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Realistic water with POV-Ray - Introduction

Water in general is a quite difficult material to display in computer graphics. Various physical effects are important and both the nature of the water itself, the shape and chemical properties, as well as the environment it is placed in have strong influence on its appearance.

In the links section you can find detailed background material on the various physical aspects that are important, this text will mostly only cover the technical aspects of simulating them.

Povray offers quite a lot of functions that help creating realistic water. Most often water will be used as a largely plane surface so this is what this tutorial mainly describes, but many aspects can be used for other shapes of water too.

The sample scene used in this tutorial contains a plane object for the water and some objects to show the water's interaction with them. Some distance below the water there is a black plane to simulate deep water and avoid anything else to be visible from below the water. This scene will be varied slightly in the later parts to comply with the requirements of the different aspects.

The sky is generally very important for water scenes, none the less this tutorial does not cover the generation of realistic sky so i will only use a plain blue sky model here.

I will usually have three renders of each configuration, either varying some parameter of having one without radiosity, one with and one with light coming from front. Each picture has a link leading to a larger version.

no radiosity with radiosity radiosity w. light from front
no radiosity with radiosity radiosity w. light from front

material {
  texture {
    pigment {
      color rgbt <1111>
    finish {
      ambient 0.0
      diffuse 0.0

      reflection {
        fresnel on

      specular 0.4
      roughness 0.003
    normal {
      function {
      } 0.8
      scale 0.13
  interior {
    ior 1.3

This is just a material to start with, the following chapters will cover different aspects of this while leaving other things as they are here.

Continue with Part 2 (pigment and finish).