Water drop 3a – Physically based wet surfaces

Version : 1.3 – Living blog – First version was 19 March 2013

This is the third post of a series about simulating rain and its effect on the world in game. As it is a pretty big post, I split it in two parts A and B:

Water drop 1 – Observe rainy world
Water drop 2a – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 2b – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 3a – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 3b – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 4a – Reflecting wet world
Water drop 4b – Reflecting wet world

Physically based rendering (PBR) is now common in game (See Adopting a physically based shading model to know more about it). When I introduce PBR in my company few years ago we were actually working on rain. At this time we were questioning about how our new lighting model should behave to simulate wet surfaces. With classic game lighting model, the way everybody chose was to darken the diffuse term and boost the specular term (Here I refer to the classic specular use as RGB color to multiply with the lighting). The wet diffuse/specular factors being eye calibrate. I wanted to go further than simply adapt this behavior to PBR and this required to better understand the interaction between water and materials. This post is a mix of the result of old and recent researches. I chose to provide up to date information including experimental (not complete) work because the subject is complex and talking about it is useful. This might be of interest for future research. The post describe how water influence materials and provide ways to simulate wet surfaces with physically based lighting model.  I suppose here that’s the reader know the basics of reflected/refracted lights with Snell’s law and index of refraction (IOR).

Wet surfaces – Theory

People are able to distinguish between a wet and a dry surface by sight. The observation post show many pictures to illustrate this point. The main visual cue people retain is that wet surfaces look darker, more specular and exhibit subtle changes in saturation and hue when wet:


This behavior is commonly observed for natural or human made rough material/porous materials (brick, clay, plaster, concrete, asphalt, wood, rust, cardboard, stone…), powdered materials (sand, dirt, soil…), absorbent materials (paper, cotton, fabrics…) or organic materials (fur, hair…). However this is not always the case, smooth materials (glass, marble, plastic, metal, painted surface, polished surface…) don’t change. For example, there is a big difference between a dry rough stone and a wet rough stone but a very small difference between highly polished wet stone and highly polished dry stone.
In the following discussion, wet surfaces refer mostly to rough and diffuse materials quenched in water and having a very thin water layer on their surfaces.

Why rough wet surfaces are darker when wet ? Because they reflect less light.
There is two optical phenomena imply in this decrease of light reflection and they are details in [3] and [4]. A rough material has small air gaps or pores which will be filling by water when wetting process begin. When pores are filled, there is  “water saturation”, water propagates onto the material as a thin layer.

Let’s first see the impact of the thin layer of water. The rough surface leads to a diffuse reflection (Lambertian surface).  Some of the light reflected from the surface will be reflected back to the surface by the water-air interface due to total internal reflection. Total internal reflection occur when moving from a denser medium into a less dense one (i.e., n1 > n2), above an incidence angle known as the critical angle (See [1] for more detail). For water-air interface, this is \theta_c=arcsin(\frac{n_{air}}{n_{water}})=arcsin(\frac{1.0}{1.33})=48.75^{\circ}

CriticalAngleWaterSource [1]

This reflected light from the surface is then subject to another round of absorption by the surface before it is reflected again. This light’s back and forth result in darkening of the surface.

WaterAirSource [2]

Now take a look at the water filling in the pore inside the rough material. There is a concentration of water beneath the surface. The water which replace the air have an index of refraction higher than that of air (1.33 against 1.0) which is closer to index of refraction of most rough dielectric material (1.5). Consequence, following the Snell’s law, light entering in material will be less refracted due to the reduced index of refraction difference: The scattering of light under the surface is more directional in the forward direction. The increase scattering events before the light leave the surface increases the amount of light absorbed and thus reduce the light reflection.


The darkening of the material is also accompanied by a subtle change in saturation and hue. In [11] the spectral reflectance (i.e the “RGB” representation of real world color, the visible range of the spectrum is around 400nm blue to 780 nm red) of a dry and wet stone has been measured to highlight these characteristics. Analyze show that’s there is a significant reduction in reflectance across the whole range of the visible spectrum when the surface gets wet. Which confirm the darkening of the surface. It also show that’s the surface color becomes more saturated because of this reduction.


Source [11].

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Water drop 2b – Dynamic rain and its effects

Version : 1.1 – Living blog – First version was 3 january 2013

This is the second post of a series about simulating rain and its effect on the world in game. As it is a pretty big post, I split it in two parts a and b:

Water drop 1 – Observe rainy world
Water drop 2a – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 2b – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 3a – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 3b – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 4a – Reflecting wet world
Water drop 4b – Reflecting wet world

Directly following the part a let’s continue with other rain effects:

Water influence on material, water accumulation and puddles

In the observation post we see that a wet surface is darker and brighter depends on its material properties. The influence of water on a material is complex and will be discuss in detail in the next post : Water drop 3 – Physically based wet surfaces. For now we will follow the guideline define by Nakamae et al in “A Lighting Model Aiming at Drive Simulators” [1]. When it rains water accumulate in ground crack, gap and deformation. With sufficient precipitation puddles can appear and stay a long time even after it stop to rain (as highlight by the observation post). To define the different states of the ground surfaces [1] introduce the following classification:

