Why is this a big deal?!
Well, raytracing is the rendering technique that is used in most offline renderers, so 3D animated films of TV shows such as Toy Story, How to Train your Dragon, UP, Despicable Me and many more. All of those animated films use 3D graphics that are animated and then rendered. The rendering processes use raytracing – a technique that tracks the “rays” of light from the light source to the camera. This not only gives us the “direct” light but also what is called bounce light – the light that bounces of other objects before hitting the main object.
It is usually the bounce light that gives a more unified scene that the direct lights – think of the way the green grass would give a green hue to a white piece of paper that was near it.
Raytracing is also used to give objects correct real-world reflections, as the light paths are calculated between objects. As you can see in the video above, it is the reflections that give the scene the photorealistic look that you would expect from high-end film computer generated graphics.
When will raytracing be in games?
Durig this demo, they said that it was running on a workstation class computer with no less than four super high spec graphics cards from Nvidia. So, it won’t be at this level for a while! However, NVidia expect to start seeing games using the technique THIS YEAR! This could be a bit optimistic, though the optimisations they have made and added to direct X have made huge improvements to the overhead needed to do real-time raytracing, you will likely still need a high-end GPU capable of it. I imagine if there are games that include raytracing as a feature, it will be a bit of a novelty, and likely to be a toggleable setting such as most PC games currently include graphics detail levels.
Looking to the Future of Real-Time Raytracing
Real-time raytracing has long been the holy grail of real-time computer graphics, simply because it is the most photo-realistic rendering solution we currently have. This combined with the current surge of VR and AR means this could push forward the next age of the graphical computer. Uber-realistic rendering in games or photoreal objects in augmented reality is two fantastic uses that I can currently foresee.
However, it is not only the gains to computer graphics but also the speed improvements in other areas. Unreal also showed off a children’s TV programme that uses it’s engine to render real-time graphics, whereas an offline rendering solution would take days or weeks to render once the animations are complete, using a real-time renderer, means they don’t have to wait for the final results, and the final result looks on par with many current kids TV animations.
The future is bright! And reflective! and physically accurate 😉