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Blur and the perception of depth at occlusions.

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The depth ordering of two surfaces, one occluding the other, can in principle be determined from the correlation between the occlusion border's blur and the blur of the two surfaces. If the border is blurred, the blurrier surface is nearer; if the border is sharp, the sharper surface is nearer. Previous research has found that observers do not use this informative cue. We reexamined this finding. Using a multiplane display, we confirmed the previous finding: Our observers did not accurately judge depth order when the blur was rendered and the stimulus presented on one plane. We then presented the same simulated scenes on multiple planes, each at a different focal distance, so the blur was created by the optics of the eye. Performance was now much better, which shows that depth order can be reliably determined from blur information but only when the optical effects are similar to those in natural viewing. We asked what the critical differences were in the single- and multiplane cases. We found that chromatic aberration provides useful information but accommodative microfluctuations do not. In addition, we examined how image formation is affected by occlusions and observed some interesting phenomena that allow the eye to see around and through occluding objects and may allow observers to estimate depth in da Vinci stereopsis, where one eye's view is blocked. Finally, we evaluated how accurately different rendering and displaying techniques reproduce the retinal images that occur in real occlusions. We discuss implications for computer graphics.

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