CS 4910 Introduction to Non-Interactive Rendering Techniques

"Drawing with pixels by understanding physics and light" -- Your Instructor


  • Instructor: Mike Shah
  • E-mail: mikeshah( a t )Northeastern{dot}edu(Read How to send an e-mail)
  • Office: Virtual Nightingale 132A
  • Student Hours: In Location TBD
    • Review course material with me and ask questions
    • Date/Time: By appointment
    • Sign up for a 15-30 minute appointments arranged by e-mail on Google Hangouts here
  • Forum: Piazza Forum Board
  • Microsoft Teams Link for Live Video: Teams Link
Image 1

Famous Raytraced scene!

Image 2

The Cornell Box

Image 3

Pixar Raytracer on the back of a business card

Schedule/Road Map

The following is our tentative syllabus for the course, some changes should be expected throughout the semester. I will announce in class lecture, piazza, or through e-mail any major changes.

  • To get all of the assignments/activities for the course, you must first click the following link: Course Monorepo Do not do a 'git pull' until class starts (Occasionally I make changes/spelling corrections)
Lecture and Readings Assignments Note(s)
1 Wednesday - July 07, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Course Overview
    • Administrivia
    • Course Structure
    • Programming Language Selection
    • Introduction to Offline Rendering in Computer Graphics
    • Offline verus online graphics
    • Difference between ray tracing, path tracing, and other techniques
    • Begin Module!
Welcome back to class!
1 Friday - July 09, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Color
    • Images
    • Outputting an Image as a PPM
    • Outputting an Image as a TGA
    • Other Image Formats
    • Basic Math Notes
    • Begin Module!
A1 out (Due July 16 Anywhere on Earth)
2 Wednesday - July 14, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Rays
    • Vectors
    • Math Review
    • Ray Tracing
    • A few additional notes on Ray Tracing
    • Begin Module!
-- --
-- --
2 Friday - July 16, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Normal Vectors
    • Dot Product
    • Cross Product
    • Other Vector Math
    • Ray Tracing part 2 - Cameras
    • Ray Tracing part 2 - Materials
    • Begin Module!
A2 out (Due July 25 Anywhere on Earth)
-- --
3 Wednesday - July 21, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • How Cameras Work
    • Defocus Blur
    • Positioning a Camera
    • LookAt Function
    • Antialiasing
    • Begin Module!
-- --
-- --
3 Friday - July 23, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Rasterization versus Ray Tracing
    • Measuring performance with a profiler
    • Begin Module!
-- --
-- --
4 Wednesday - July 28, 2021
A3 out (Due Aug. 8 Anywhere on Earth)
-- --
4 Friday - July 30, 2021
  • Lecture outline
-- --
-Final Project Ideas

-Previous Year Projects

-Form Teams Spreadsheet

-Final Project Repository (Use this for your project!)
5 Wednesday - August 04, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Motion Blur
    • Acceleration Data Structures
    • Bounding Volume Hierarchy (BVH)
    • Begin Module!
-- --
Start finding resources/tutorials to aide in your final project/consult with professor on idea if needed.
5 Friday - August 06, 2021
-- --
Commit to a final project idea
6 Wednesday - August 11, 2021
Homework 4 released, due last day of class (AOE) Offline Graphics Cheat Sheet There is no exam for this course, however, I have a handy cheat sheet for you to go on forward with!

Start wrapping up project, and begin video production
6 Friday - August 13, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • No Class--catching up at SIGGRAPH and/away for travel
    • Begin final project/Finish A4
    • Begin Module!
-- --
-- --
7 Wednesday - August 18, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Cars
    • Basic ideas of parallelization in a ray tracer
    • Begin Module!
-- --
-- --
7 Friday - August 20, 2021
  • Lecture outline
    • Trace Evaluation
    • Course Wrap-up
    • Next Steps! (This is not the end!)
    • Begin Module!
Project Due Aug. 20th (AOE) Last day of Class!

