In-Scattering Demo

Posted: May 29th, 2010 | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments »

This demo shows an analytic solution to the differential in-scattering equation for light in participating media. It's a similar but simplified version of equations found in [1], [2] and as I recently discovered [3]. However I thought showing the derivation might be interesting for some out there, plus it was a good excuse for me to brush up on my \(\LaTeX\).

You might notice I also updated the site's theme, unfortunately you need a white background to make LaTeX rendering play nice with RSS feeds (other than that it's very convenient).

Download the demo here

The demo uses GLSL and shows point and spot lights in a basic scene with some tweakable parameters:


Given a view ray defined as:

\[\mathbf{x}(t) = \mathbf{p} + t\mathbf{d}\]

We would like to know the total amount of light scattered towards the viewer (in-scattered) due to a point light source. For the purposes of this post I will only consider single scattering within isotropic media.

The differential equation that describes the change in radiance due to light scattered into the view direction inside a differential volume is given in PBRT (p578), if we assume equal scattering in all directions we can write it as:

\[dL_{s}(t) = \sigma_{s}L_{i}(t)\,dt\]

Where \(\sigma_{s}\)  is the scattering probability which I will assume includes the normalization term for an isotropic phase funtion of \(\frac{1}{4pi}\). For a point light source at distance d with intensity I we can calculate the radiant intensity at a receiving point as:

\[L_{i} = \dfrac{I}{d^2}\]

Plugging in the equation for a point along the view ray we have:

\[L_{i}(t) = \dfrac{I}{|\mathbf{x}(t)-\mathbf{s}|^2}\]

Where s is the light source position. The solution to (1) is then given by:

\[L_{s} = \int_{0}^{d} \sigma_{s}L_{i}(t) \, dt\]

\[L_{s} = \int_{0}^{d} \frac{\sigma_{s}I}{|\mathbf{x}(t)-\mathbf{s}|^2}\,dt\]

To find this integral in closed form we need to expand the distance calculation in the denominator into something we can deal with more easily:

\[L_{s} = \sigma_{s}I\int_0^d{\dfrac{dt}{(\mathbf{p} + t\mathbf{d} - \mathbf{s})\cdot(\mathbf{p} + t\mathbf{d} - \mathbf{s})}}\]

Expanding the dot product and gathering terms, we have:

\[L_{s} = \sigma_{s}I\int_{0}^{d}\frac{dt}{(\mathbf{d}\cdot\mathbf{d})t^2 + 2(\mathbf{m}\cdot\mathbf{d})t + \mathbf{m}\cdot\mathbf{m} }\]

Where \(\mathbf{m} = (\mathbf{p}-\mathbf{s})\).

Now we have something a bit more familiar, because the direction vector is unit length we can remove the coefficient from the quadratic term and we have:

\[L_{s} = \sigma_{s}I\int_{0}^{d}\frac{dt}{t^2 + 2bt + c}\]

At this point you could look up the integral in standard tables but I'll continue to simplify it for completeness.  Completing the square we obtain:

\[L_{s} = \sigma_{s}I\int_{0}^{d}\frac{dt}{ (t^2 + 2bt + b^2) + (c-b^2)}\]

Making the substitution \(u = (t + b)\), \(v = (c-b^2)^{1/2}\) and updating our limits of integration, we have:

\[L_{s} = \sigma_{s}I\int_{b}^{b+d}\frac{du}{ u^2 + v^2}\]

\[L_{s} = \sigma_{s}I \left[ \frac{1}{v}\tan^{-1}\frac{u}{v} \right]_b^{b+d}\]

Finally giving:

\[L_{s} = \frac{\sigma_{s}I}{v}( \tan^{-1}\frac{d+b}{v} - \tan^{-1}\frac{b}{v} )\]

This is what we will evaluate in the pixel shader, here's the GLSL snippet for the integral evaluation (direct translation of the equation above):

float InScatter(vec3 start, vec3 dir, vec3 lightPos, float d)
// light to ray origin
vec3 q = start - lightPos;

// coefficients
float b = dot(dir, q);
float c = dot(q, q);

// evaluate integral
float s = 1.0f / sqrt(c - b*b);
float l = s * (atan( (d + b) * s) - atan( b*s ));

return l;

Where d is the distance traveled, computed by finding the entry / exit points of the ray with the volume.

To make the effect more interesting it is possible to incorporate a particle system, I apply the same scattering shader to each particle and treat it as a thin slab to obtain an approximate depth, then simply multiply by a noise texture at the end.


