CS 446: Real-Time Rendering

I have left the links to assignments and lectures from the 2004 offering to give you a feel for the nature of the course.
Be aware that we will deviate from this schedule, in some places significantly.

Time: TR 9:30-10:45 PM
Place: MEC 214
Instructor: David Luebke, luebke@cs.virginia.edu
Office hours: by appointment (Olsson 219)
TA: Ryan Schubert, rs5ea@virginia.edu
Office hours: TBD (Olsson 002a)
Forum: Use the class discussion forum to discuss anything and everything related to the course or topic of real-time rendering, 3D graphics, 3D games or game engines.  This is the place to ask questions about OpenGL or Cg, to tell your classmates about resources on the web, or to communicate with your group.  You should check the forum every day or two, especially since the instructor and TA will post news, changes, or help about the assignments.
Assignments: Individual assignments: The first two assignments are to be done individually.
  1. The pitch (Feb 7): go to the class forum and post an idea for a game that you would like to work on, or post your thoughts on the game concepts that have been posted.  We will form groups around the best game ideas that emerge from this discussion.
  2. Individual game (Feb 9): use an open-source Java toolkit to write a simple but complete multiplayer game.

Group projects: The remaining assignments will be done in the context of group projects.  Each assignment consists of adding a feature to the group's game engine.  Sometimes the same feature can be used to satisfy different assignments; of course, each group may only use a single feature once.  These projects are to be done individually: you will clearly need to discuss implementation issues amongst your group, and you are welcome to discuss algorithms and structures as well, but the research and coding should be primarily individual efforts.

  1. Engine core (Feb 16-Mar 3)
  2. First individual project (Mar 2-Mar 21)
  3. Second individual project (Mar 23-Apr 4)
  4. Third individual project (Apr 6-Apr 13)
  5. Final game project (Apr 18-May 4)
Project: As a semester-long group project you will work on a real-time rendering application such as a 3D game.  This will likely be the most work you have ever done for a course project, but should also be the most rewarding.  Most of your individual assignments throughout the semester will take the form of adding a particular feature to your group's game engine. We will also have at least one non-game project revolving around virtual reconstructions of important archeological sites.

Be aware that the membership of groups (and thus, the projects that you will work on) may change throughout the semester. There is value to mixing up groups and exposing students to different problems, different group dynamics, and different design styles. However, everyone will get the chance to work on something that excites them for the final project.

Much more detail coming soon on the format and requirements for this project.

Grade Book: Check your grades on Toolkit.
E-mail: The class e-mail list is cs446-1@toolkit.virginia.edu.  In general you are encouraged to use the class forum instead of the e-mail list to ask for help or clarifications on assignments. The e-mail list is mostly for me to communicate important news to you (such as extensions on assignment deadlines) in a timely fashion. Please don't send me or the T.A. mail with specific questions; asking those questions on the forum will (a) share the question and answer with other students, helping them, and (b) give them a chance to answer your question faster and yes, often more helpfully, than we'll be able to.

Check the e-mail archive on Toolkit.

Feedback: Send me anonymous feedback on toolkit.  Somebody on your team not pulling their weight?  Something about the lectures or assignments bugging you?  Let me know...I can't promise that I will fix it but I do take this feedback very seriously.
Prerequisites: Grades of C- or better in CS 445, or permission of instructor.  You will need significant competence in OpenGL or Direct3D for this course, as well as a solid understanding of the basics of computer graphics.  See me if you have any questions.
Description: This course will examine real-time rendering of high-quality interactive graphics. Applications such as video games, simulators, and virtual reality have recently become capable of near cinematic-quality visuals at real-time rates. We will study the advances in graphics hardware and algorithms that are making this possible. Over several projects throughout the semester students will work in small teams to develop a small 3D game engine incorporating some state of the art techniques.  Examples of these techniques (and topics we will cover in class) include non-photorealistic rendering, occlusion culling, level of detail, terrain rendering, shadow generation, image-based rendering, and physical simulation.

