialiasing, displacement mapping, Phong shading, light penumbras, depth of field, volume rendering (for stuff like patchy fog, really a hypertexture hook), and probably half a dozen other things.

Anyway, it works great and I'm very pleased with it!

Now, for my dumb question. The only real hitch I ever had with the program was trying to figure out how to do refraction PROPERLY. I mean simple refraction transmission; nothing fancy. Figuring out the refraction ray at a hitpoint is a snap, of course; my problem was figuring out the index of refraction ratio.

In my tracer, every object is assigned an index of refraction. I assume air is 1.0.

Now I have a hit point, and it's transparent, so I fire a refraction ray. Suddenly my coding comes to a stop; I need to know *TWO* indexes of refraction, one for the material the ray is coming from, and one for the object I have just hit.

ARGH! This was annoying! It took HOURS to get working. You see, you can't just store the index of refraction of the material you're traveling in, then use it with your hit surface refraction index. This works great for inital refractions, but not for secondary ones, like entering and leaving a sphere; your second ray says "I'm travelling through an index of refraction 1.5, and I just hit a surface with index 1.5, I'll go straight through with no refraction." Whups!

It gets bad. You really need to TOGGLE between indexes of refraction, say from 1.0 to 1.5 on the first hit with a material, and 1.5 back to 1.0 on the second hit.

But even that's not true! What if you have an extra layer, like a glass tumbler filled with water? then you go from 1.0 to 1.5, 1.5 to 1.33, 1.33 to 1.5, 1.5 to 1.0.


This was a much harder problem than I had ever expected it would be. I ended up implementing a stack of refraction indexes. If I hit a new material, I'd refract using the index on the top of the stack and the index of the new material. If the hit was the same material I had LAST put onto the stack, I popped the stack and used the top two indexed for the ratio. Finally, this worked!

Of course, it breaks for non-solid geometries, like a raw polygon hanging in the air, but that's just a bad input specification.

While my stack works, it's awfully messy, especially since I need to be careful when recursing with REFLECTION rays; I sort of need to "lock" the stack at a certain level so that a refraction after a reflection doesn't inadvertently pop a layer that's needed in the "parent" shading call.

So my dumb question to you is: How The Heck Is Refraction Really Done? It's interesting that throughout the entire design and implementation of my (pretty complete) ray tracer, this was the only thing that really made me think "geez, how are you supposed to do this?" There's got to be a standard method for keeping track of indexes of refraction. I get the feeling any solution will be stack based, but there's go to be a better way than my hack, especially when I want to deal with reflection nodes.

Surprisingly, this problem doesn't really seem to be discussed in Intro to Ray Tracing.. I had never really thought about it before until the actual second I started typing in refraction code. Whups.

So tell me, all-knowing Master Tracer, what's the True Method Of Refraction?


Eric's reply:

The ray tracer sounds pretty great! Displacement mapping? I assume you mean bump mapping (and not RenderMan displacement mapping, where the surface really does get deformed)? Are light penumbras via stochastic ray tracing, or is something more clever going on (this is a problem I think about every now and again - I hate having to shoot 16 shadow rays per intersection per light just to find all 16 hit the light (or all 16 missed) - this is like 90%+ of what happens with these things, so I'm looking for simplifications).

>Now, for my dumb question. The only real hitch I ever had with the
>program was trying to figure out how to do refraction PROPERLY. I

If we assume a well-behaved scene, then just keep track of whether you're hitting the front face or back face. If front, then you're entering a refractor; if back, you're exiting.

Unfortunately, you can get overlapping refractors (which strictly should not be possible), like say a glass marble in a glass of water. No one in their right minds models the extra sphere where the water ends and the marble starts, i.e. they just plunk the marble in the water and hope the software figures it out. In this case, yep, a stack is necessary. If you have something really stupid, like two overlapping spheres with different indices of refraction, then all bets are off (and, hey, what the heck material is that place where the two spheres overlap?).

This reminds me: how did you get around the epsilon problem [RTNews2]? i.e. when you launch a ray from a surface, how do you avoid hitting the surface itself? I like identifying each ray as "entering" or "exiting" when testing the ray against the object it originated upon.

For example, you start two rays from a glass torus. A torus can have multiple intersections, so it's a good test case. A reflection ray is considered entering, that is, it's not traveling through an object but rather is going through space and could enter an object. When it's tested against the torus the only intersection found is at, say, 0.0000121 (i.e. the original torus itself, due to precision error). Normally this would be a valid intersection if no corrective technique is performed, or perhaps you rely on some epsilon value (which doesn't always work, depending on your data; if the epsilon is too low, black dots appear on the surface, too high and you start to miss valid intersections where objects touch and holes appear).

Since we know that the ray is "entering", so the only valid intersections are those in which the ray is "entering" the surface; if it's "exiting", then the intersection can be ignored. When we take the normal at the torus' intersection point, we find that it points in the same direction as our ray, so this intersection at 0.0000121 is an "exiting" intersection and so can be safely ignored. There's nothing deep here, just the realization that if the reflection ray and the exterior surface's normal point the same direction then the intersection can be ignored (similar to backface culling).