  • As it is above the code only supports lights with infinite extent, this implies drawing the entire frame for each light.  It would be possible to limit it to a volume but you'd want to add a falloff to the effect to avoid a sharp transition at the boundary.
  • Performing the full evaluation per-pixel for the particles is probably unnecessary, doing it at a lower frequency, per-vertex or even per-particle would probably look acceptable.


  • Generally objects appear to have wider specular highlights and more ambient lighting in the presence of particpating media.  [1] Discusses this in detail but you can fudge it by lowering the specular power in your materials as the scattering coefficient increases.
  • According to Rayliegh scattering blue light at the lower end of the spectrum is scattered considerably more than red light.  It's simple to account for this wavelength dependence by making the scattering coefficient a constant vector weighted towards the blue component.  I found this helps add to the realism of the effect.
  • I'm curious to know how the torch light was done in Alan Wake as it seems to be high quality (not just billboards) with multiple light shafts.. maybe someone out there knows?


[1] Sun, B., Ramamoorthi, R., Narasimhan, S. G., and Nayar, S. K. 2005. A practical analytic single scattering model for real time rendering.

[2] Wenzel, C. 2006. Real-time atmospheric effects in games.

[3] Zhou, K., Hou, Q., Gong, M., Snyder, J., Guo, B., and Shum, H. 2007. Fogshop: Real-Time Design and Rendering of Inhomogeneous, Single-Scattering Media.


[4] Engelhardt, T. and Dachsbacher, C. 2010. Epipolar sampling for shadows and crepuscular rays in participating media with single scattering.

[5] Volumetric Shadows using Polygonal Light Volumes (upcoming HPG2010)


Stochastic Pruning for Real-Time LOD

Posted: January 12th, 2010 | Tags: , , , | 5 Comments »

Rendering plants efficiently has always been a challenge in computer graphics, a relatively new technique to address this is Pixar's stochastic pruning algorithm. Originally developed for rendering the desert scenes in Cars, Weta also claim to have used the same technique on Avatar.

Although designed with offline rendering in mind it maps very naturally to the GPU and real-time rendering. The basic algorithm is this:

  1. Build your mesh of N elements (in the case of a tree the elements would be leaves, usually represented by quads)
  2. Sort the elements in random order (a robust way of doing this is to use the Fisher-Yates shuffle)
  3. Calculate the proportion U of elements to render based on distance to the object.
  4. Draw N*U unpruned elements with area scaled by 1/U

So putting this onto the GPU is straightforward, pre-shuffle your index buffer (element wise), when you come to draw you can calculate the unpruned element count using something like:

[sourcecode language="cpp"]
// calculate scaled distance to viewer
float z = max(1.0f, Length(viewerPos-objectPos)/pruneStartDistance);
// distance at which half the leaves will be pruned
float h = 2.0f;
// proportion of elements unpruned
float u = powf(z, -Log(h, 2));
// actual element count
int m = ceil(numElements * u);
// scale factor
float s = 1.0f / u;

Then just submit a modified draw call for m quads:

[sourcecode language="cpp"]
glDrawElements(GL_QUADS, m*4, GL_UNSIGNED_SHORT, 0);

The scale factor computed above preserves the total global surface area of all elements, this ensures consistent pixel coverage at any distance. The scaling by area can be performed efficiently in the vertex shader meaning no CPU involvement is necessary (aside from setting up the parameters of course). In a basic implementation you would see elements pop in and out as you change distance but this can be helped by having a transition window that scales elements down before they become pruned (discussed in the original paper).

Tree unpruned

Tree pruned to 10% of original

Billboards still have their place but it seems like this kind of technique could have applications for many effects, grass and particle systems being obvious ones.

I've updated my previous tree demo with an implementation of stochastic pruning and a few other changes:

  • Fixed some bugs with ATI driver compatability
  • Preetham based sky-dome
  • Optimised shadow map generation
  • Some new example plants
  • Tweaked leaf and branch shaders

You can download the demo here

I use the Self-organising tree models for image synthesis algorithm (from SIGGRAPH09) to generate the trees which I have posted about previously.

While I was researching I also came across Physically Guided Animation of Trees from Eurographics 2009, they have some great videos of real-time animated trees.

I've also posted my collection of plant modelling papers onto Mendeley (great tool for organising pdfs!).

Tree pruned to 70% of original