Physically Based Animation
and Rendering of Lightning

Theodore Kim, Ming Lin
{kim, lin}
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

We present a physically-based method for animating and rendering lightning and other electric arcs. For the simulation, we present the dielectric breakdown model, an elegant formulation of electrical pattern formation. We then extend the model to animate a sustained, "dancing" electrical arc, by using a simplified Helmholtz equation for propagating electromagnetic waves. For rendering, we use a convolution kernel to produce results competitive with Monte Carlo ray tracing. Lastly, we present user parameters for manipulation of the simulation patterns.

Appeared in Proc. of Pacific Graphics 2004 [PDF]

***Update***: See new results including source code.

Try out our lightning Java Applet. Instructions are here and the results of different resolution simulations are here.

Electricity jumping between two electrodes [MPEG-4]
Lightning following a blue ball [MPEG-4]
Lightning dodging obstacles in a Cornell Box [MPEG-4]