A note of warning: Although the final project is to build a 3D game, this is not exactly a course about building video games: it is about building a 3D graphics engine such as sits under the hood of modern games. The course will be highly technical and a lot of work. We will not touch on many vital aspects of game design: character AI, the production process, artist tools, the network layer (for multiplayer or online games), interface design, multiplatform support, etc. In other words, don't take the class just because you like playing video games.


Some lectures are accompanied by Powerpoint presentations, often from other sources (e.g., NVIDIA presentations at Game Developers Conference).  The original presentations will be included below for your convenience.  For copyright-related reasons, some of these links will only work if you are browsing from a virginia.edu IP address.

Individual assignment deadlines are showed in red, group deadlines in green.

Lecture Date Demo Topic Assignment
1 1/19 Dave: ATI video Introduction; overview; graphics hardware then and now [ppt]  
2 1/24 Dave again: Level of detail: Intro [ppt]
1/26 Dean Abernathy:
Cultural Heritage
Cultural Heritage projects: Roman Forum, Coliseum, Pompeii, ...
(Guest lecture: Dean Abernathy)
Assn 1 out
3 1/31 Drew Maier: Xbox 360 Perfect Dark Level of detail continued: run-time management [ppt] Assn 2 out
4 2/2 Ewen Cheslack-Postova: ATI 1800XT demos Rendering engine basics: the scene graph [ppt]
  2/7 CLASS CANCELLED Assn 1 "due"
5 2/9 Dave: Fight Night Round 3 PS3 Rendering engine basics: efficient rendering [ppt] Assn 2 due
6 2/14 Ken Arthur Visibility: view-frustum culling, cells and portals [ppt]  
7 2/16 Matt Spear: PS3 Visibility: cell and portals continued, hierarchical Z-buffer, hardware-supported occlusion queries [ppt] Assn 3 out
8 2/21 Paul Tschirhart: Project Offset Advanced texturing: point sprites, billboards, special effects [ppt]  
9 2/23 Erin Golub: Pixar's LPICS project Interactive rendering of realistic lighting models [ppt]
(Guest lecture: Rui Wang)
Assn 3 checkpoint
10 2/28   Programmable graphics hardware [ppt]  
11 3/2 Jiayuan Meng


Writing vertex and fragment shaders with Cg [ppt]
DROP DATE (March 1)
Assn 4 out
Mar 3: Assn 3 due
  3/6 -3/10   SPRING BREAK
12 3/14 Sean Arietta: Super Mario Sunshine Non-photorealistic rendering: toon shading, silhouettes, painting, hatching, etc [ppt] Assn 4 description
  3/16 Greg Tylka CLASS CANCELLED  
13 3/21 Chris Palmer: F.E.A.R. NPR concluded; intro to shadow algorithms [ppt] Assn 4 due
14 3/23 Jiajun (Isaac) Zhu: XIII Shadow algorithms: shadow volumes [ppt] Assn 4 integrated
Assn 5 out
15 3/28 Ted Yokoyama Shadow algorithms: robust shadow volumes [ppt] Assn 5 description
16 3/30 Travis Sluka Shadow algorithms: shadow maps, smoothies [ppt]  
17 4/4 John Dimeo Image-based rendering: images with depth [ppt] Assn 5 due
18 4/6 Meng Tan Guest lecture: Blue noise
(Guest lecture: Greg Humphreys)
Assn 5 integrated
Assn 6 out
19 4/11 Gillian Smith CLASS CANCELLED Assn 6 description
20 4/13 Stephen Guy Image-based rendering: pure IBR, hybrid approaches  [ppt]  
21 4/18 Brad Wells Level of detail: simplification operators & algorithms, geometric & perceptual error, quadrics & view-dependent LOD [ppt] Assn 6 due 
22 4/20 Stephen Lawrence Advanced Lighting & Shading Systems in Production Games
(Guest lecture: Nate Hoobler, Mythic Entertainment, Inc.)
Assn 6 integrated
Final project out
23 4/25 John MacDonald Balancing the pipeline: finding and eliminating bottlenecks [pdf, wmv] Final project
24 4/27 Chris White Student demo backlog [Guest lecture cancelled due to sick baby]  
25 5/2 Matthew Rodgers General-Purpose GPU Computing [ppt]  
  5/9    FINAL PROJECTS DUE Final project presentations
Grading: The final grade will be calculated as a weighted average:
  • Individual assignments: 40%
  • Group project: 35%
  • Group participation: 20%
  • Class participation: 5%
Most individual assignments will be performed in the context of the group project by adding a feature to the game engine.  Students will work in small teams on the group project.  All team members will receive the same grade for the group project.  This is not negotiable.  Team members will also evaluate each other's performance; the "group participation" aspect of your grade will be largely informed by these peer evaluations.  Class participation means coming to class, participating in discussion, not falling asleep, and "demo duty".

