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Technical Perspective: From Virtual Worlds to Digital Fabrication

Computer graphics has enabled game developers to create vast open worlds full of wonders and dangers that players routinely explore and interact with. These worlds are not made of physical matter; instead, they are defined by a surface geometry—often triangles—and material parameters, such as color and reflectance. Rendering algorithms use this information to form a rapid sequence of images on screen, simulating the viewpoint of a moving virtual observer.

This ability to depict large open worlds has been a fundamental challenge from the infancy of computer graphics. The problem is twofold: describing the virtual world in all its intricate details, and being able to store and process this data for rendering. Describing a small virtual scene like a single room is not a problem: a skilled artist can use CAD software to model the surface geometry of each object, as well as specify the color of its parts. However, this quickly becomes impractical as the virtual scene grows in extent to become, for instance, an entire planet. Similarly, even if an entire planet could be modeled, the data would simply not fit the computer memory.


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