Conversely, say a refraction ray (an "entering" ray) hits at 0.0000327 and 0.22432. The first intersection is an exiting intersection so we can ignore it, and the next one is used because we find it's an entering ray.

Things get easier for spheres: entering (reflection) rays which originate on a sphere can never hit the sphere. Polygons are trivial, of course: a ray originating on a polygon can never hit the polygon. Note that there's no use of any epsilon in this method: objects are simply handled correctly by looking at the nature of the object or the intersection itself compared to the surface normal.

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Raytracing Particle Systems, by Jos Stam ([email protected])

[email protected] (David Young) writes:
> I'd like to have some input on how others have handled particle
>systems & ray tracing. I have a few ideas for fiery little particles
>(as opposed to smoke or water vapor particles):

I have used particle systems to model various gaseous phenomena. The motion of the particles is achieved through the superposition of wind fields. I use smooth wind fields (directional, point, vortex, ...) to model the average motion ("sketch" of the motion) and a turbulent wind field to model the small scale motions.

The particles are ray-traced by blurring them in space and time (density highest at center of the blob). The rendering is efficient as the transparency (along a ray) is a function of the ray to the center of the blob only. By using a hierarchical tree of bounding spheres the fuzzy particles can be rendered from front to back efficiently.

A cheap trick to model fire is to assign a point light source to each particle. [Yikes! (even assuming no shadow computations) -EAH] This is pretty expensive though and not PC (physically correct).


Reeves, Particle Systems. A Technique for Modelling a Class of Fuzzy Objects, SIGGRAPH'83, 359-376.

Sims, Particle Animation and Rendering Using Data Parallel Computation, SIGGRAPH'90, 405-413.

Stam and Fiume, Turbulent Wind Fields for Gaseous Phenomena, SIGGRAPH'93, 369-376.

Also Wyvill's group at the U. of Calgary has a method of raytracing fuzzy particles. Don't know if it is published.

And there are many other papers I have left out. E-mail me for more details.

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Answers/References on Cone Tracing, by Brent Baker ([email protected])

Frank Belme writes:
> I was wondering if anyone could give me references on ray tracing with
> cones. I have read the paper from the SIGGRAPH '84 proceedings by
> J. Amanatides (sp.?). Any other references would be greatly
> appreciated.
> PS. I don't mean how to ray trace a cone, I mean ray tracing using a cone
> instead of a ray.

There is a brief explanation of cone tracing in the text: Advanced Animation and Rendering Techniques (Theory and Practice) by Alan and Mark Watt, (pp 260-262). They reference the Amantatides paper you mention, and also:

R. L. Cook, et al. Distributed Ray Tracing, Computer Graphics, 18(3), pp 137-44, (Proc. SIGGRAPH '84)

The Watt & Watt book also discusses Beam Tracing, which is similar to cone tracing, but motivated by efficiency concerns, rather than image quality. Some references:

Heckbert and Hanrahan, Beam Tracing Polygonal Objects, (Proc. SIGGRAPH '84) pp. 119-27

Shinya, et al., Principles and Applications of Pencil Tracing, (Proc. SIGGRAPH '87) pp. 45-54

Speer, et al., A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis of Coherent Ray Tracing, Computer Generated Images, pp 11-25. (Proc. of Graphics Interface, '85)

At first look, cone tracing is a cool idea. I don't know if anyone has found a good solution its problems.

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Dumb Radiosity Question, by Steve Worley ([email protected]) and Eric Haines

[Actually, an insightful radiosity question, but that was the title of the original note. -EAH]

My latest topic is radiosity and I've been reading paper after paper on it.

I have a dumb confusion which doesn't seem to be explicitly stated in any of the papers. I though you might help me.. :-)

Obviously the radiosity solution computes the lack of first-order light flux on directly shadowed surfaces (patches which have no direct line of sight to a prime light source) and this greatly affects their own respective emmitivity. Second, third, and nth order effects from multiple diffuse bounces get added until you say "OK, good enough."

Now you have the radiosity solution. When rendering, you now know the diffuse emmitivity from each patch. This includes the fact that shadows (those first order ones) have much less emmitivity: that is your shadow computation has already been done and so this is not necessary to compute when rendering. Yes? [Yes. -EAH] In fact this is one of the primary uses of radiosity; those primary shadows, since they are formed from patch to patch form factors and not point to point ray sampling are soft: fuzzy edged shadows! Huzzah huzzah! Of course the resolution of this fuzzy shadow area depends on your meshing.

