Radiosity: Hauntingly Beautiful

I saw “Radiosity Maps” option in Cinema 4D many years ago, but I didn’t understand what it was. Now, I understand, and I want you, faithful reader, to understand them as well. I’m basing this post on an old article I found on Libgen — an article from 1986 the trio of Donald P. Greenberg, Micheal F. Cohen, and Kenneth E. Torrance. I hope they don’t mind me basing my blog post on their article from 34 years ago!

We know that there’s three categories of light: ambient, diffuse, and specular. In Phong shading, which we talked about before, a simple formula is used to simulate lighting in the given scene. This, however, is not sufficient. It is enough for real-time rendering, where performance is the main concern, but when time is not of concern, we can use more complex formulae to calculate the lighting in our scene.

In 1979, Whitted published a paper in which he explained and talked about ray tracing, a method for producing images of excellent quality.


Raytracing, a noble way for noble men.

However, raytracing procedure is limited and can only model intra-environment reflectionss in specular direction. Additionally, shadows always exhibit sharp boundaries, and plus, since raytracing is view-dependant, for every view, there must be a new pass.

This, however, is not true of the radiosity method. This method renders Global Illumination independent of views.

In SIGGRAPH convention of 1984, Lady Cindy Goral exhibited a metohd that sparked a lot of interest and turned quite a few heads: Derived from thermal engineering, the field of Heat Transfer, they revealed a new Global Illumination method based on energy equilibrium, and called it the Radiosity Method.


The difference between Direct Illumination, i.e. Phong Lighting, and Radiosity is evident in the given picture. Bright lights, no more of the demented color bleeding which are caused by diffuse reflections, and softer shadows.

Two other papers were published in 1985 which introduced concepts such as hemi-cube which we’ll discuss later. For now, let’s talk about Radiosity, and what it exactly really is.

Radiosity Formulae

 The radiosity method explains energy equilibrium inside an enclosure. The light leaving the surface (its radiosity) consists of self-emitted light and reflected or transmitted incident light. The amount of light arriving at a surface requires complete specification of geometric relationships among all reflecting and transmitting surfaces, along with the light leaving every other surface. The formula of this relationship is:

Formula 1: Radiosity essence

B_i = E_i + \rho_i \sum_{j=1}^{N} B_j F_{ij} | i = 1 to N

Factors and coefficients are as follows:

Radiosity (B): The total rate of energy leaving a surface.

Emission (E): The rate of energy (light) emitted from a surface

Reflectivity (\rho): The fraction of incident light which is reflected back into the environment

Form-facor (F): The fraction of the energy leaving one surface which lands on another surface.

N = the number of discrete surfaces of patches.

What does this equation state, you may ask? Well, from this equation we understand that the amount of nergy leaving a particular surface is equal to the self-emitted light plus the reflected light. The reflected light is equal to the light leaving every other surface multiplied by both the fraction of that light which reaches the surface in question, and the reflectivity of the receiving surface.

We said that the form-factor is the fraction of the energy leaving one surface which lands on another surface. The formula for this is:

Formula 2: Form-factor essence

F_{ij} = \frac{1}{A_i} \int_{A_i} \int_{A_j} \frac{\cos\theta_i\cos\theta_j}{\pi r^2} HID_{ij}dA_jDA_i

Factors and coefficients can be seen in this figure:


Also, HID is a function which calculates the area of i and j.

The Hemi-Cube Method

We talked about the Hemi-Cube, but what is it? The Hemi-Cube Algorithm provides a numerical integration (you know, integrals) technique for evaluating Formula 2.  Instead of projecting into sphere, which is the normal procedure for lighting a scene, an imaginary cube is constructed around the center of the receiving patch. The environment is transformed to set the patch’s center at the origin with patch’s normal coinciding with the positive Z-axis (in other words, the tangent space!).


Then, the Hemi-Cube is divided into orhogonal mesh of pixels (the article puts “pixels” in quotes, as it was a novel word at the time!) at any desired resolution.


The Hemi-Cube divided into these so-called pixels… Witchcraft!

Ipso facto, the total value of the form-factor from the patch at the center of the hemi-cube to any patch j can be determined by the summation of these pixels.

Radiosity… GI?

As we’ve learned, Radiosity is a subset of GI, but it’s different from raytracing. Today, most 3D applications use Monte Carlo for their GI engine, which retains some aspects of Radiosity. Examples include Cinema 4D. It used to have Radiosity, but it changed it to GI, so people, mostly C4D users, think GI and Radiosity are different things.

Well, that is it! Dear reader, I appreciate your keen interest in my blog. Please leave a comment. If I’ve made an error, please alert me. I’m not perfect, I make mistakes.

Another thing. Please, if you’ve liked my blog, tweet it to your friends so they can enjoy it as well. Even if it marks you as the nerd of the group, please do it, chicks dig nerds these days. If you have a girlfriend, just take some MDMA and read my blog to her out loud, she’ll return the favor, I rather not say how. Besides tweeting you can reddit my blog. I post my blog in all the relevant subreddits, but I may miss one or two, or a million. So please, help me grow my blog’s readership. Thanks, Chubk.

What is a shadow, even?

Well, let me start off by saying that I love shadows more than light, and I have chosen the one room in the house where every being of the room occludes light. Occludes light… Hmm… How do we know what’s behind the light frustum, and what’s in front of the light frustum, or frusta?


Let us scrutinize shadows first. What are shadows? When you shine a light on an object with a wall behind it, what happens?

Look at this picture:


Umbra: Full, hard-edged shadow.

Penumbra: Half, soft-edged shadow.