Type 1: a dry region
Type 2: a wet region; i.e., the region where the road surface is wet but no water gathers
Type 3: a drenched region; i.e., the region where water remains to some extent but no puddles are formed, or the region of the margin of a puddle
Type 4: a puddle region

When a surface is wet (type 2), the paper suggest to apply a reflection coefficient of 5 to 10 on the specular and 0.1 to 0.3 on the diffuse. In the pseudo code of this section, we will represent this water influence by a function DoWetProcess. This function take a percentage of wetting strength under the form of a shader variable we will call wet level. When wet level is 0, the surface is dry, when 1 it is wet. This value is different from the raindrop intensity of the previous sections. Wet level variable is increase when the rain starts and takes some time to decrease it after it stops. Allowing simulating some drying. Here is a simple pseudo code:

void DoWetProcess(inout float3 Diffuse, inout float Gloss, float WetLevel)
   // Water influence on material BRDF
   Diffuse    *= lerp(1.0, 0.3, WetLevel);
   // Not the same boost factor than the paper
   Gloss       = min(Gloss * lerp(1.0, 2.5, WetLevel), 1.0);

// Water influence on material BRDF
DoWetProcess(Diffuse, Gloss, WetLevel);

Note that’s there is no change apply on the normal, when the surface is wet, we simply use the original normal. Here is shot with an environment map apply:


For puddles (type 4), the paper suggest a two layers reflection model as the photos of real rainy world show us. For now we keep it simple and just use the water BRDF parameters coupled with the diffuse attenuation of a wet surface. For the margin region of puddles (type 3) a simple weighting function between the two previous models is proposed. Here we lerp between the current material BRDF parameters (wet or not) and result of type 4 BRDF parameters to simulate the presence of accumulate water. Puddles placement need to be control by the artists and we use the alpha channel of vertex colors of a mesh for this purpose.  We provide a tool to our artists to paint vertex color in the editor directly on the mesh instance (more exactly Unreal Engine 3 provides tools). The blend weight of our lerping method is defined by the value of the vertex’s color alpha channel: 0 mean puddle and 255 mean no puddle (the default value for vertex color is often white opaque). Pseudo code:

AccumulatedWater = VertexColor.a;

// Type 2 : Wet region
DoWetProcess(Diffuse, Gloss, WetLevel);

// Apply accumulated water effect
// When AccumulatedWater is 1.0 we are in Type 4
// so full water properties, in between we are in Type 3
// Water is smooth
Gloss    = lerp(Gloss, 1.0, AccumulatedWater);
// Water F0 specular is 0.02 (based on IOR of 1.33)
Specular = lerp(Specular, 0.02, AccumulatedWater);
N        = lerp(N, float3(0, 0, 1), AccumulatedWater);

View in editor: no puddle, puddle paint with vertex color’s tools, puddle


Puddle paint can be seen in action at the begin of the puddles, heightmap and ripples youtube video.
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Water drop 2a – Dynamic rain and its effects

Version : 1.3 – Living blog – First version was 27 december 2012

This is the second post of a series about simulating rain and its effect on the world in game. As it is a pretty big post, I split it in two parts a and b:

Water drop 1 – Observe rainy world
Water drop 2a – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 2b – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 3a – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 3b – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 4a – Reflecting wet world
Water drop 4b – Reflecting wet world

In the first water drop we have seen several rain effects. To immerse the player in a rainy world, we need to support a lot of them. The major reference for rain city environment rendering is the “Toy Shop” demo from ATI which has been widely covered by Natalya Tatarchuck at many conferences [2][3][4]. However, even if the demo was available in late 2005, all the techniques described can’t easily fit in a PS3/XBOX360 playable game environment. In this second water drop, I want to share the work me and others at Dontnod have done around these rain effects for “Remember Me“. This post is the result of our researches. We will not only discuss about what we implemented but also about theory and other approaches. For this post, I invited my co-workers Antoine Zanuttini, Laury Michel and Orson Favrel to write some words, so this is a collaborative post :). We focused on rainy urban environment and we described different rain effects one by one. Our engine (Unreal engine 3) is a forward renderer but ideas here could also be applied in a deferred renderer.

Rain Effects

Rain splashes  / Falling drops splashes

In the real world, when a falling drop hits a surface a splash is generated. Rain, or water flow on large heights like rooftop or tree, can generate falling drops, the behavior is the same in both cases. We  will focus on raindrops in a first time. Rain splashes can be simulated easily in a game by spawning a water splash particle when the stretched particle representing the raindrop collides with the scene. Tracking every particles colliding with a scene can be costly. With so many raindrops creating water splashes, it is hard to distinguish which rain drop is causing a specific rain splash. Based on this fact and for performance reasons it is simpler to have two independent systems to manage raindrops and rain splashes. Most games collide a bunch of random rays starting from the top of the world downward with a simple geometry representation of the scene then generate water splashes particles at the origin of the collisions [1][2]. As an optimization, the water splashes are only generated close to the screen. Another simple solution when you have complex geometry that you can’t simply approximate is to manually put an emitter of water splash particles following geometry boundaries. The pattern will not be as random as other water splashes but the effect will be there.