Ok. Here's my dumb question. Using radiosity to make soft shadows works, but, unless you're doing a walk-through or something, isn't it horribly inaccurate and inefficient? Standard distributed ray tracing for fuzzy shadows can operate on a pixel by pixel basis, and give much more accurate results (It's not based on a mesh, it's "on demand" at whatever accuracy you need). The goal of radiosity must not be those simple first order shadows, but for the color bleeding and multiple-order diffuse lighting effects. If you just wanted fuzzy primary shadows you'd just use distributed ray sampling, which is faster and much more accurate. (you could use this ray testing just for shadows if you like, using a z buffer for geometry or whatever if you wished.)

With this in mind, I keep thinking either I've missed a point in practical radiosity implementation or that there's a MUCH better way to handle this problem. The way I would do this would be to solve the radiosity equations but keep track of "first order" emmitivity and "2nd order and higher" emmitivity separately. The total emmitivity, used in the computation of the radiosity solution, is just the sum of these two. The first order emmitivity would be ONLY from the flux received from the original lights (whatever is a true bright light source). The radiosity solution would continue like normal, progressively refining multiple order interreflections, (using total emmitivity) until that reaches a solution good enough for your tastes. At RENDER time, though, you'd take and only apply the emmitivity due to NON-first order effects. The first order effects would be recomputed on a sample by sample basis by distributed ray tracing to each light. Since this primary light contribution is done using ray casting at need, its error will be very low, and there will be no mesh artifacts. The radiosity information for the multiple-order effects can be added for the ambient light contribution.. this is much more subtle and although it has meshing artifacts, it provides that global indirect lighting solution that ray-sampling can't easily do.

My question is whether I'm just being dumb and this is the way that everyone does it already? After looking at a couple radiosity papers which talk about meshing artifact reduction, every example seems to be from a primary shadow edge... this annoys me since we know how to compute these first order fuzzy shadows pretty easily and radiosity's real strength is for multiple order effects and color bleeding.

So tell me, how is it really done in practice?


Eric's reply:

>In fact this is one of the
>primary uses of radiosity; those primary shadows, since they are
>formed from patch to patch form factors and not point to point ray
>sampling are soft: fuzzy edged shadows! Huzzah huzzah! Of course the
>resolution of this fuzzy shadow area depends on your meshing.

And which is something that's fairly bogus about radiosity - the shadows are always soft, even when they should be sharp (and in fact sharp == very expensive, as you note, since you have to go to a high mesh factor along the shadow edges or otherwise compute them - a la Campbell or others).

>Ok. Here's my dumb question. Using radiosity to make soft shadows
>works, but, unless you're doing a walk-through or something, isn't it
>horribly inaccurate and inefficient?

I agree! (as an aside, professional illustrators tend to think 3D graphics is mostly a waste of time if no animation is performed, and they're mostly right: it's easier for them to just paint what they want in a still than to model something in which you are going to make just a single image).

>The goal of radiosity must not be be
>those simple first order shadows, but for the color bleeding and
>multiple-order diffuse lighting effects. If you just wanted fuzzy
>primary shadows you'd just use distributed ray sampling, which is
>faster and much more accurate. (you could use this ray testing just
>for shadows if you like, using a z buffer for geometry or whatever if
>you wished.)

Indeed, this is just the sort of thing we do in our rendering package: you can easily blend ray tracing and radiosity. One way we do it is to still use the radiosity solution for primary shadows, then the ray tracing becomes a matter of intersecting a surface and finding the shadow information in the corresponding mesh. This saves a lot of rendering time (no shadow testing). If you think the mesh stinks, though, you can then (though we haven't made this a released feature) make the ray tracer just do normal shadow testing or fuzzy shadowing. Makes for cool pictures: nice curved surfaces with reflections and soft shadows and nice ambient.

Though, to be honest, I don't think meshed radiosity does a great job with interreflection computations. Light falls on the floor from overhead lights. How do you correctly split up the floor so that light on it correctly bounces around? Some areas are in shadow, and some light areas are right next to receiving polygons (e.g. the walls) and cause some problems. All the problems are solvable, but the number of different important situations is real nasty.

The advantage radiosity has is that most people don't know/care about the exact correctness of the interreflections, as long as they are there. This is an interesting issue! What if an architect uses radiosity and shows a client a rendering of his potential building, the building gets built, but never looks like the rendering in terms of lighting [Credit to Dan Ambrosi, now at SGI, for this question.? Artist's renditions of a building never look like the real thing, either, but no one expects them to. Using "scientific lighting computation models" could be an interesting legal headache someday... Also, getting back to the "too soft" shadows, this is a bonus! Photographers usually have to work hard to soften or get rid of shadows in commercial display photos, for example. With radiosity there is rarely any doubt that it's a shadow you're looking at (unlike standard ray tracing, where sharp shadow lines often subtract from the overall understanding of the image).

BTW, did you read my net paper about some of the interesting problems in radiosity? It's at ftp://princeton.edu/pub/Graphics/Papers/Ronchamp.tar.Z.

>My question is whether I'm just being dumb and this is the way that
>everyone does it already? After looking at a couple radiosity papers
>which talk about meshing artifact reduction, every example seems to be
>from a primary shadow edge... this annoys me since we know how to
>compute these first order fuzzy shadows pretty easily and radiosity's
>real strength is for multiple order effects and color bleeding.

