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Last updated: April 27, 1999

People working in technical or scientific fields often need to depict complex three-dimensional objects -- in presentations, manuals, training courses, etc. Often, coming up with an appropriate rendition is the hardest part, so there are many computer programs out there to handle different tasks, such as drawing and painting programs, computer-aided design (CAD) packages, and so on.

POV-Ray is unusual in two respects. First, it is a ray tracer, which accurately simulates the interactions of light rays with the objects being depicted. Ray tracing combines the artistic capabilities of drawing with the precision and 3D-display capabilities of CAD programs. With a good ray-tracing program and a keen eye for detail, ray-traced images can be near-photorealistic. Second, POV-Ray is free. It's not a commercial package, nor is it shareware -- yet it has many of the features of advanced commercial 3D rendering programs. The POV-Ray development team, in fact, does not accept monetary donations!

What's the catch? You can't use a graphically-oriented "editor", draw the objects you want to render, and then tell POV-Ray to render them. Rather, you have to describe all the relevant elements -- the objects you want to render, the lighting, and how the objects are being viewed -- in a special language. Working with POV-Ray feels (and is) a lot like programming. Even if you haven't done any programming before, it's possible to pick up the basics fairly quickly.

That's where these pages come in. The POV-Ray distribution comes with extensive documentation, which is very comprehensive and useful, but sometimes a little intimidating to the inexperienced user. I'll show you how to get started with POV-Ray and how to apply it to technical problems, such as representing a component of an instrument in an on-line manual.

To illustrate how useful POV-Ray can be, I created all of the graphics on this site, excluding a scanned photograph and two bitmapped images downloaded from elsewhere, using only POV-Ray. The only post-processing I did was converting the POV-Ray output to JPEG so that it could be used in Web pages.

All images and photographs on this site are © copyright 1998-2006.

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