Ray tracing is the technology that makes Toy Story, Monsters Inc, and many other cartoons (especially those produced by Pixar Films) possible. It helps create photo-realistic stills. Are these pictures photos or not? These can then be linked together in order to create the illusion of movement.
To get an idea of what can be achieved take a look at the POVRay “Hall of Fame“.
POVRay takes a shape definition, adds textures, lighting and a viewpoint, and then renders the information to create the image. The simplest way to start with POVRay is to take any of the examples and tweak values and see what effect it has.
Once you get a feel for how it works, you can start on one of the various beginner’s tutorials available.
Perhaps experiment with other software such as Blender or Wings3D in order to create more complex shapes for importing into POVRay for rendering. These images can perhaps be converted into short videos.
By this point you should be comfortable with either creating your own scenes, or searching for your own POVRay tutorials. Perhaps create an entry for a competition?
Well done, your journey of 3-D discovery has begun!