Course Description

This course is going to teach you the essentials in Non-interactive (Offline Rendering) computer graphics techniques.

Registrar Description:This course introduces computer graphics algorithms and concepts primarily focusing on offline rendering techniques. The course consists of a lecture component and in-class laboratory where students will learn about common image synthesis algorithms and techniques to generate images used in games and 3D animated movies . Out of class activities will involve readings about techniques in ray tracing, path tracing, and other state-of-the-art research papers used in academic and industry. The course culminates with a final project in which students will complete in groups or individually a renderer for generating high-quality images. Students with an interest in a career as a graphics, rendering, or high performance computer engineer may consider taking this course.

Course Objectives

By the end of this course, you will:

  1. Students will learn and apply essential mathematics (trigonometry, geometry, linear algebra) used in 3D graphics.
  2. Students will learn the architectural differences between the CPU and GPU and be able to explain the tradeoffs of each.
  3. Students will learn fundamental data structures for organizing 3D scenes and be able to apply them.
  4. Students will learn how to use a profiler to understand how to find and optimize performance bottlenecks.
  5. Students will understand how to utilize concurrency to implement acceleration data structures to improve rendering time.
  6. Students will be able to understand and explain the differences between fundamental Non-interactive (offline) and real-time rendering techniques.


  • Previous experience with trigonometry and exposure to linear algebra.
  • You should have basic knowledge in github, using any text-based editor, and how to compile, run, and debug programs.
  • This course will be taught using examples in C and C++, but you may use any language you like. Thus, the ability to read code is necessary.
  • If you are unsure of what language to use, I recommend C or C++, as that is the language the graphics industry predominately uses.


There will be no required textbook to purchase for this course. However, these resources have been vetted, and I recommend for mastery (while taking this course, and reviewing later on in your career).

Academic Integrity and Non-Discrimination

Students and instructors are to follow the Northeastern policies on these important issues.

  • Northeastern Non-Discrimination Policy - This classroom is a safe space for the instructor and students to talk about ideas, share viewpoints, and learn.
  • Northeastern Academic Integrity Policy - You only cheat yourself if you are not honest. Most often cheating occurs when an individual falls behind or perhaps has other circumstances occurring in their life. Please consult the instructor before ever considering cheating.
    • If you are caught cheating I have to report the violation. My official policy is you receive a 0 in the course. Always remember, if you use any external sources, you must cite them.
  • Student Code of Conduct: Students and instructors will follow the following guide for how we conduct ourselves. This is to create a respectful environment where everyone can learn.

Make-Up Policy

Students participating in varsity athletics(this does not include club sports or intramurals) or other University sanctioned events may have the need for a make-up. Please contact me in advance of such events, so that appropriate accommodations can be made.

This semester we will be using a "tokens" system such that you can extend an assignment or lab (but not final project) by up to three days total. Simply move the token file to the assignment or lab directory in your github repo and it will be automatically applied. Further directions are in the repository

E-mailing me asking for extensions just because is unfortunately not fair to your classmates, thus in this course, we have the token system which allows you up to extend your assignment by up to 3 days throughout the semester (or otherwise to split 3 tokens for multiple assignments) to complete your work and stay on track. Assignment submissions that are otherwise submitted late without using a token receive a 10% penalty per day.

Occasionally, other life events and circumstances occur that were not planned. If this is the case, please e-mail me privately.


Part of what makes Northeastern University unique, is our diverse cohort of students, faculty, and staff. In order to support this, Northeastern is committed to providing equal access and support to all qualified students through the provision of reasonable accommodations so that each student may fully participate in the University experience.

  • If you have a disability that requires accommodations, please contact the Student Accessibility Services office at DRC@northeastern.edu or (617) 373-2675 to make an appointment with the Disability Resource Center representatives in 20 Dodge Hall to determine appropriate accommodations.
  • We Care is another university resource for helping tackle challenges you may be facing. Asking for help is okay!

