Monday, July 30, 2018

Nvidia gearing up to unleash real-time ray tracing to the masses

In the last two months, Nvidia roped in several high profile, world class ray tracing experts (with mostly a CPU ray tracing background):

Matt Pharr

One of the authors of the Physically Based Rendering books (, some say it's the bible for Monte Carlo ray tracing). Before joining Nvidia, he was working at Google with Paul Debevec on Daydream VR, light fields and Seurat (, none of which took off in a big way for some reason.

Before Google, he worked at Intel on Larrabee, Intel's failed attempt at making a GPGPU for real-time ray tracing and rasterisation which could compete with Nvidia GPUs) and ISPC, a specialised compiler intended to extract maximum parallelism from the new Intel chips with AVX extensions. He described his time at Intel in great detail on his blog: (sounds like an awful company to work for).

Intel also bought Neoptica, Matt's startup, which was supposed to research new and interesting rendering techniques for hybrid CPU/GPU chip architectures like the PS3's Cell

Ingo Wald

Pioneering researcher in the field of real-time ray tracing from the Saarbr├╝cken computer graphics group in Germany, who later moved to Intel and the university of Utah to work on a very high performance CPU based ray tracing frameworks such as Embree (used in Corona Render and Cycles) and Ospray.

His PhD thesis "Real-time ray tracing and interactive global illumination" from 2004, describes a real-time GI renderer running on a cluster of commodity PCs and hardware accelerated ray tracing (OpenRT) on a custom fixed function ray tracing chip (SaarCOR).

Ingo contributed a lot to the development of high quality ray tracing acceleration structures (built with the surface area heuristic).

Eric Haines

Main author of the famous Real-time Rendering blog, who worked until recently for Autodesk. He also used to maintain the Real-time Raytracing Realm and Ray Tracing News

What connects these people is that they all have a passion for real-time ray tracing running in their blood, so having them all united under one roof is bound to give fireworks.

With these recent hires and initiatives such as RTX (Nvidia's ray tracing API), it seems that Nvidia will be pushing real-time ray tracing into the mainstream really soon. I'm really excited to finally see it all come together. I'm pretty sure that ray tracing will very soon be everywhere and its quality and ease-of-use will soon displace rasterisation based technologies (it's also the reason why I started this blog exactly ten years ago).

Senior Real Time Ray Tracing Engineer
NVIDIA, Santa Clara, CA, US

Job description

Are you a real-time rendering engineer looking to work on real-time ray tracing to redefine the look of video games and professional graphics applications? Are you a ray tracing expert looking to transform real-time graphics as we lead the convergence with film? Do you feel at home in complex video game codebases built on the latest GPU hardware and GPU software APIs before anybody else gets to try them?

At NVIDIA we are developing the most forward-looking real-time rendering technology combining traditional graphics techniques with real-time ray tracing enabled by NVIDIA's RTX technology. We work at all levels of the stack, from the hardware and driver software, to the engine and application level code. This allows us to take on problems that others can only dream of solving at this point

We are looking for Real Time Rendering Software Engineers who are passionate about pushing the limits of what is possible with the best GPUs and who share our forward-looking vision of real-time rendering using real-time ray tracing.

In this position you will work with some of the world leading real-time ray tracing and rendering experts, developer technology engineers and GPU system software engineers. Your work will impact a number of products being worked on at NVIDIA and outside NVIDIA. These include the NVIDIA Drive Constellation autonomous vehicle simulator, NVIDIA Isaac virtual simulator for robotics, and NVIDIA Holodeck collaborative design virtual environment. Outside NVIDIA our work is laying the foundation for future video games and other rendering applications using real-time ray tracing. The first example of this impact is the NVIDIA GameWorks Ray Tracing denoising modules and much of the technology featured in our NVIDIA RTX demos at GDC 2018.

What You Will Be Doing
  • Implementing new rendering techniques in a game engine using real-time ray tracing with NVIDIA RTX technology 
  • Improving the performance and quality of techniques you or others developed 
  • Ensuring that the rendering techniques are robust and work well for the content needs of products using them 

What We Need To See
  • Strong knowledge of C++ 
  • BS/MS or higher degree in Computer Science or related field with 5+ years of experience 
  • Up to date knowledge of real-time rendering and offline rendering algorithms and research 
  • Experience with ray tracing in real-time or offline 
  • Knowledge of the GPU Graphics Pipeline and GPU architecture 
  • Experience with GPU Graphics and Compute programming APIs such as Direct3D 11, Direct3D 12, DirectX Raytracing, Vulkan, OpenGL, CUDA, OpenCL or OptiX 
  • Experience writing shader code in HLSL or GLSL for these APIS. 
  • Experience debugging, profiling and optimizing rendering code on GPUs 
  • Comfortable with a complex game engine codebase, such as Unreal Engine 4, Lumberyard, CryEngine or Unity 
  • Familiar with the math commonly used in real-time rendering 
  • Familiar with multi-threaded programming techniques 
  • Can do attitude, with the will to dive into existing code and do what it takes to accomplish your job 
  • Ability to work well with others in a team of deeply passionate individuals who respect each other

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Accelerating path tracing by using the BVH as multiresolution geometry

Before continuing the tutorial series, let's have a look at a simple but effective way to speed up path tracing. The idea is quite simple: like an octree, a bounding volume hierarchy (BVH) can double as both a ray tracing acceleration structure and a way to represent the scene geometry at multiple levels of detail (multi-resolution geometry representation). Specifically the axis-aligned bounding boxes (AABB) of the BVH nodes at different depths in the tree serve as a more or less crude approximation of the geometry.

Low detail geometry enables much faster ray intersections and can be useful when light effects don't require full geometric accuracy, for example in the case of motion blur, glossy (blurry) reflections, soft shadows, ambient occlusion and global illumination with diffuse bounced lighting. Especially when geometry is not directly visible in the view frustum or in specular (mirror-like) reflections, using geometry proxies can provide a significant speedup (depending on the fault tolerance) at an almost imperceptible and negligible loss in quality.

Advantages of using the BVH itself as multi-resolution LOD geometry representation:
  • doesn't require an additional scene voxelisation step (the BVH itself provides the LOD): less memory hungry
  • skips expensive triangle intersection when possible
  • performs only ray/box intersections (as opposed to having a mix of ray/triangle and ray/box intersections) which is more efficient on the GPU (avoids thread divergence) 
  • BVH is stored in the GPU's cached texture memory (which is faster than global memory which should therefore store the triangles)
  • BVH nodes can store extra attributes like smoothed normals, interpolated colours and on-the-fly generated GI
(Note: AFAIK low level access to the acceleration structure is not provided by API's like OptiX/RTX and DXR, this has to be written in CUDA, ISPC or OpenCL)

The renderer determines the appropriate level of detail based on the distance from the camera for primary rays or on the distance from the ray origin and the ray type for secondary rays (glossy/reflection, shadow, AO or GI rays). The following screenshots show the bounding boxes of the BVH nodes from depth 1 (depth 0 is the rootnode) up to depth 12:

BVH level 1 (BVH level 0 is just the bunny's bounding box)
BVH level 2
BVH level 3
BVH level 4
BVH level 5
BVH level 6
BVH level 7
BVH level 8
BVH level 9
BVH level 10
BVH level 11
BVH level 12 (this level contains mostly inner BVH nodes, but also a few leafnodes)
The screenshot below shows the bottom-most BVH level (i.e. leafnodes only, hence some holes are apparent):

Visualizing the BVH leafnodes (bottom most BVH level) 
Normals are axis aligned, but can be precomputed per AABB vertex (and stored at low precision) by averaging the normals of the AABBs it contains, with the leafnodes averaging the normals of their triangles.

TODO upload code to github or alternaive non ms repo and post link, propose fixes to fill holes, present benchmark results (8x speedup), get more timtams 

Friday, June 1, 2018

Real-time path tracing on a 40 megapixel screen

The Blue Brain Project is a Switzerland based computational neuroscience project which aims to demystify how the brain works by simulating a biologically accurate brain using a state-of-the-art supercomputer. The simulation runs at multiple scales and goes from the whole brain level down to the tiny molecules which transport signals from one cell to another (neurotransmitters). The knowledge gathered from such an ultra-detailed simulation can be applied to advance neuroengineering and medical fields.

To visualize these detailed brain simulations, we have been working on a high performance rendering engine, aptly named "Brayns". Brayns uses raytracing to render massively complex scenes comprised of trillions of molecules interacting in real-time on a supercomputer. The core ray tracing intersection kernels in Brayns are based on Intel's Embree and Ospray high performance ray tracing libraries, which are optimised to render on recent Intel CPUs (such as the Skylake architecture). These CPUs  basically are a GPU in CPU disguise (as they are based on Intel's defunct Larrabee GPU project), but can render massive scientific scenes in real-time as they can address over a terabyte of RAM. What makes these CPUs ultrafast at ray tracing is a neat feature called AVX-512 extensions, which can run several ray tracing calculations in parallel (in combination with ispc), resulting in blazingly fast CPU ray tracing performance which rivals that of a GPU and even beats it when the scene becomes very complex. 

Besides using Intel's superfast ray tracing kernels, Brayns has lots of custom code optimisations which allows it to render a fully path traced scene in real-time. These are some of the features of Brayns:
  • hand optimised BVH traversal and geometry intersection kernels
  • real-time path traced diffuse global illumination
  • Optix real-time AI accelerated denoising
  • HDR environment map lighting
  • explicit direct lighting (next event estimation)
  • quasi-Monte Carlo sampling
  • volume rendering
  • procedural geometry
  • signed distance fields raymarching 
  • instancing, allowing to visualize billions of dynamic molecules in real-time
  • stereoscopic omnidirectional 3D rendering
  • efficient loading and rendering of multi-terabyte datasets
  • linear scaling across many nodes
  • optimised for real-time distributed rendering on a cluster with high speed network interconnection
  • ultra-low latency streaming to high resolution display walls and VR caves
  • modular architecture which makes it ideal for experimenting with new rendering techniques
  • optional noise and gluten free rendering
Below is a screenshot of an early real-time path tracing test on a 40 megapixel curved screen powered by seven 4K projectors: 

Real-time path traced scene on a 8 m by 3 m (25 by 10 ft) semi-cylindrical display,
powered by seven 4K projectors (40 megapixels in total)

Seeing this scene projected lifesize in photorealistic detail on a 180 degree stereoscopic 3D screen and interacting with it in real-time is quite a breathtaking experience. Having 3D molecules zooming past the observer will be the next milestone. I haven't felt this thrilled about path tracing in quite some time.

Technical/Medical/Scientific 3D artists wanted 

We are currently looking for technical 3D artists to join our team to produce immersive neuroscientific 3D content. If this sounds interesting to you, get in touch by emailing me at