I agree, it's just sort of lazy to do primary shadows with radiosity - but, laziness is one of the goals of computer graphics! Do as little as you can get away with (I'm serious). The "right" way for any of this is a million rays per pixel and monte carlo till you drop (talk to Pete Shirley). While we wait the 50 years it'll take to get computers this fast, we're biding our time coming out with algorithms for the interim. Sort of like what people did with hidden surface until Z-buffer hardware appeared. Anyway, I do have to admit that with Ronchamp it was great to have a solution which took a day to compute (5000 shots of emmisivity), but then could be viewed almost interactively and could be rendered nicely very quickly (15 minutes a frame, with 10 of those being for computing the beams o' light I added in using Monte Carlo). Computing diffuse shadows would have probably added 30 minutes or so (at least) a frame, given the 64K polygon database and 6 or so primary light sources - instead of 2 months of frame computation, it would have been 6 (and I would have lost my mind baby-sitting our flakey Apollo DN 10000 machine - I'm so happy we finally tossed this sucker).

Anyway, I've rambled on long enough; just my view, take it all with a grano of salo.


Steve replies:

You have cleared up some of this confusion. Indeed, the precomputed shadows will dramatically decrease rendering time for anims. I guess I think more about the theory versus the practice. I was thinking about accuracy, mostly, under the theory that if you're going to do radiosity, you're obviously CONCERNED with accuracy. (I guess this goes especially for something like Radiance which really tries to be a simulator of real lighting calculations.)

> This saves a lot of rendering time (no shadow testing). If you think
> the mesh stinks, though, you can then (though we haven't made this a
> released feature) make the ray tracer just do normal shadow testing or
> fuzzy shadowing.

Ah, now this relates to what I was thinking about. Replacing the primary shadows in the radiosity with a more accurate direct computation. How do you do this? Do you split the emmisivity contributions in the original matrix into primary and n-th order effects?

In terms of accuracy, this seems like the best possible strategy! The biggest problem with radiosity is high frequency details which need tight meshing at the intensity boundaries. And sharp details are really only seen at the primary shadow boundaries, not the nth-order interdiffuse reflections.

I can see how tempting it is to use the radiosity for direct shadows: they ARE, after all, precomputed and ready to use! I agree that the best way to render is to use WHATEVER method that gives you the best results for the least effort.

What I am thinking about though is that perhaps using ray traced first-order shadows and radiosity for the leftover multiple-order effects might let you get away with a horribly coarse radiosity solution, little or no adaptive meshing, more error in the matrix solution, etc. Why put a lot of effort into a refined radiosity solution if the nth order effects are relatively robust to errors?

Again I keep thinking about all the papers that try different ways of increasing the radiosity accuracy by adaptive meshes, more accurate form factors, etc, and most of these show pictures with "before" and "after" radiosity images. What strikes me with these images is that the visible error is blatant in the primary shadows (mostly from coarse meshing) and pretty much undetectable for the higher-order shadings.


I reply:

>Ah, now this relates two what I was thinking about. Replacing the
>primary shadows in the radiosity with a more accurate direct
>computation. How do you do this? Do you split the emmisivity
>contributions in the original matrix into primary and n-th order

Yes, I had that in the system for awhile, though our latest architecture does not use this. We finally didn't bother with distributed ray traced shadows because they took too long, there were issues about sampling area lights with ray tracing, etc. Instead we went with a scheme where we recorded how much each vertex was in shadow with respect to the first 16 primary lights in the scene, with 16 levels (i.e. 4 bits) of accuracy. This allowed us to at least get the specular highlights more or less correct when ray tracing or even just doing scanline rendering (highlights were a lot more important than perfect fuzzy shadows, and lots cheaper to compute, too). In fact, this "shadow bit" technique is a part of some of HP's hardware boxes for this purpose, giving us realtime radiosity with specular highlights (without the shadow bits you'd get specular highlights on surfaces in shadow, which was disturbingly wrong).

Another interesting technique: Do radiosity, then shoot rays from the eye to the visible mesh vertices in the image just like you're ray tracing. Blend in the highlight/reflection/transmission colors you compute into the mesh point's RGB radiosity contribution. Now you display the polygons like you normally do with meshed radiosity - voila, "soft" reflections and transmission because you interpolate between samples. Obviously the ray traced contributions are view dependent, so you compute these and add them into the vertices on the fly (i.e. when you output a polygon). Since you're ray tracing you can't do this massively quickly, but there are a lot less vertices visible (normally) than there are pixels in an image so it's pretty quick, good for previewing at least (and it sometimes looks better than the perfect reflections offered by classical ray tracing). Yes, you get various artifacts (soft reflections when they should be hard, and meshing artifacts galore - just like primary light meshed radiosity) but many of these could be attacked in the same way as meshed radiosity: check continuity of mesh point samples and add new samples to the mesh if needed. I like this one a lot - you do get a lot of the punch of radiosity and ray tracing (and soft reflections to boot) without extremely serious sampling.

