Faster Isosurface Ray Tracing using Implicit KD-Trees

Ingo Wald, Heiko Friedrich, Gerd Marmitt, Philipp Slusallek, and Hans-Peter Seidel
IEEE Transactions on Visualization and Computer Graphics, 2005

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The visualization of high-quality isosurfaces at interactive rates is an important tool in many simulation and visualization applications. Today, isosurfaces are most often visualized by extracting a polygonal approximation that is then rendered via graphics hardware, or by using a special variant of pre-integrated volume rendering. However, these approaches have a number of limitations in terms of quality of the isosurface, lack of performance for complex data sets, or supported shading models. An alternative isosurface rendering method that does not suffer from these limitations is to directly ray trace the isosurface. However, this approach has been much too slow for interactive applications unless massively parallel shared-memory supercomputers have been used. In this paper, we implement interactive isosurface ray tracing on commodity desktop PCs by building on recent advances in real-time ray tracing of polygonal scenes, and using those to improve isosurface ray tracing performance as well. The high performance and scalability of our approach will be demonstrated with several practical examples, including the visualization of highly complex isosurface data sets, the interactive rendering of hybrid polygonal/isosurface scenes including high-quality ray traced shading effects, and even interactive global illumination on isosurfaces.