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 Normal Mapping for realism

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Date posted: 16/05/2004

Realism is such a funny word. It can mean precisely emulating the humdrum of normal life, or it can mean increasing immersion, and believability. In this case, its realism of the good kind, the increase in believability thanks to normal mapping, a new graphical technique for creating highly detailed, believably realistic objects with a very low polygon count.

The term normal mapping comes directly from vector maths where a normal indicates the direction the line goes in. By mapping textures and radiosity onto objects depending on the way they are facing, far greater degrees of realism can be achieved.

To begin with, the object is created in rich detail ? the number of polygons (primitive objects) used is irrelevant, hundreds of thousands of triangles can be used to create a painstakingly detailed figure. Computational time is irrelevant, and heavy duty supercomputers are often used at this stage. Then, the conversion software takes over, analysing these rich figures, and cumulatively removing planes without removing detail, rendering the same scene in as few polygons as possible ? the number of polygons is directly inversely linked to frame rate.

The overall effect is digital graphics, animated in real time, are now an order of magnitude greater than they were two years ago. It goes even further than that however, when you add normal mapping to EVERYTHING within the environment, from people, creatures, trees and buildings to furniture, grass, detonations, and particle textures. Suddenly the world screams life, and at a rate low enough that a high-end home PC can display a window into it.

The technique has even been taken a step further with arrays of normal mapping layered upon objects. One layer may deal with texture appearance, another with luminosity, and a third with refraction index. Suddenly you see shadows and reflections everywhere, not coded, just produced by simple algorithms and a high frame rate.

See the full Story via external site: www.nytimes.com

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