I reserve the right to add a test, quiz, or "practicum exam".

Late Policy: I don't want people missing class in order to work on assignments that are due that day. Hence the policy: assignments are always due at the beginning of class on the due date. However, if you are in class (on time!) that day, you get a free extension till 11:59 PM that night.  Assignments are due at 11:59 PM if there is no class that day.  Assignments one day late subtract 10%; two days late loses 30%. Two days (48 hours) after the due date, the assignment will be considered a zero. 

Each student has up to five late days to use at his or her discretion for the individual assignments.  Each late day extends the due time by 24 hours.  Late days do not apply to group-wide deadlines.  Let the TA know how many late days you are taking when you turn in an assignment. 


Strongly recommended:

Real-Time Rendering (2nd edition) by Tomas Akenine-Moller and Eric Haines, AK Peters (2002).

This book is a significant update from the (excellent) first edition, and contains a great deal of additional material.  In particular there are new chapters on advanced shading techniques, shading capabilities of modern hardware, and so on. It is an excellent book that anybody planning on a career in computer graphics ought to own.  One of the best aspects of the book is the accompanying web site, a vast compendium of graphics resources that the authors keep very up-to-date. 

In previous years I required this book, but this year I will give you more flexibility by just labeling it "recommended". However, if you are serious about computer graphics or video game design, you must have this book on your shelf.

GPU Gems: Programming Techniques, Tips, and Tricks for Real-Time Graphics, edited by Randy Fernando. This book, while NVIDIA-centric (it's published by them), is full of extremely useful explanations, shaders, and code samples. It consists of 42 short chapters or "gems", each a concise and useful introduction to a particular technique. The gems fall into several categories: Natural Effects, Image Processing, Lighting and Shadows, Materials, Performance and Practicalities, and Beyond Triangles. Many of these gems would make perfect individual projects.

GPU Gems II, edited by Matt Pharr. 2004 was so long ago by computer graphics standards. GPU Gems II carries on the tradition with another fantastic collection of well-explained gems. Categories: Geometric Complexity, Shading, Lighting, and Shadows, High-Quality Rendering, Image-Oriented Computing, General-Purpose Computation on GPUs, Simulation & Numerical Algorithms. Again, many of these gems would be great individual projects.

Other books that may be of interest:

3D Game Engine Design by David H. Eberly, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers (second edition, 2004). This book makes excellent reading for programmers serious about writing their own game engine.  It is quite mathematical and not for the faint of heart.  It comes with a lot of free software, also available from the accompanying web page. These include some very useful little modules, especially for geometric and mathematical calculations.

Level of Detail for 3D Graphics by D. Luebke, M. Reddy, J. Cohen, A. Varshney, B. Watson, and R. Heubner, Morgan Kaufmann Publishers (2002). Line your professor's pockets while learning about level of detail, a crucial tool for real-time rendering.  Errata and links to code, models, and resources at the accompanying web page.

Game Programming Gems (series editor Mark Deloura). There are three books in the series.  Some of the material is getting a bit dated, but much of it is still very relevant.  Because these are about game design, they include non-graphics topics (e.g., character AI).  Each book is a collection of "gems", submitted by different game programmers.  Some are short useful code snippets, others are long involved packages or essays on different aspects of game programming.


See the tools page.

Honor Code: The honor code applies to all work turned in for this course.  There will be more detailed instructions regarding the use of previously written code (yours and others) with the assignments.