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Crepuscular rays (also known as god rays or shafts of light) are an optical effect formed when light from the sun passes through gaps between clouds or other objects, creating columns of sunlit air contrasting against darker areas in shadow. In 3D video games and animation, these rays are simulated through a technique known as volumetric lighting.
When used in conjunction with High Dynamic Range (HDR) lighting, bloom, coronas, and advanced shadowing effects, this technique can create a more realistic and visually interesting scene within a game. Examples of crepuscular rays can be seen in titles such as Crysis and Oblivion, which contain vast swathes of natural scenery and excellent global lighting effects.
You would normally witness them during bright sunlight, with some kind of overhead cover obscuring the majority of the light. With just the right kind of gap in the canopy of a forest, between two mountains in the distance, or in some clouds you get this brilliant stream of light making it through to the ground. They are also known as "Jacob's Ladder" or "god rays" because some people compare them to God himself shining a torch onto the Earth.