Parallel hierarchical global illumination
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Solving the global illumination problem is equivalent to determining the intensity of every wavelength of light in all directions at every point in a given scene. The complexity of the problem has led researchers to use approximation methods for solving the problem on serial computers. Rather than using an approximation method, such as backward ray tracing or radiosity, we have chosen to solve the Rendering Equation by direct simulation of light transport from the light sources. This paper presents an algorithm that solves the Rendering Equation to any desired accuracy, and can be run in parallel on distributed memory or shared memory computer systems with excellent scaling properties. It appears superior in both speed and physical correctness to recent published methods involving bidirectional ray tracing or hybrid treatments of diffuse and specular surfaces. Like "progressive radiosity" methods, it dynamically refines the geometry decomposition where required, but does so without the excessive storage requirements for "ray histories." The algorithm, called Photon, produces a scene which converges to the global illumination solution. This amounts to a huge task for a 1997-vintage serial computer, but using the power of a parallel supercomputer significantly reduces the time required to generate a solution. Currently, Photon can be run on most parallel environments from a shared memory multiprocessor to a parallel supercomputer, as well as on clusters of heterogeneous workstations.