What is Ray Tracing and How Engineers Benefit from Using It

What is Ray Tracing and How Engineers Benefit from Using It

CG has become popular for video games and other live stream applications, but ray tracing was not an option for any real-time rendering until recently. The reason is that while ray tracing offers stunning realism and next-level beauty, the price is how slow it is. It would simply take far too long to render a character running while also using ray tracing.

New changes in the market, however, are making ray tracing available for real-time applications. This includes a new graphic card by NVIDIA that can perform real-time ray tracing renders. While this line is still relatively new and not readily available in every home, the path forward is clear.

This means that even if you’re a CAD designer or an engineer that works with VR or product design, you will need to become familiar with ray tracing to stay one step ahead of consumers and their desires. If you’re an engineer in these fields and are not yet familiar with ray tracing, read on to find out more about this method of CG.

What is Ray Tracing

Ray tracing provides a more realistic image by tracing a path of light and choosing the exact color based on the light reflecting off of it. This includes traveling from the light source to the object and then to the camera view and how light bounces off other objects in the room.

In the past, even the best CG could easily be distinguished from photographs because they didn’t accurately represent these tiny changes in light. Ray tracing is so detailed that the render is virtually indistinguishable from a photo.

If you’ve ever seen CG in a movie that has taken your breath away or noticed the cut scenes in a game seem so much more alive than in real-time portions, you may be seeing the difference between ray tracing and more common methods such as rasterization.

Understandably, tracing light for every individual pixel in an entire 3D scene requires enormous amounts of memory and processing speeds to create something. This is why real-time renders with ray-tracing were rare or even impossible.

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Most real-time ray-tracing freelancers started with rasterization instead. Rasterization is faster because, at least in terms of computational power, it’s easy to do. Instead of the computer tracing each ray of light, the colors are shaded pixel by pixel assigned by shading instead.

This method still provides high-quality renders, and in the right situations, it can even be photorealistic, but ray tracing will always provide higher quality renders. This is especially the case with shadows, which are usually not quite accurate in real-time situations, if they are present at all.

Thanks to this new technology, however, ray tracing is likely to develop into a standard for many real-world applications. Now that we understand ray tracing, let’s look at this new line and what it means for engineers and users alike.

Introducing NVIDIA RTX

The NVIDIA RTX technology brings two new lines to their current selection of GPUs. These two lines, Turing and Volta, offer a fresh take on GPUs. These new lines have cores that are designed specifically for ray tracing. These cores speed up the process of ray tracing by ten giga rays per second.

Combined with this new technology, called RT cores for short, is another addition called Tensor Cores. These Tensor Cores are the same equipment used for artificial intelligence and other types of machine learning.

These powerful processors are needed for AI, but they are also ideal for ray tracing because their processing capabilities are strong. With processing ray-tracing easier and more accessible, the possibilities are endless. We can now start to think about what ray tracing could look like and be applied to outside of specific situations like CG movies or other pre-rendered animations.

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Most GPUs have shader cores instead of RT cores and Tensor cores. The Turing and Volta lines have all of these cores. On top of this, they also have denoising modules that help speed up ray-tracing and improve quality by reducing noise without sending out more rays.

NVIDIA also offers support for RTX in the form of APIs. APIs make it easier for more people to develop applications that harness the power of these GPUs.

NVIDIA APIs

An API, or an Application Program Interface, allows 3D rendering services to interface with the GUI components. Creators who want to harness the power of NVIDIA’s ray-tracing GPUs can use one of these programs to make that possible.

Current APIs include the OptiX programming interface, Microsoft’s DirectX Raytracing API and Vulcan.

OptiX is owned by NVIDIA and is embedded into several everyday software products used by freelance 3D virtual reality rendering services. If you use:

  • Autodesk Arnold
  • Chaos Group V-Ray
  • Isotropix Clarisse
  • Optis
  • Pixar RenderMan
  • SolidWorks Visualize

Then you have access to the OptiX API already. OptiX includes a ray tracing engine as well as a post-processing pipeline. If you’re unsure where to begin, this may be the best place to start since it is owned by the same company that designed the Turing and Volta lines.

Microsoft’s DirectX Raytracing API is another option available. This relatively new API became available in 2018. At the moment, the ray-tracing API is being offered as a supplement for rasterization rather than a replacement.

Hybrids that assume a computer uses rasterization but offer ray tracing as a selectable option are the most common type of real-time ray tracing available right now. Most of the newer games offer real-time ray tracing to make them more realistic to use this hybrid option.

NVIDIA is currently working with Microsoft to make sure that their RTX is fully integrated with DXR. If you are using Microsoft’s DirectX Raytracing API, the NVIDIA GameWorks Ray Tracing devkit has resources to make using it easier.

The final option in terms of APIs available right now is Vulcan by the Khronos group. Khronos group is a non-profit that launched its API in 2015. Vulcan is the newest API in the group. Vulcan has a great many benefits to it, in particular, its flexibility in terms of OS.

It can be used with Android, Linux, Tizen, Windows 7, Windows 8, and Windows 10 operating systems and support iOS and MacOS.

To get started with the Vulcan API, you’ll need a driver that Vulcan runs on (this includes INVIDIA, AMD, and Intel) as well as experience with the C++ programming language. Vulcan doesn’t have a lot of tools of its own, so you may need to use additional programs to support your work.

Potential Problems

As of right now, the price for this GPU is cost-prohibitive for the average consumer. A lower-end GPU from the Turing line, aimed at gamers, sells for $499. However, the higher-end ones for graphics design and other more powerful applications can sell for over $1,100.

The prices will eventually come down, which means this powerful technology will be available to average users within a few years.

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Most freelance engineering design services, however, must necessarily look down the road while they are working in the present. While these GPUs’ cost is expensive now, the prices will inevitably come down, and ray-tracing capable devices will be more common.

One other problem beyond the price tag is that it’s currently not very useful to make an application designed exclusively for their use because these GPUs aren’t commonplace. Most products will need to be hybrids at first until ray tracing capable computers are more normalized.

Cad Crowd’s Ray Tracing Experts Can Help

With powerful new upgrades that put ray tracing in average people’s hands, it’s clear that ray tracing will become a part of the future. Rasterization will inevitably be replaced by ray tracing due to the unbeatable quality and immersive experience ray tracing can be.

Already, the gaming industry has woken up to the possibilities of real-time ray tracing in games, and dozens of options from Watch Dogs Legion to Control and Metro Exodus all offering ray tracing to make the gaming experience more immersive. Many players who use real-time ray tracing rave about how much more immersive they are compared to rasterization.

If you’re an engineer looking to create RTX renders, you’re making the right move. At Cad Crowd, we work with top-tier engineers and 3D renderers that can help with any project. Find out how it works.