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6 May, 2004

Nearly there

Computer graphics have been steadily improving and approaching photorealism, but whilst the rendering of shapes and textures is already astonishingly good, my main criticism is that the lighting is rarely quite right, ruining the whole illusion.

Research by Dr Henrik Jensen, Assistant Professor at UCSD's Computer Graphics Laboratory is beginning to change that.  His innovation is to calculate the absorption and dispersal of light within materials like marble or skin.

Speaking to the BBC, Dr Jensen said:

"For skin it has turned out to be a key missing piece in today's visual effects, and for this reason it has been adopted quickly by the visual effects industry."

Indeed, in February he received an Academy Award for Technical Achievement.

Some of the images at his UCSD website are misleadingly unrealistic, as they apply his cutting-edge modeling and photon mapping techniques to images otherwise rendered more crudely. Two exceptions that really show his achievement are this ceramic teapot and these glasses of milk. The glass on the right is rendered using the ubiquitous BRDF and resembles opaque white paint, whereas the remaining glasses use the BSSRDF model, and really could be photographs. Wonderful work, which can be expected to become a standard part of the CGI repertoire.

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