[Bf-cycles] Micropolygon Displacement in Cycles

Mai Lavelle mai.lavelle at gmail.com
Thu Jun 18 05:27:04 CEST 2015

Hi Nathan,

Thank you for your reply.

On Mon, May 4, 2015 at 7:59 PM, Nathan Vegdahl <cessen at cessen.com> wrote:

> Hi Mai,
> I have some experience with displacement mapping in a ray tracer due to my
> work on Psychopath.  So perhaps I can lend some insight.
Psychopath is pretty interesting, love reading blogs like yours. Your
insight is much appreciated :D

> There are a few problems with the geometry cache approach.  The first is
> that it works very poorly with multi-threading.  With multi-threading you
> either have to have a lock of some kind protecting the cache from data
> races, or you have to have a separate cache per thread.  Neither of these
> options scale well to very many cores (and certainly not the GPU!).
There are variations on an LRU cache that work better with multi-threading
which I'd like to try. Also, I think most users of cycles will probably
have a high enough memory-to-thread ratio to make per-thread cache
feasible. Better scalability and GPU will probably need some architectural
changes, but most systems using CPU should be fine without them.

> The second problem is that it has a very steep performance cliff when the
> cache starts thrashing, which isn't as unlikely as you might think.  Dicing
> rates based on ray differentials helps with that (as per the Pixar paper),
> but it's not a silver bullet, especially since even diffuse ray
> differentials often need to be narrow to capture certain shadowing effects
> properly (this was something I didn't expect when implementing adaptive
> dicing  in Psychopath).
This was disappointing to me. After reading your email and having a closer
look at the math I did some experiments with mipmapping to see the impact
differentials would have. If the differentials are too wide there is a
blurring effect on indirect light (PDF of BSDF doesn't match PDF of sampled
region, thus over/under valuing leading to blur). I don't think however
that this blurring will be objectionable in all cases, and see no reason
why some sort of quality setting can’t be added for this. There are also
other things to try. I’d like to investigate having a maximum trace depth
for displaced geometry which would help with cache thrashing.

> The third is that large dynamic displacements wreak havoc with BVH
> quality, to the point that rendering slows to a crawl.  The problem is that
> if you don't have the already-displaced geometry up front when building the
> BVH, then you have to add padding to the geometry bounding boxes to account
> for the displacement.  That's fine if the displacement is small compared to
> the base geometry, but if it's large compared to the base geometry then it
> makes all of the triangles' bounds significantly overlap with each other.
Large displacements are indeed a problem. Even REYES renderers suffer from
this. I think this can only be addressed by informing artists of the
problem with careful documentation.

> None of these problems are insurmountable, I think.  But I suspect the
> solutions involve large architectural shifts, and may require compromises
> in other areas.
> In the end, I think pre-tessellation probably makes the most sense for
> Cycles.  It can be done adaptively, with tunable parameters.  It has
> drawbacks, sure.  But it's a proven technique in other production
> renderers, and I think it fits best with Cycles' design.
> --Nathan
I still feel like it would be worthwhile to at least investigate the screen
adaptive approach further. It has been used successfully in production
environments and the differentials it uses are also useful for texture
caching. It definitely has problems, but I think if it can be gotten to
work it has some nice benefits.

As for pre-tessellation, my biggest concern is memory usage. I don’t see an
easy way to keep it down while also having pixel sized detail—although I
may be overestimating the problem. Maybe there is some compression
technique that could be used? The best I can think of is to reduce the dice
rate by the distance from camera, but there are situations where this wont
work so well. Pre-tessellation is far simpler to implement and I already
have some of it done, so I will finish it up first and see how it does. You
mention tunable parameters... could you be more specific? Maybe you have
thought of something I haven't?

