Problems with Transparency

Transparency rendering is no easy problem to handle. So far have all game engines I have tested have used object sorting and rendering back to front to handle the general case with transparency and then maybe used fixes for special cases when possible. Here Comes some of the problems discovered so far in stingray.  All the bottles are marked as transparent but with an opacity of 1.

Rendering Order
Object sorting errors
This images shows the rendering order problem, in the left image the bottle is drawn in front and in the right it is drawn behind. Here the objects are sorted on distance to the camera (the object’s position to the cameras position) so only by moving the camera it’s possible to change the rendering order. This problem can be even more complex when the object itself needs a internal rendering order to look correct.

Shadows for Transparent Objects
In this image the fully transparent (opacity 0) bottles  cast shadows that are too dark. The reason for this is the shadow maps only store a single depth for each pixel which means that there is only a “cast shadow” or “not cast shadow” for each object, while it here should cast a softer shadow since some of the light is passing through.

Distance Fog and Transparency
Here is the distance fog calculation not calculated correctly making the transparent object get more fog applied than the surroundings. This problem should be easily solvable but it’s a general problem for transparent objects in fog that the fog needs to be calculated for different depths of the same pixel.

Clouds and Transparency

The left image is the bottles seen from above and in the right image the camera is placed on the left side of first image, viewing the bottles from the front.

Instancing and Transparency

To increase performance, objects of the same type are often instanced so they are all drawn in the same time. It can be seen as many objects are combined into a single object which means the objects needs to be sorted internally to be drawn in the correct order.

Depth of Field
A shader technique which requires the depth of the objects to work is Depth of Field. As can be seen here the bottle, even at the same depth in the scene as the barrel, looks blurry, the reason is that the transparent objects don’t write any depth so the bottle uses the same depth as the background.

Transparency Physics

rendering_equationTo handle lighting in 3D rendering it’s needed to have a understanding of the physics behind light and a model of the reflection, refraction and absorption of light. The reflection is described by the BRDF and the refraction by the BTDF.

Physical Notation
Radiant flux is the amount of radiant power measured in watt () and denoted .
Irradiance is the incoming amount of radiant power over a surface and is measured in watt per square meter ().

Radiance is the amount light that is received from a solid angle . This can be seen as the amount of light that is reflected, emitted, transmitted from a point on a surface and hits an observer, e.g. the eye. It’s measured in watt per solid angle per square meter ().

Bidirectional Reflectance Distribution Function (BRDF)
The BRDF is a function () which takes a point at a surface, the incoming direction vector of light, the outgoing direction vector  of light and returns the amount of light reflected in the outgoing direction. The incoming and outgoing vector must be part of a normal oriented hemisphere .

Bidirectional Transmittance Distribution Function (BTDF)
The BTDF is closely related to BRDF  () but where the outgoing direction vector must be on a negative normal oriented hemisphere. The function gives the amount of light transmitted through the material.

Transparency Model
In real time rendering a simplified model is usually used. The BTDF function is usually set to only transmit light in the opposite direction of the incoming light. In reality the light also scatter in the transport medium, this effect is mostly ignored unless it has a large impact on the result, like in fog like effects.

The Rendering Equation
The rendering equation gives to total light going from a point of a surface into an observer. : Outgoing radiance from the point in the direction . : Incoming radiance to the point from the direction .

The reflected and transmitted components are given by the amount of incoming light from respective hemisphere, the BRDF and BTDF functions and the angle from the normal.