[The Microcosm system turns out to have implemented this algorithm, sans subdivision and meshing of objects. See RTNv7n5]

>What I am thinking about though is that perhaps using ray traced
>first-order shadows and radiosity for the leftover multiple-order
>effects might let you get away with a horribly coarse radiosity
>solution, little or no adaptive meshing, more error in the matrix
>solution, etc. Why put a lot of effort into a refined radiosity
>solution if the nth order effects are relatively robust to errors?

Yes, I think I touched on this last message. People really don't care about utter accuracy for the second order things, they just want some light on the matter (har har), and slowly varying light is a lot more interesting than dull ambient add-in light. Which is why a lot of the artifacts from radiosity techniques (meshed or Radiance-like) usually don't matter. You just have to make sure you don't get real serious artifacts, and you could do this by filtering out the high frequencies and/or high amplitude nth-order effects (in other words, if you smooth out the various continuity changes so that the second order lighting contributions do not dramatically change over a surface, then you normally won't get any weird second+ order lighting artifacts). This philosophy comes from that great computer graphics guru Chee Ting, but it is one way to make pretty (vs. "realistic") pictures. Of course, you also won't get the right answer, but...

It's interesting to look around my own house for ugly lighting situations: the sun hits the corner of a mirror and that reflected light places a distorted rectangle on the wall. In a photo of the wall, do I really want to see this sharp blob of light? Probably not, if I'm just showing someone how nice my living room looks. Maybe not even if I'm doing an analysis of general room lighting. The interesting thing is that there are often weird blobs of light around. On my desk I can see four funky bright lines of light from where the four fluorescents overhead penetrate a narrow crack between two shelves. If this lighting pattern was in a computer graphics image, we'd all speculate as to what caused this bug.

Another quick story: in the new computer graphics lab at Cornell there's a hallway where the light comes on down the corridor. You can see regular fluctuations on the walls of the lighting - it's where the drywalls come together, and there's a discontinuity at each seam. My comment about this hallway is "look at the meshing artifacts in this image". Which is indeed what they would look to us graphics geeks like if you perfectly rendered it onto a computer screen.

So it's an interesting question whether realism is always what you really want. We should of course continue to research photorealism, but there's also a definite need for photoidealism (to coin a word), where you want the "nicest" looking image given a set of inputs, not the most realistic. Of course, "nice" is very subjective, but adding soft shadows, getting rid of confusing reflections (which would be more expensive for ray tracing) and stray blobs of light (like the mirror blob), and similar stuff is interesting to contemplate. Anyway, that's my zany idea for the day.


Steve replies:

Hey, an add-on to your super-fast vertex tracer idea. This might be kinda cool not just for previews, but for a full tracing acceleration scheme. When you fire secondary rays, you can look at the secondary hits that the current polygon's vertices found, and test those first. You'll likely get a hit, so you'll cull any more distant intersections. Same with shadows. It's really a type of last-hit cache, but it's indexed in object space, not image space. I dunno how much this could help, but it'd be awfully cheap.

On another topic, Eric, that's a really sweet trick you have for adding in "soft" reflections and transmissions. Sure, you're geared up to do intensity interpolation for every hit anyway, so the extra overhead of tracing a few (thousand) vertices is nothing compared to tracing every pixel. Very ad-hoc, since as you say, everything will be soft and not perfect, but it'd give you a very very fast and fairly good idea of the reflection and transmission effects. You could even divorce this from the radiosity and use it in any tracer, and use it for shadows as well. Again, you'd get artifacts, but speedwise it'd rock and roll.


I reply:

Exactly! Just determine vertex visibility, trace rays to them, shade them, and output the polygons to a scanline renderer. The thing is, though, that meshing the suckers with respect to some screen space resolution is really worthwhile to look half decent, so you still may want to do object space meshing (vs. taking every 64th [8x8] pixel and ray tracing it - I'll leave it to you to figure out the problems with this idea... [bad because suddenly you lose the edges of the objects from the eye's point of view, if you simply interpolate every 64th pixel]) For an example of why you want to mesh, imagine a large polygon being rendered. With no sample points in the interior, the shading depends entirely on what is computed at the corners and that's it. A spotlight shining on the middle of the polygon but not the corners will cast no light at all when doing Gouraud shading. So, you still want to do something like initial radiosity meshing to capture the shading. Essentially, this is a poor man's RenderMan (RenderBoy?): instead of meshing an object down to the subpixel level you mesh it to some fairly reasonable resolution (e.g. each poly covers say 100 pixels or less) and shade it from there.

>It might be fast enough for interactive viewing if you
>had hardware Z buffering and Gouraud shading. Wow, that'd be really
>interesting to see.

Like you noticed, you really need just a few thousand rays for an image, a three magnitude speed increase in ray tracing time (though the meshing's a pain, unless you just do it once up front and call it a day).

