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This paper presents a generalized analysis model for fringe pattern profilometry. We mathematically derived a new analysis model that gives a more general expression of the relationship between projected and deformed fringe patterns. Meanwhile, based on the proposed generalized model, a new algorithm is presented to retrieve 3-D surfaces from nonlinearly distorted fringes. Without any prior knowledge about the projection system, we still can obtain very accurate measurement results by using a generalized analysis model and a proposed algorithm. Computer simulation and experimental results show that the generalized model and the proposed algorithm can significantly improve the 3-D reconstruction precision, especially when the projected fringe pattern is nonlinearly distorted.