Shiny and chrome! Rendering sparkly surfaces in CG just got massively better

As the graphics in games and movies edge closer and closer to photorealism, even the subtlest tricks of the light must be simulated. For years an especially tough one has been recreating the sparkling, uneven surfaces of water, metals, and other materials — but these glints can now be rendered 100 times faster than before thanks to a new technique from computer scientists at UC San Diego.

The problem with rendering these specular highlights, as they’re called, is that they’re just so complicated. Up close, a surface is rarely totally smooth, but rather is covered in microscopic bumps and scratches — and light hitting that surface is scattered all over the place, producing the glittering spots and lines that are so familiar to us.

Nature, of course, has no problem rendering…

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