Exterior Calculus in Graphics

SIGGRAPH 2023 long course

Stephanie Wang Mohammad Sina Nabizadeh Albert Chern


The demand for a more advanced multivariable calculus has rapidly increased in computer graphics research, such as physical simulation, geometry synthesis, and differentiable rendering. Researchers in computer graphics often have to turn to references outside of graphics research to study identities such as the Reynolds Transport Theorem or the geometric relationship between stress and strain tensors. This course presents a comprehensive introduction to exterior calculus, which covers many of these advanced topics in a geometrically intuitive manner. The course targets anyone who knows undergraduate-level multivariable calculus and linear algebra and assumes no more prerequisites. Contrary to the existing references, which only serve the pure math or engineering communities, we use timely and relevant graphics examples to illustrate the theory of exterior calculus. We also provide accessible explanations to several advanced topics, including continuum mechanics, fluid dynamics, and geometric optimizations. The course is organized into two main sections: a lecture on the core exterior calculus notions and identities with short examples of graphics applications, and a series of mini-lectures on graphics topics using exterior calculus.