Ray Tracing Magic From a One-Person Team

In the hands of an artist, real-time ray tracing techniques can turn the surreal photoreal. Abstraction, the winner of the DXR Spotlight Contest 2020, takes its audience on a tour of a world that tricks the eye and startles the senses.  We sat down with the creator of Abstraction, Jonah Walters, to learn how he built it all by himself.

NVIDIA: What is the development team size for Abstraction?

Jonah: I developed the demo on my own.

NVIDIA: The art design in Abstraction is gorgeous. Navigating the demo’s spaces makes you feel like you’re exploring a realm outside of Earth. Were there any games or films that inspired that unique aesthetic?

Jonah: Thank you! I took inspiration from games like Control and NaissanceE, as well as the art of Gérard Trignac and the architecture of Xavier Corberó. All of these incredible works share that otherworldly feeling I was aiming for with this demo.

NVIDIA: Your demonstration of DXR really stood out; it almost felt like you were revealing optical illusions. Could you describe your creative process when deciding how to use different real-time ray tracing techniques?

Jonah: The “revealing” aspects of the demo came from the idea of showing off the dynamic aspects of ray tracing. Ray traced reflections really allowed for visuals which would have been impossible without them. I thought that the best way to show that off was to use real world illusions as inspiration which translate very well due to the high degree of accuracy with ray traced reflections. One of the most interesting aspects of ray traced shadows to me is the effect a light source’s size has on the sharpness of the shadows it casts, so I utilized this throughout the demo to add interest to the environment’s shadows.

NVIDIA: Did you face any bottlenecks in production? If so, how did you overcome them?

Jonah: I constantly monitored the performance of the demo as I developed it, making sure I was within budget for the performance I was targeting. This was a major challenge, since I aimed to have all dynamic ray traced shadows and reflections without any hardware accelerated ray tracing on a GTX 1070. This meant that I had to design the demo’s environments carefully so that there weren’t too many ray traced elements in view of the player at any given time.

NVIDIA: How long did it take to develop this demo?

Jonah: About 2 months start to finish.

NVIDIA: What’s next for you with real-time raytracing

Jonah: I’ve really enjoyed working with raytracing, so I plan on using it wherever I can in my real-time projects. I’d also like to potentially update the demo in the future as new features become available, like ray traced caustics.

NVIDIA: Do you have any tips for developers using real-time ray tracing for the first time?

Jonah: Familiarizing yourself with the ray tracing console variables is essential for getting the most out of ray tracing in both visuals and performance.

To learn more about Jonah’s work, check out his page here.

To try Abstraction for yourself, you can find the executable here.

Join the NVIDIA Developer Program for access to the tools and training necessary to build games with real-time ray tracing.

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