Lateness and Attendance Policy

Students who do well in this course tend to show up to the course consistently, participate, start coursework the day it is assigned, and engage with their peers. Come to class, come on time, and build good habits! In-Class activities that are not completed during attendance are a zero.

Wellness Policy

While university can be difficult at times, please do take care of yourself. It is okay to seek help and take a break. Please communicate with your instructor, advisor, and officials at the university if you just need a mental break.

Northeastern Univerity provides resources for student healthcare and general wellness:

I personally remember how difficult university can be juggling myself multiple jobs, multiple clubs, and trying to learn. Do take your wellness seriously!

Assessment/Course Polices

Please find below the grading distribution that will be used for this course to compute a weighted average for your final grade. You will find grades you earn through the semester on Canvas and your final grade in banner.

  • In-Class Activity: (5%)
  • Assignments:       (70%)(Each equally weighted)
  • Final Project:     (25%)

  • The grade system follows the University Grading System.
    • A  = 95 – 100
    • A- = 91 – 94.99
    • B+ = 87 – 90.99
    • B  = 83 – 86.99
    • B- = 80 – 82.99
    • C+ = 77 – 79.99
    • C  = 73 – 76.99
    • C- = 70 – 72.99
    • D+ = 67 – 69.99
    • D  = 63 – 66.99
    • D- = 60 – 62.99
    • F  =  0 – 59.99
  • Please do not ask me for an A on the first day of class (It happens enough I have a bullet point here).
  • In the event of a sick/snow day (i.e. we miss a lab or in-class activity) the weight of each assignment increases (There may also be shuffling of course material if we are interrupted).
  • The expectation is that the assignments are fair but difficult, so you should start early!
  • Late Submissions of Assignments can be extended up to 3 days max with your tokens without a penalty--otherwise your assignments lose 10% each day it is turned in late if a token has not been used
    • Unfortunately, with large classes I cannot make individual exceptions (i.e. "special deals") fairly to your classmates who are likely making other personal sacrifices to complete work on time.
    • Come speak to me about your wellness if something is otherwise impeding your progress so we can provide you available resources to succeed.
  • Assignments that do not compile/open receive no credit Simply put, programs that do not compile do not do anything.
  • There are no "re-grades" or points awarded one week after your grade is posted. "re-grades" may result in a higher, equal, or lower score.
    • Re-grades are done cautiously to correct any errors that may occur from the course staff.
    • Re-grades are not for "redoing assignments", you have the opportunity to improve based on the feedback for your next assignment.
    • There are no "re-grades" after the semester is over.
    • Do not ask multiple members of the course staff for "re-grades"
  • If you are currently waitlisted, you must submit your homework on time. That is the gamble! If you do not have Canvas access, you will submit by e-mail or other course mechanism (e.g. github).
  • There are no extra credit assignments just for you. I reserve the right to add points to assignments that do go above and beyond however. I reserve the right to give an extra credit assignment to the entire class, though this is highly unlikely.
  • I reserve the right to modify the grading scale in your favor if you show exemplary proficiency in any of the catagories. I will never modify the scale to lower a students grade.
  • In class work cannot be made up at a later date unless otherwise arranged with the instructor well in advance.
    • Course work completed after the date cannot be graded, as solutions will have been discussed (this includes if taking this course for an Incomplete).
    • Once again, "in-class" work must be completed in-class unless there is a documented emergency or you have prearranged with the instructor a make-up well in advance.
  • Lab time is meant for helping students with the lab, not completing homework. I have to prioritize lab first, then can answer homework questions.
  • No Facebook, no cell phones. Not only does it distract you, it distracts others!
  • Everyone needs to come see me in office hours (or by appointment) at least one time during the semester to introduce yourself. The purpose is so that you:
    • Know where my office is.
    • Get used to coming to office hours.
    • Let me know how I can help you achieve your goals.

Please do not redistribute or host any materials without e-mailing me first. I generally am happy to share the latest .pdf or slide presentation with those who ask. Thank you for your time!