I’ve had more time than usual for side projects since I’ve been stuck inside the past few months. I spent the majority of June digging into graphics, getting acquainted with the field by building a ray tracer. The initial version is now online as ecl_rt.

Rather than write yet another post about building a ray tracer, I’ll point to the handful of resources (from the multitude available) that were actually useful:

  • Ray Tracing in One Weekend is the canonical introductory tutorial. I didn’t love it - I wasn’t on board with the code structure and found it very light on explanation. I still think it’s a decent way to get something on the screen fast, so I’d recommend going through it quickly to get a prototype working and then move on.

  • Physically Based Rendering is dense and long, but also deep, insightful, and a pleasure to read. I wish I had picked it up earlier instead of spending so much time on various other books/tutorials. In general, I think you should do the minimum amount of work to get something on the screen and get the basic background knowledge to understand this book, then simply work through PBRT cover to cover. It’s incredible that the whole thing is available online for free (though I’d recommend picking up a physical copy if you expect you’ll be spending a lot of time with it).

  • Aras’ blog series on path tracers is a lot of fun. He implemented a ray tracer in every imaginable way; it makes for great reading to compare some of the paths I didn’t take (eg. Metal or other modern GPU frameworks).

There’s a lot of work left, but it’s still fun to look at how far things have come. Here’s a few images showing the evolution of my ray tracer’s output, from the very first image it rendered to the current state: