Back in the early 2000s, the CGTechniques website had a “rendering challenge”, where an interesting model would be posted and then artists would try to make the best rendering they could of it. I remember how remarkable the images were in those early days of global illumination–seeing complex 3D models coupled with beautiful lighting was incredibly inspiring, especially when there were few especially interesting scenes available for use in rendering research. One of the models used for the challenge was the now-famous “Sponza Atrium,” created by Marko Dabrovic. The CGTechniques website is remarkably still online, but the contest pages are missing images, though delivers some of them at least.

In those days of the rendering challenge, Greg Humphreys and I were in the thick of working on the first edition of Physically Based Rendering. We were desperate for good scenes to render. I got in touch with Marko and he was more than happy to give us permission to use the Sponza Atrium model in the book and to help with the conversion. In addition to the atrium and a model of the Šibenik Cathedral, less famous though still wonderful, Marko and his colleague Mihovil Odak had a nice model of an Audi TT that we made extensive use of as well. They were all great scenes, especially for those days; we kept using them in the book through the third edition, only now moving on to new ones, two decades later.

I was recently able to visit Croatia, home to the originals for the Sponza Atrium and Šibenik Cathedral models. I didn’t make it to Šibenik, so missed the cathedral, but I did visit Dubrovnik, home of the Sponza Palace. You get a nice postcard when you pay the entrance fee.

Postcard of the Sponza Palace

The Sponza Place is now home to the Dubrovnik State Archive. A room at the entrance has a memorial to the 200 soldiers who died defending Dubrovnik during the Siege of Dubrovnik. The Palace itself was damaged then, hit by a number of shells. You couldn’t tell now, nor do you see any hint of the broader devastation to the city, just 30 years ago.

It was quiet when I visited the Palace even though the streets of Dubrovnik outside were packed with tourists. And by quiet I mean that no one else was in the Atrium most of the time I was there, not that I’m complaining. I’m happy to confirm that the GI effects are impressive to see in person.

Matt in the Sponza Palace Atrium

I took advantage of the emptiness and recorded a three-minute long video, walking about and panning my camera around to capture the details as well as I could. Here’s a low-resolution GIF of the first 20 seconds of it. (Caution: I find it a little nausea-inducing to view the video now; the goal was a thorough capture rather than something pleasing for human consumption.) I offer it up as fodder for a fun NeRF, or at least as reference to the original.

Short video of the Sponza Palace Atrium