A hybrid real-time visible surface solution for rays with a common origin and arbitrary directions



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A fundamental operation in computer graphics is to determine for a given point and direction in a scene, which geometric surface is nearest this point from this direction and thus visible. Conceptually, the point and direction define a "ray". Z-buffer hardware can compute surface visibility for a set of rays with a common origin (i.e. eye point) and a regular pattern of directions in real-time. However, this hardware is much less efficient at performing other visibility computations such as those required to accurately render shadows. A more flexible solution to the visible surface problem is needed. This work introduces the irregular Z-buffer algorithm, which efficiently solves the visible surface problem for rays with a common origin and arbitrary directions. In addition, we identify several changes to classical graphics architectures needed for hardware acceleration of this algorithm. Though these modifications are incremental in nature (i.e. no new functional units are introduced), we show that they enable significant new capability. In tandem with the irregular Z-buffer algorithm, a GPU with these changes has applications in: shadow rendering, indirect illumination, frameless rendering, adaptive anti-aliasing, adaptive textures, and jittered sampling. We explore the performance of hard and soft shadow rendering in particular, by way of a detailed hardware simulator.