Many rendering algorithms have been researched, and software used for rendering may employ a number of different techniques to obtain a final image.
Tracing every particle of light in a scene is nearly always completely impractical and would take a stupendous amount of time. Even tracing a portion large enough to produce an image takes an inordinate amount of time if the sampling is not intelligently restricted.
Therefore, four loose families of more-efficient light transport modelling techniques have emerged: rasterization, including scanline rendering, geometrically projects objects in the scene to an image plane, without advanced optical effects; ray casting considers the scene as observed from a specific point-of-view, calculating the observed image based only on geometry and very basic optical laws of reflection intensity, and perhaps using Monte Carlo techniques to reduce artifacts; and ray tracing is similar to ray casting, but employs more advanced optical simulation, and usually uses Monte Carlo techniques to obtain more realistic results at a speed that is often orders of magnitude slower. The fourth type of light transport technique, radiosity is not usually implemented as a rendering technique, but instead calculates the passage of light as it leaves the light source and illuminates surfaces. These surfaces are usually rendered to the display using one of the other three techniques.
Most advanced software combines two or more of the techniques to obtain good-enough results at reasonable cost.
Another distinction is between image order algorithms, which iterate over pixels of the image plane, and object order algorithms, which iterate over objects in the scene. Generally object order is more efficient, as there are usually fewer objects in a scene than pixels.
Read more about this topic: Renders
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