3D Graphics Rendering Pipeline

A pipeline, in computing terminology, refers to a series of processing stages in which the output from one stage is fed as the input of the next stage, similar to a factory assembly line or water/oil pipe. With massive parallelism, pipeline can greatly improve the overall throughput.

In computer graphics, rendering is the process of producing image on the display from model description.

The 3D Graphics Rendering Pipeline accepts description of 3D objects in terms of vertices of primitives (such as triangle, point, line and quad), and produces the color-value for the pixels on the display.

Some key terms we will work through as we better understand this pipeline:

  • Multi-threading –  the ability of a program or an operating system process to manage its use by more than one user at a time and to even manage multiple requests by the same user without having to have multiple copies of the programming running in the computer.
  • Vertex arrays – store vertex data in a set of arrays including vertex positions, normals, texture coordinates and color information. And you can draw only a selection of geometric primitives by dereferencing the array elements with array indices.
  • Shaders – a computer program that is used to do shading: the production of appropriate levels of color within an image, or, in the modern era, also to produce special effects or do video post-processing.
  • Rasterization –  the task of taking an image described in a vector graphics format (shapes) and converting it into a raster image (pixels or dots) for output on a video display or printer, or for storage in a bitmap file format.
  • Fragment shaders – the Shader stage that will processes a Fragmentgenerated by the Rasterization into a set of colors and a single depth value. The fragment shader is the OpenGL pipeline stage after a primitive is rasterized.
  • Front and back buffers – A software implementation of double buffering has all drawing operations store their results in some region of system RAM; any such region is often called a “back buffer”. When all drawing operations are considered complete, the whole region (or only the changed portion) is copied into the video RAM (the “front buffer”); this copying is usually synchronized with the monitor’s raster beam in order to avoid tearing. Double buffering necessarily requires more memory and CPU time than single buffering because of the system memory allocated for the back buffer, the time for the copy operation, and the time waiting for synchronization.

This is a great primer written in the context of OpenGL, but its lessons and overview provide insight without a fluency in that framework.

A brief post reinforcing some of the other reading on the topic.

A fantastic overview providing an in depth and technical understanding of the entire pipeline.




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