Particle-based simulation techniques, like the discrete element method or molecular dynamics, are widely used in many research fields. In real-time explorative visualization it is common to render the resulting data using opaque spherical glyphs with local lighting only. Due to massive overlaps, however, inner structures of the data are often occluded rendering visual analysis impossible. Furthermore, local lighting is not sufficient as several important features like complex shapes, holes, rifts or filaments cannot be perceived well.
To address both problems we present a new technique that jointly supports transparency and ambient occlusion in a consistent illumination model. Our approach is based on the emission-absorption model of volume rendering. We provide analytic solutions to the volume rendering integral for several density distributions within a spherical glyph. Compared to constant transparency our approach preserves the three-dimensional impression of the glyphs much better. We approximate ambient illumination with a fast hierarchical voxel cone-tracing approach, which builds on a new real-time voxelization of the particle data.
Our implementation achieves interactive frame rates for millions of static or dynamic particles without any preprocessing. We illustrate the merits of our method on real-world data sets gaining several new insights.