Best regards,


> On Apr 29, 2015 2:33 PM, "Mai Lavelle" <mai.lavelle at gmail.com> wrote:
>> Hi Ton, thank you for the reply.
>> Sorry for not going into detail. Getting this to work is unlikely to be
>> easy, theres a lot to consider...
>> The ideal would be to have screen adaptive tessellation, where artists
>> set a size in pixels for micropolygons. The renderer would then use ray
>> differentials to calculate needed tessellation rate to match that size as
>> best as possible with respect to visual impact on
>> screen/reflections/refractions/etc. Some sort of cache would be used to
>> store tessellated geometry. Would likely start off limited to CPU, do to
>> trickiness of needing a dynamic cache. There are other techniques for
>> screen adaptive tessellation but I don't think that they would perform as
>> well. Screen adaptive tessellation would probably be the most desired by
>> artists for its ease of use and the high level of detail it can provide,
>> but its also the most difficult to implement. Details of this method can
>> get quite involved...
>> A much simpler approach is to pretessellate all geometry and send the
>> entire tessellated mesh to the kernel. Major problem with this is it
>> requires an enormous amount of memory to achieve detail. Bump mapping in
>> addition to displacement helps a bit, but artifacts appear in the
>> silhouette and tangent vectors which causes weirdness in specular
>> highlights. Possible way to mitigate memory issues with pretessellation is
>> to use frustum adaptive tessellation, but this probably isn't that useful
>> do to shadows and reflections of objects outside of the frustum having
>> under-tessellated silhouettes. It could be problematic for animation as
>> well do to possibility of popping as objects cross the frustum boundary.
>> Instances also pose a challenge here. In any case it might be a good idea
>> to have a memory limit for pretess since its difficult to predict, but this
>> could lead to other usability problems...
>> Examples of memory usage for pretessellation with current BVH and mesh
>> storage:
>>  - default cube with dice rate of 0.001 takes ~7.5GB
>>  - for a quad that spans a 1920x1080 screen tessellated to one micropoly
>> per pixel the memory consumption is ~700MB
>> Screen adaptive tessellation btw would allow for a user configurable
>> cache size where memory could potentially be traded for speed and vice
>> versa.
>> I mention pretessellation mostly for its simplicity. Even tho it has big
>> issues with memory it might still be useful for lower detail? Would be nice
>> to hear thoughts on which approach would be better. Thoughts about having
>> both methods available for use, or if there are other usable techniques
>> would also be great.
>> Regardless of method chosen for tessellation there are some things that
>> need work in general for displacement to be useful; the Diagsplit
>> implementation needs some improvement, and texture coordinates pose a
>> problem. Artists will likely need both texture coords generated form the
>> base mesh and the displaced mesh for some shading techniques. One idea is
>> to add a “Displaced” check box to the texture coord node, but I’m not sure
>> if other nodes would need similar consideration or if theres a better way
>> to approach the problem.
>> If needed I could write a more detailed proposal. I would very much like
>> to help make this happen, and look forward to your response.
>> Mai
>> On Sun, Apr 26, 2015 at 12:05 PM, Sergey Sharybin <sergey.vfx at gmail.com>
>> wrote:
>>> Hi,
>>> We actually had a brief discussion in IRC a while ago. To summarize:
>>> - There was a discussion in the list a while ago:
>>> http://lists.blender.org/pipermail/bf-cycles/2014-January/001744.html
>>> which basically concludes choosing approach for micropolygon displacement
>>> should be done with care
>>> - There's a patch from Main in the tracker which optimizes memory
>>> storage for subdivided meshes which i'll try to review in next few days
>>> https://developer.blender.org/D1242
>>> On Sun, Apr 26, 2015 at 8:46 PM, Ton Roosendaal <ton at blender.org> wrote:
>>>> Hi Mai,
>>>> Sorry for not getting any reaction sooner. People are busy I guess :
>>>> Could you be a bit more precise, and explain in more detail how you
>>>> want this to work?
>>>> Or, show a paper or some images on a website.
>>>> -Ton-
>>>> --------------------------------------------------------
>>>> Ton Roosendaal  -  ton at blender.org   -   www.blender.org
>>>> Chairman Blender Foundation - Producer Blender Institute
>>>> Entrepotdok 57A  -  1018AD Amsterdam  -  The Netherlands
>>>> On 29 Mar, 2015, at 21:38, Mai wrote:
>>>> > Hello,
>>>> >
>>>> > I had a nice conversation earlier in irc with Marco G, who suggested
>>>> I ask here. I'm very interested in helping out with getting micropolygon
>>>> displacement working in Cycles. What are the current plans for this and
>>>> what could I do to help? I've been poking around a bit at the code but
>>>> don't want to get too involved without asking about it first.
>>>> >
>>>> > Thank you,
>>>> > Mai Lavelle
>>>> > _______________________________________________
>>>> > Bf-cycles mailing list
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>>>> > http://lists.blender.org/mailman/listinfo/bf-cycles
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>>> --
>>> With best regards, Sergey Sharybin
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