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Good Book on 3d Animation, by Scott McCaskill ([email protected])

CIDAAL Electronics ([email protected]) wrote:
> Does anybody know of a good book on 3D graphics algorithms. I need
> something pretty detailed, that covers solids, shading, lightings and
> all that jazz. Any help or recommendations are welcome. Thanks in advance.

I have looked at a lot of graphics books over the last several years, and my current favorite is _3d Computer Animation_ by John Vince. Although not as thorough as the book by Foley et al (I believe that one is _Computer Graphics: Principles and Practice_), it gives some of the most easily understandable explanations I've seen. It covers everything you mentioned, and more. It's published by Addison-Wesley, and you should definitely take a look at it. If it turns out that it's not detailed enough for you, then the book by Foley et al is what you need (it's considered by many to be the "bible" of computer graphics, and for good reason).

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Animation Books, by Dave DeBry ([email protected])

[from the Animators Mailing List; see the Ray Tracing Roundup. -EAH]

[email protected] spilled a Coke on the keyboard, producing this:
> I just subscribed to this list and want to learn about traditional and
> computer animation. Are there any books that readers of this list can
> recommend.

Here's some of the books listed on this list in the past concerning that question.


        Preston Blair
        Walter Foster Publishing

        Preston Blair
        How To Animate Film Cartoons
        Walter Foster Publishing

        John Canemaker
        Storytelling In Animation: The Art Of The Animated Image
        American Film Institute

        John Cawley, Jim Korkis
        How To Create Animation
        Pioneer Press

        Shamus Culhane
        Animation From Script To Screen
        St. Martin's Press

        Betty Edwards
        Drawing On The Right Side Of The Brain
        Jeremy P. Tarcher Inc.

        Milt Gray
        Cartoon Animation: Introduction To A Career
        Lion's Den

        Bob Heath
        Animation In 12 Hard Lessons

        Thomas W. Hoffer
        Animation: A Reference Guide
        Greenwood Press

        John Lasseter
        Principles Of Tradition Animation Applied To 3D Computer Animation
        SIGGRAPH '87, Computer Graphics, Vol. 21, No. 4

        Kimon Nicolaides
        The Natural Way To Draw
        Houghton Mifflin

        Kit Laybourne
        The Animation Book
        Crown Publishers

        Roy P. Madsen
        Animated Film: Concepts, Methods, Uses
        Interland Publishing Inc.

        Frank Thomas, Ollie Johnston
        Disney Animation: The Illusion of Life

        Harold Whitaker, John Halas
        Timing For Animation
        Focal Press

        Tony White
        The Animator's Workbook
        Watson-Guptill Publications

        S. S. Wilson
        Puppets And People
        Tantivy Press

        Education Of A Computer Animator
        SIGGRAPH '91, Course 4


        Joe Adamson
        Tex Avery: King Of Cartoons
        Da Capo Paperback

        Patrick Brion
        Tex Avery

        Christopher Finch
        The Art Of Walt Disney: From Mickey Mouse To The Magic Kingdoms

        Chuck Jones
        Check Amuck: The Life And Times Of An Animated Cartoonist
        Avon Books

        Leonard Maltin
        Of Mice And Magic: A History Of American Animated Cartoons
        Plume / New American Library

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Fast Algorithms for 3D Graphics, by Glaeser: Any Good? by Brian Hook ([email protected])

Generally a good book, nothing spectacular. Worth having if you're a computer graphics professional, probably not worth having if you are just building up your library. Some of those "fast algorithms" aren't exactly the epitome of blazing.

Not many very advanced topics, not many true "tricks" and optimizations like some of Graphics Gems, but a lot of fairly solid material.

The code is in C, however it's formatted poorly -- italics for code? Who thought of THAT one?!

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Order of Rendering and Fast Texturing, by Bruno Levy, Dan Piponi ([email protected]) and Bernie Roehl ([email protected])

[There was a discussion of how to render quickly using various techniques. It's not ray tracing, so you purists out there should avert your eyes. Anyway, I thought it was interesting, and the texturing idea has been bouncing around the net ever since. -EAH]

Bruno Levy says:

flat-shading                    : 0 interpolation  / pixel(quite fast)
Gouraud shading - colormap mode : 1 interpolation  / pixel
Gouraud shading - RGB mode      : 3 interpolations / pixel
texture mapping                 : 2 interpolations / pixel
Phong shading                   : 3 interpolations + a square root / pixel


Dan Piponi responds:

That's a pretty good way of expressing the answer but can I refine this model a bit. From my experience it is memory accesses rather than interpolations that form the bottleneck - talking to various people this seems to be true on many architectures. An interpolation typically takes one machine instruction using two registers - 1 clock cycle on a 486(?). A memory access on the other hand can take a few clock cycles - especially if you have a fast processor.

