I am not a graphics expert so cannot speak to what may be better, faster, more powerful or flexible programs to do raytracing for visualization, but I have used Rayshade since my days as a Ph.D. student (in geophysics, not computer science). I found it easy to use, powerful for rendering images especially for combining data presentation with presentation of uncertainties, and fun to play with. Its use within .ray files (scripts) was intuitively easy for this shell script addict, and I loved it. I have only been able to use it on Unix machines heretofore, however, as my learn-by-osmosis sysadmin capabilities and understanding of compiler errors gave me fits trying to get it running on Ubuntu. I typed "trouble compiling rayshade on Ubuntu" into my Google search window and, Voila!, the SourceForge page with is executable popped up. Easy install, now it works just like I remember. Happy.