We tried another approach. Instead of trying to collide some rays with the world, we can simply render a depth map view from the top in the rain direction. The depth map gives all the information we require to emit a water splash particle at a random position in the world respecting the scene geometry. The steps of our approach are :
– Render a depth map
– Transfer depth map from GPU to CPU memory
– Use the depth map to generate random positions following the world geometry
– Emit the water splash at the generated positions

To render the depth map, we link a dummy location in front of the current camera but at a little higher,  then render the world geometry from this point of view. All standard shadow map optimizations apply here (Any culling method, Z double speed,  to render masked after opaque, having a stream with position only, not rendering  too small objects, forcing lod mesh etc…). As not all parts of the world need to generate rain splashes, we added an extra meshes tagging method for our artists to specify if a mesh needs to be rendered in the depth map. We also allow a mesh to be only rendered in the depth map and not in the normal scene. This is useful when you have translucent objects like glass which should stop rain but can’t render in opaque depth map or to approximate a lot of meshes by a single less complex mesh. To ease the debugging we added a special visualization mode in our editor to only see objects relevant to the rain splash.

The precision of world generated positions from this depth map depends on the resolution and the size of the frustum of the depth map. With a 256×256 depth map and a 20m x 20m orthogonal frustum we get world cells of 7.8cm² at the height taken from the depth map. The rasterizer will rule the height store in the depth map. This means that if you get an object in a cell of 7.8cm² with large height disparities, chances are the water splash will be spawned at a wrong height. This is a tradeoff between memory and performance.
To render the depth map we can use either an orthogonal or a perspective matrix. We haven’t found any usage for perspective matrix but in the following I will suppose that we can have both. Moreover, on console or DX10 and above, we can access the depth buffer, so we will use this functionality. On PC DX9 we store the depth value in the alpha channel of a color buffer. For consistency with other platforms the depth value is stored in normalized coordinate device. In case of a perspective projection, a reversed floating depth value is used to increase precision. Here is the PC DX9 pseudo code for this encoding:

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Water drop 1 – Observe rainy world

Version : 1.2 – Living blog – First version was 10 December 2012

This post is the first of a series about simulating dynamic rain and its effect on the world. All in the context of games:

Water drop 1 – Observe rainy world
Water drop 2a – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 2b – Dynamic rain and its effects
Water drop 3a – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 3b – Physically based wet surfaces
Water drop 4a – Reflecting wet world
Water drop 4b – Reflecting wet world

In several games today there are dynamic weather effects. The most popular weather effect is rain. Rain has sadly often no effect on the gameplay but it has on the visual. Rain in real life has a lot of impact on the appearance of the world. The goal of this series is to describe technique, both technical and artistic, to be able to render a world rainy mood. By wet world, I mean not only world under rain, but also world after it stop raining. Let’s begin this series by an observation of the real-life wet world. As always, any feedbacks or comments are welcome.

Real wet world

The first thing I have done when I started to study this topic for my game “Remember Me” is to make a lot of references. All pictures are programmer’s photography with low camera :). I should advice that’s I focus on moderate rain in urban environment not rain forest or other heavy rain. Let’s share some result (click for high res version).

The first thing everybody notice when it’s raining in the night is the long stretched highlight reflection of the bright light sources:

But this is not restricted to the night (and even not restricted to wet surface, it is only more visible with wet surfaces):


Highlight reflection vary with the roughness of the underlying surface:

The highlights get dimmer when the surface is rougher (This is energy conservation):


Highlights size depends on view angle. The anisotropic reflection seems to follow a Blinn-Phong behavior (Also Blinn-Phong model don’t allow to strech so much):

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Siggraph 2012 and Game Connection 2012 talk : Local Image-based Lighting With Parallax-corrected Cubemap

Here is the slides of me and my co-worker Antoine Zanuttini’s talk at Siggraph 2012 and Game Connection 2012 : “Local Image-based Lighting With Parallax-corrected Cubemap”

The two talk are similar but the Game Connection talk are more recent and contain little update. This is the one to get.

Game Connection 2012:

A short sum up can be seen on the official Game Connection 2012 website : Local Image-based Lighting With Parallax-corrected Cubemap

Powerpoint 2007:  Parallax_corrected_cubemap-GameConnection2012.pptx
PDF: Parallax_corrected_cubemap-GameConnection2012.pdf
Accompanying video of the slides:
Video 1 : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8_oEg2s8dM

Video 2 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvar6X0dUGs

Siggraph 2012:

A short sum up can be seen on the official Siggraph 2012 website : Fast Realistic Lighting

Powerpoint 2007: Parallax_corrected_cubemap-Siggraph2012.pptx
PDF: Parallax_corrected_cubemap-Siggraph2012.pdf
Accompanying video of the slides: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bvar6X0dUGs


The talk describes a new approach of local image-based lighting. It consist in mixing several local parallax-corrected cubemaps and use the result to light scene objects.
The advantages are accurate local lighting, no lighting seams and smooth lighting transitions.
The content of this talk is also describe in the post : Image-based Lighting approaches and parallax-corrected cubemap.