Self Shadow

An online shadow of myself

SIGGRAPH 2013 Links

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Once again, I’m collecting links to SIGGRAPH content: courses, talks, posters, etc. I’ll continue to update the post as new stuff appears.

Counting Quads

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This is a DX11 followup to an earlier article on quad ‘overshading’. If you’ve already read that, then feel free to skip to the meat of this post.


As you likely know, modern GPUs shade triangles in blocks of 2x2 pixels, or quads. Consequently, redundant processing can happen along the edges where there’s partial coverage, since only some of the pixels will end up contributing to the final image. Normally this isn’t a problem, but – depending on the complexity of the pixel shader – it can significantly increase, or even dominate, the cost of rendering meshes with lots of very small or thin triangles.

Figure 1: Quad overshading, the silent performance killer

For more information, see Fabian Giesen’s post, plus his excellent series in general.

It’s hardly surprising, then, that IHVs have been advising for years to avoid triangles smaller than a certain size, but that’s somewhat at odds with game developers – artists in particular – wanting to increase visual fidelity and believability, through greater surface detail, smoother silhouettes, more complex shading, etc. (As a 3D programmer, part of my job involves the thrill of being stuck in the middle of these kinds of arguments!)

Traditionally, mesh LODs have helped to keep triangle density in check. More recently, deferred rendering methods have sidestepped a large chunk of the redundant shading work, by writing out surface attributes and then processing lighting more coherently via volumes or tiles. However, these are by no means definitive solutions, and nascent techniques such as DX11 tessellation and tile-based forward shading not only challenge the status quo, but also bring new relevancy to the problem of quad shading overhead.

Knowing about this issue is one thing, but, as they say: seeing is believing. In a previous article, I showed how to display hi-z and quad overshading on Xbox 360, via some plaform-specific tricks. That’s all well and good, but it would be great to have the same sort of visualisation on PC, built into the game editor. It would also be helpful to have some overall stats on shading efficiency, without having to link against a library (GPUPerfAPI, PerfKit) or run a separate tool.

There are several ways of reaching these modest goals, which I’ll cover next. What I’ve settled on so far is admittedly a hack: a compromise between efficiency, memory usage, correctness and simplicity. Still, it fulfils my needs so far and I hope you find it useful as well.

Blending in Detail

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I’ve added a new article, Blending in Detail, written together with Colin Barré-Brisebois, on the topic of blending normal maps. We go through various techniques that are out there, as well as a neat alternative (“Reoriented Normal Mapping”) from Colin that I helped to optimise.

This is by no means a complete analysis – particularly as we focus on detail mapping – so we might return to the subject at a later date and tie up some loose ends. In the meantime, I hope you find the article useful. Please let us know in the comments!

Travelling Without Moving

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Lately I’d been getting increasingly frustrated with the limitations of WordPress(.com), so I longed for a change. With the Easter weekend, I finally had a little extra time and energy to make the switch to Octopress, plus a dedicated web host. Hopefully that’ll encourage me to start posting again, or at least remove one major grumble. I’m also looking forward to such liberties as the ability to embed WebGL, though I can’t entirely promise that I’ll wield such power responsibly.

~~Existing post URLs remain the same, but if you’re one of the illustrious few who subscribe to the blog via RSS, I’m guessing that you’ll need to change over to the new feed.~~ Update: I’m redirecting the old feed URL now, so everything should be back to normal! Speaking of RSS, as I’m now using MathJax for $\LaTeX$, it appears that I’ll need to implement a fallback there, in addition to tracking down a rendering issue with Chrome. Please let me know if you spot any other oddities.

Righting Wrap (Part 2)

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Wrapping Paper

I first tinkered with SH wrap shading (as described in part 1) for Splinter Cell: Conviction, since we were using a couple of models [1][2] for some character-specific materials. Unfortunately, due to the way that indirect character lighting was performed, it would have required additional memory that we couldn’t really justify at that point in development. Consequently, this work was left on the cutting room floor and I only got as far as testing out Green’s model [1].

Recently, however, I spotted that Irradiance Rigs [3] covers similar ground. At the very end of the short paper, they briefly present a generalisation of Valve’s Half Lambert model [2] and the SH convolution terms for the first three bands:

Righting Wrap (Part 1)

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A while back, Steve McAuley and I were discussing physically based rendering miscellanea over a quiet pint – hardly a stretch of the imagination, since we’re English 3D programmers after all! Anyway, it turned out that we both had plans to write up a few thoughts in relation to wrap shading, and, following some gentle arm-twisting, Steve has posted his. I suggest that you go and read that first if you haven’t already, then return here for a continuation of the subject.

Bad Wrap

Wrap shading has its uses when more accurate techniques are too expensive, or simply to achieve a certain aesthetic, but common models [1][2] have some deficiencies out of the box. Neither of these is energy conserving and they don’t really play well with shadows either. On top of that, Valve’s Half Lambert model [2] has a fixed amount of wrap, so it can’t be tuned to suit different materials (or, perhaps, to limit shadow oddities). I’ll come back to the point about flexibility in part 2, but first I’d like to discuss another factor that’s easily overlooked: environmental lighting.

Perpendicular Possibilities

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Figure 1: Major axes for original (left), swizzle (mid) and perpendicular (right) vectors


Two months ago, there was a question (and subsequent discussion) on Twitter as to how to go about generating a perpendicular unit vector, preferably without branching. It seemed about time that I finally post something more complete on the subject, since there are various ways to go about doing this, as well as a few traps awaiting the unwary programmer.

Hidden Costs

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I recently added two of my existing publications, one about high performance dynamic visibility and the other on how to display pixel quad overshading in real-time on Xbox 360.

The first of these was originally published in GPU Pro 2. Unfortunately, I missed some errors that crept into the typeset version, so I was pleased to finally correct those and I took the opportunity to rework a few sentences for greater clarity as well. Now that it’s online, I’ll also be able to refer directly to certain sections in follow-up blog posts on the subject.

The second took the form of a journal entry for the Microsoft Game Developer Network, which went up in the spring. It may have flown under your radar, as I’ve since spoken to a few developers who hadn’t seen it, yet were keen to have such a tool in their engine. For NDA reasons, I can’t go into all of the implementation details here, so think of it as a ‘graphical appetiser’.

In a way, the two topics are related: the primary goal of a visibility system is to efficiently remove parts of the world that can’t be seen from a given viewpoint, whereas the purpose of a debug overshading mode is to directly visualise pixel shader work, some of which can likewise have zero contribution to the final image.

I think it’s also fair to say that keeping both forms of redundancy in check is a critical part of optimising the rendering performance of most AAA titles. For that reason, I hope you find these articles useful, and as always, please let me know what you think!


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Both HPG and SIGGRAPH were a blast and I’m intending to write up a full report soon, but here are some links to conference content in the meantime. If you have any additional sources, please let me know in the comments section and I’ll update the post accordingly.