I suggest:

flat shading:                   1 access / pixel
gouraud shading:                1 access / pixel
                                assuming all of the colour dimensions fit
                                into registers otherwise add up to 3
                                accesses /pixel / colour dimension
texture mapping by
horizontal scanline:            2 accesses / pixel
free direction texture mapping: 3 accesses / pixel
phong shading:                  1 access / pixel if you have enough registers
                                but now the mathematics becomes the
                                bottleneck depending on your algorithm.
z-buffering:                    1 access / pixel not drawn
                                3 accesses / pixel drawn

All of these can be improved if you can read/write more than 1 pixel per memory write - for example using a VESA local bus on a PC you can write 4 pixels in one write instruction (and I'm working on getting the free direction texture mapping down to 2.5 accesses / pixel...)

The truth is probably an interpolation between the two tables above!


Bernie Roehl says:

Perspective-corrected texture mapping involves at least one divide per pixel.


Dan Piponi replies:

No it doesn't! I've got some code working that I described a little while ago in this newsgroup although lots of other people had already figured the method out. Look up `free direction texture mapping' in the games player encyclopaedia for example.

Dan's earlier note:

Suppose we wish to texture map a triangle in 3-space onto the screen using the map pi:(x,y,z) -> (x/z,y/z). Let L be the line segment that is the intersection of this triangle with the plane z=k. Then pi restricted to L is an affine map. If we then rule the triangle with lines parallel to L we can use an affine map to render each line to the screen. Instead of using horizontal scan lines, say, we have to use non-horizontal lines. Any interest? Is it novel?


Bernie Roehl later notes:

The PC-GPE (found on x2ftp.oulu.fi) has an article on "Free-Direction Texture Mapping" that is a more detailed description of the algorithm you describe. It's a good idea.

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FREE E-Mag on VR, Computer Graphics, et al: Issue 2, by David Lewis ([email protected])

The HOTT (Hot Off The Tree) Internet-based e-magazine is a FREE, monthly (10/year) update on the latest in VR, telepresence & intelligent user interfaces; AI & "intelligent" agent-oriented software; interactive multimedia & game development; wireless communications & PCS; mobile, portable & handheld computing devices; neural, fuzzy & genetic systems; nanotechnology, bio/microsensors & molecular electronics; voice I/O & handwriting recognition; HDTV & I-TV; ATM, frame relay & FDDI; visual programming, object-oriented databases & client/server application development; fractals, wavelets & quadtree data structures for image & signal processing; ULSI circuits & megacells; optical computing & erasable optical disks; PC telephony & PC TV; animats & micro/telerobotics; and, other bleeding-edge technologies.

For a FREE subscription, send a request TODAY to [email protected] . The "Subject" line is ignored; leave it blank or type in whatever you'd like. In the body of the message, input: SUBSCRIBE HOTT-LIST . Do NOT include first or last names following "SUBSCRIBE HOTT-LIST"; this is a quirk of the UCSD listserv software. You will receive subscription confirmation from the UCSD host site.

Disclaimer: Please note that although the mailing list is currently maintained at UCSD, there are no official ties between HOTT and the University of California.

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Color Quantization Bibliography, by Ian Ashdown ([email protected])

In message ([email protected]), Jan De Bruyckere wrote:
> I'm a student in computer science and I'm making a description
> about converting images with 24-bit colours to images with
> only 8-bits colours.
> I need different algorithms, source or sites where I can
> find the source, titles of books and other useful
> information.

With apologies in advance for the following commercial blurb, I'm posting a bibliography on the topic from my forthcoming book, "Radiosity: A Programmer's Perspective" (John Wiley & Sons, October 1994). The diskette accompanying the book includes a complete C++ implementation of the Gervautz- Purgathofer octree color quantization algorithm. (It also includes a detailed look at radiosity theory and complete C++ implementations of 3 fully functional radiosity-based renderers for the MS-Windows Win16 and Win32 environments, but that's another story.)

End of commercial. Here's the offering:

