Internet Ray Tracing Competition Entries

Jul-Aug 1999 - Landmarks

Sydney Opera House


Opened in 1973, the Sydney Opera House is one of the most instantly recognisable buildings in the world. Its dominant location on Sydney Harbour echoes its dominance as a centre of excellence in the performing arts and as a symbol of Australia to the world. The first and so far only man-made object to receive a nomination for World Heritage listing, the Opera House is a cultural, national, historic and architectural, as well as a merely geographical, landmark.

I had an idea within 5 minutes of seeing the topic for this round. It wasn't hard, because I've wanted to do this particular image ever since I started using POV-Ray - now I have a good excuse!

This image is the product of a trip to the library, about an hour's worth of reading about the architecture of the building, some careful measurements with a pencil and ruler, and about two hours of POV coding.

If you never knew how the shape of these shells was designed, this second image may shed some light! The surface of each shell is actually a part of a sphere, as I learnt from my studies. Each of the eight shell halves which make up the four main shells can be cut from the same sphere. The concert hall shells have a sphere radius of 75 metres. This image shows the spheres for the west (right) side shells, and you can see how the shapes fit the surface of the translucent bubbles.

6 July. I went down to the Opera House and took a roll of film as reference photos. My photo developer must have thought I was crazy, because I took lots of shots of staircases and railings and only one or two showing the typical touristy "interesting" bits.

8 July. I made an appointment to see Jørn Utzon's original architectural plans at the State Library of New South Wales. This was very cool. I was escorted into a big room with lots of people working on restoring and preserving old documents and sat down at a desk with a selection of the plans (there are thousands of drawings). They gave me a pencil to use as I measured the plans and took notes, because the rules say no pens can be used anywhere in that room. Two hours later I had 4 sheets full of detailed sketches and notes to use in my modelling.


This is a working image of the podium. I have most of the forecourt steps modelled here. Trouble is there are so many steps that the aliasing is rather bad. Still, I'll leave them in for now because the final view may show some in close up.

Oh, I've also redone my measurements of the spherical geometry of the shells and done some more accurate calculations to get the angles and stuff right. The actual image of the shells hasn't visibly changed much, but it's much closer to the real thing now.

20 July. I had copies made of some of Jørn Utzon's architectural plans from 1962. The State Library was very helpful, and I now have some huge and detailed plans to take measurements from.

I've done all of the podium steps and added the shells in their correct relative positions. The forecourt and broadwalk areas still need to be added, but for this image I added some water so I can get an idea how the overall final composition will look. There is still plenty of detailing to be done... particularly the glass walls enclosing the hall interiors and the wooden interior walls. Oh, and all the land and trees and other buildings in the background!

30 July. I went to a concert at the Opera House tonight. Anthony Walker conducting the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in a selection of choral pops. They performed some of my favourite choral music, including selections from Messiah, Beethoven's 9th Symphony and Carmina Burana. It was a fun concert, and I also did some raytracing research by measuring up exact sizes of steps and landings and various other things with a tape measure!

7 August. I've added some of the minor shell components, and the copper ribbing underneath the major shells. This is a test render, with the podium removed. The red dot is a light source. I was moving them around trying to get the copper ribs lit up and couldn't see where the light sources were so I made it a red ball. The red bar is the vertical coordinate axis, also added to help me navigate around the structure. All the copper underneath the minor shells will be hidden by wood and glass later.

9 August. Started work on the glass walls. My research has given me the exact thickness of the glass used. The panes are a laminate of two layers of glass - a thick layer of clear float glass, and a tinted layer of glass - sandwiched around a layer of strengthening plastic. The tinted glass is a colour called demi-topaze, developed specially for the Opera House, which offsets the slight greenish tint of the thicker glass layer and gives the final result a warmer colour. I've cheated and modelled the laminate as a single layer of slightly topaz-tinted glass.

31 August. I kind of got stuck there, being far too busy with work the past 3 weeks. My entry was submited in an unfinished state.


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