Raytracing: A (Very) Brief Introduction
I’ve recently started writing a basic ray tracer, and thought I’d write a bit about how they work.
The basic idea of ray tracing is to generate a 2D image (or series of images) from a 3D scene by simulating how rays of light travel.
One important difference here is that instead of simulating rays cast from a light source and eventually hitting the eye/camera, a ray tracer will generally cast rays backwards from the eye, taking information from light sources at the end. This means we don’t have to simulate all the rays coming from each light source, most of which we don’t see (i.e. they don’t hit the eye).
Rays are cast from the eye though a plane, which represents our render target, with one ray for each pixel of the render target.
The ray tracer then determines the (nearest) intersection of the ray with the scene geometry. From here we can cast secondary rays to simulate reflection, refraction, etc. Also rays can be cast directly to the light sources in the scene. These rays (which may in turn spawn other rays) are all combined to give a colour for the ray. This colour is then applied to the pixel that the ray was cast through.
That just about covers my basic introduction. I intend to write a few more articles on this, the next of which will probably cover how to determine intersections between rays and geometry. Bring your maths hats.