7 Primitives and Intersection Acceleration

The classes described in the last chapter focus exclusively on representing geometric properties of 3D objects. Although the Shape interface provides a convenient abstraction for geometric operations such as intersection and bounding, it is not sufficiently expressive to fully describe an object in a scene. For example, it is necessary to bind material properties to each shape in order to specify its appearance.

pbrt’s CPU and GPU rendering paths diverge in how they address this issue. The classes in this chapter implement the approach used on the CPU. On the GPU, some of the details of how properties such as materials are associated with shapes are handled by the GPU’s ray-tracing APIs and so a different representation is used there; the equivalents for the GPU are discussed in Section 15.3.6.

For the CPU, this chapter introduces the Primitive interface and provides a number of implementations that allow various properties of primitives to be specified. It then presents two additional Primitive implementations that act as aggregates—containers that can hold many primitives. These allow us to implement acceleration structures—data structures that help reduce the otherwise upper O left-parenthesis n right-parenthesis complexity of testing a ray for intersection with all n objects in a scene.

The acceleration structure, BVHAggregate, is based on building a hierarchy of bounding boxes around objects in the scene. The online edition of this book also includes the implementation of a second acceleration structure, KdTreeAggregate, which is based on adaptive recursive spatial subdivision. While many other acceleration structures have been proposed, almost all ray tracers today use one of these two. The “Further Reading” section at the end of this chapter has extensive references to other possibilities. Because construction and use of intersection acceleration structures is an integral part of GPU ray-tracing APIs, the acceleration structures in this chapter are only used on the CPU.