Color Quantization Bibliography

1.  Arvo, J., ed. 1991. Graphics Gems II, San Diego, CA:
    Academic Press.
2.  Ashdown, I. 1994. Radiosity: A Programmer's Perspective,
    New York, NY: John Wiley & Sons.
3.  Balasubramaian, R., and J. Allebach. 1991. "A New Approach
    to Palette Selection for Color Images," Journal of Imaging
    Technology, pp. 284-290 (December).
4.  Betz, M. 1993. "VGA Palette Mapping Using BSP Trees," Dr.
    Dobb's Journal 18(7):28-36, 94 (July).
5.  Bouman, C., and M. Orchard. 1989. "Color Image Display with
    a Limited Palette Size," Visual Communications and Image
    Processing '89, Bellingham, WA: Society of Photo-optical
    Instrumentation Engineers, pp. 522-533.
6.  Bragg, D. 1992. "A Simple Color Reduction Filter," in Kirk
    (1992), pp. 20-22, 429-431.
7.  Braudaway, G. 1987. "A Procedure for Optimum Choice of a
    Small Number of Colors from a Large Color Palette for Color
    Imaging," Proceedings of Electronic Imaging '87 (San
    Francisco, CA).
8.  Dekker, A. 1994. "Kohonen Neural Networks for Optimal Colour
    Quantization," to appear in Network: Computation in Neural
    Systems, Bristol, England: Institute of Physics Publishing,
    Techno House.
9.  Gentile, R., J. Allebach, and E. Walowit. 1990. "Quantization
    of Color Images Based on Uniform Color Spaces," Journal of
    Imaging Technology 16(1):11-21 (February).
10. Gentile, R., J. Allebach, and E. Walowit. 1990. "Quantization
    and Multilevel Halftoning of Color Images for Near-Original
    Image Quality," Journal of the Optical Society of America
    7(6):1019-1026 (June).
11. Gervautz, M., and W. Purgathofer. 1988. "A Simple Method for
    Color Quantization: Octree Quantization," in Magenat-Thalmann
    and Thalmann (1988), pp. 219-231.
12. Gervautz, M. and W. Purgathofer 1990. "A Simple Method for
    Color Quantization: Octree Quantization," in Glassner (1990),
    pp. 287-293.
13. Glassner, A. S., ed. 1990. Graphics Gems, San Diego, CA:
    Academic Press.
14. Gotsman, C. 1994. "Dynamic Color Quantization of Video
    Sequences," to appear in Proceedings of Computer Graphics
    International '94, (Melbourne, Australia).
15. Heckbert, P. S. 1982. "Color Image Quantization for Frame
    Buffer Display," ACM Computer Graphics 16(3):297-307 (ACM
    SIGGRAPH '82 Proc.).
16. Iverson, V.S., and E. A. Riskin. 1993. "A Fast Method for
    Combining Palettes of Color Quantized Images," Proceedings
    of the IEEE International Conference on Acoustics, Speech,
    and Signal Processing '93, Vol. 5, pp. 317-320.
17. Joy, G., and Z. Xiang. 1993. "Center-Cut for Color-Image
    Quantization," The Visual Computer 10(1):62-66.
18. Kirk, D., ed. 1992. Graphics Gems III, San Diego, CA:
    Academic Press.
19. Kruger, A. 1994. "Median-Cut Color Quantization," Dr.
    Dobb's Journal 19(10):46-54, 91-92.
20. Kurz, B. J. 1983. "Optimal Color Quantization for Color
    Displays," IEEE Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition
    Proceedings, Silver Spring, MD, IEEE Computer Science
21. Lehar, A. F., and R. J. Stevens. 1984. "High-Speed
    Manipulation of the Color Chromaticity of Digital Images,"
    IEEE Computer Graphics and Applications 4(2):34-39
22. Levine, J. 1994. Programming for Graphics Files in C and
    C++, New York: John Wiley & Sons.
23. Lindley, C. 1992. Practical Ray Tracing in C, New York:
    John Wiley & Sons. 24. Luse, M. 1994. Bitmapped Graphics Programming
    in C++, Reading, MA: Addison-Welsey.
25. Magnenat-Thalmann, N., and D. Thalmann, eds. 1988. New
    Trends in Computer Graphics, New York: Springer-Verlag.
26. Orchard, M. T., and C. A. Bouman. 1991. "Color
    Quantization of Images," IEEE Transactions on Signal
    Processing 39(12):2677-2690 (December).
27. Pomerantz, D. 1990. "A Few Good Colors," Computer Language
    7(8):32-41 (August).
28. Schore, M. 1991. "Octree Method of Color Matching," The C
    Users Journal 9(8):43-52 (August).
29. Thomas, S. W., and R. G. Bogart. 1991. "Color Dithering,"
    in Arvo (1991), pp. 72-77, 509-513.
30. Wan, S., S. Wong, and P. Prusinkiewicz. 1968. "An
    Algorithm for Multidimensional Data Clustering," ACM
    Transactions on Mathematical Software 14(2):153-162.
31. Wan, S. J., P. Prusinkiewicz, and S. K. M. Wong. 1990.
    "Variance-Based Color Image Quantization for Frame Buffer
    Display," Color Research and Application 15(1):52-58.
32. Wu, X., and I. Witten. 1985. "A Fast k-Means Type
    Clustering Algorithm," Research Report 85/197/10, Department
    of Computer Science, University of Calgary, Alberta.
33. Wu, X. 1991. "Efficient Statistical Computations for Optimal
    Color Quantization," in Arvo (1991), pp. 126-133.
34. Xiang, Z., and G. Joy. 1994. "Color Image Quantization by
    Agglomerative Clustering," IEEE Computer Graphics and
    Applications 14(3):44-48 (May).

There are undoubtably other papers on the topic, since color quantization has many applications in computer graphics. (If you know of any others, please let me know!) I think, however, that the above will prove useful to anyone interested in color quantization issues.

Happy reading!

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Eric Haines / [email protected]