Visibility Computations for Global Illumination Algorithms

Seth Teller and Pat Hanrahan


The most expensive geometric operation in image synthesis is visibility determination. Classically this is solved with hidden surface removal algorithms that render only the parts of the scene visible from a point. Global illumination calculations, however, may require information between any two points in the scene. This paper describes global visibility algorithms that preprocess polygon databases in order to accelerate visibility determination during illumination calculations. These algorithms are sensitive to the output complexity in visibility space; that is, how many pairs of objects are mutually visible. Furthermore, the algorithms are incremental so that they work well with progressive refinement and hierarchical methods of image synthesis. The algorithms are conservative, but exact; that is, when tyhey return visibility predicates they can be proved true. However sometimes they do not return either totally visible or totally invisible, but partially visible, even though in the same situation a better algorithm might return the exact answer. In this paper we describe the algorithms and their implementation, and show that, in a scene with low average visual complexity, they can dramatically accelerate conventional radiosity programs.

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