What happens if we take the light source furher and further away, until the light frustum become so wide that umbra does not seem feasible anymore? Then, umbra turns into antumbra, where different penumbras meet.

Shadow Mapping

The concept was popularized by Lance Williams in 1978. Lance Williams is also the person behind mip-mapping, which we’ll discuss in another post, moon-god-willingly. So what is Shadow Mapping? It’s by far the only feasible real-time shadowing solution, as raytracing is rather resource-intensive and volume shadows are not suiable for real-time rendering.


Such a happy man!

Native API support is also another reason to choose shadow mapping. GLSL, for example, has a native texture type for receiving the shadow map as a Sampler2D Uniform, which we’ll see. 

But what is shadow mapping?

 Imagine angle of the light is less than 180 degrees. If we choose camera position as the light position, camera direction as the direction of the light, and shine the light frustum on the scene then the resulting depth buffer is our shadow map.


Left: Light Frustum Shone on the Scene | Right: The Resulting Framebuffer becomes out shadow map
Depth as seen from a ligh

The moment of truth

We said all those things, and we showed you the result, but how exactly do we know that an object occludes light at a certain position? Let’s see what happens when it doesn’t and then we’ll see what happens when it does so.

Imagine this spot on our Utah Teapot:


Imagine if Z_{sm} is the depth value point on the teapot. And imagine Z_{ls} is the depth value of the length of the light source to the lit point.


There will not be a shadow in this case, because Z_{ls} = Z_{ms}. However, imagine if Z_{ms} was behind the teapot:


In this case, when Z_{ls} < Z_{ms} there this point is definitely in the shadow, and since each point is a fragment, this fragment should be shaded In an Octopus’ Garden in the Shade!

Again, I’m burying the lede, and I’m sorry for that. Octopus’ Garden in the Shade has nothing to do with shaders! Anyways, we must factor in a bias when we do compare the depths. Because if we don’t, as you see in the photo, there will be surface acne.

In a scene with dueling frasta, i.e. more than one light source and shadow map, the size of the shadow map shan’t be different from each other, otherwise, as a result, the shadow will be pixelated.


Shadow Map: Pros vs. Cons

Shadow Map Pros are:

  1. No matter how heavy they may look, they are still better for real-time rendering than the alternatives (e.g. RayTracing).
  2. You can adjust the size of the texture which holds the depth data, ultimately, add it as an option to your game, or demo.

 And the Cons are:

  1. Aliasing occurs in low-res textures.
  2. Textures are heavy and occupy a lot of memory.
  3. Effects of self-occlusion may be visible in the output as sparkling. This can be fixed by polygon offset.

 Finally, let’s implement it in the code using OpenGL.

OpenGL Implementation

With all that said, how exactly is this implemented in OpenGL? Here’s how. The following code is taken from OpenGL Superbible 7th Edition.

Listing 1: First, we create the shadow depth buffer.


GLuint shadow_buffer;
GLuint shadow_tex;

glGenFramebuffers(1, &amp;shadow_buffer);
glBindFramebuffer(GL_FRAMEBUFFER, shadow_buffer);

glGenTextures(1, &amp;shadow_tex);
glBindTexture(GL_TEXTURE_2D, shadow_tex);
                     shadow_tex, 0);

glBindFramebuffer(GL_FRAMEBUFFER, 0);

Listing 2: Then, we create model-view-projection matrices, but this time, instead of the camera, we use the light!


vmath::mat4 model_matrix = vmath::rotate(currentTime, 0.0f, 1.0f, 0.0f);
vmath::mat4 light_view_matrix =
                  vmath::vec3(0.0f, 1.0f, 0.0f);
vmath::mat4 light_proj_matrix =
   vmath::frustum(-1.0f, 1.0f, -1.0f, 1.0f,
                  1.0f, 1000.0f);
vmath::mat4 light_mvp_matrix = light_projection_matrix *
                               light_view_matrix * model_matrix;

Listing 3: Thusly, we generate a shadow matrix.

const vmath::mat4 scale_bias_matrix =
     vmath::mat4(vmath::vec4(0.5f, 0.0f, 0.0f, 0.0f),
                 vmath::vec4(0.0f, 0.5f, 0.0f, 0.0f),
                 vmath::vec4(0.0f, 0.0f, 0.5f, 0.0f),
                 vmath::vec4(0.5f, 0.5f, 0.5f, 1.0f));
vmath::mat4 shadow_matrix = scale_bias_matrix *
                            light_proj_matrix *
                            light_view_matrix *

List 4: Nothing can be done without shaders, so we implement the vertex shader for this shadw. Not much different than any other vertex shaders.

#version 420 core

uniform mat4 mv_matrix;
uniform mat4 proj_matrix;
uniform mat4 shadow_matrix;
layout (location = 0) in vec4 position;

out VS_OUT
    vec4 shadow_coord;
} vs_out;

void main(void)
    gl_Position = proj_matrix * mv_matrix * position;
    vs_out.shadow_coord = shadow_matrix * position;

As you can see, we’ve got two model-view-projection matrices, one we use for ourselves, and one (the shadwo matrix) we pass to the fragment shader to see if each fragment is in the shadow, or in the light.

Listing 5: the fragment shader of it all.

#version 420 core

layout (location = 0) out vec4 color;

layout (binding = 0) uniform sampler2DShadow shadow_tex;

    vec4 shadow_coord;
} fs_in;

void main(void)
    color = textureProj(shadow_tex, fs_in.shadow_coord) * vec4(1.0);

That’s it! Notice something that we’ve never before seen in this blog, sampler2DShadow. It’s something recent, and not found in 3.3. This is why I say Superbible is better than It’s up to you, do you want something outdated written by a fan, or something up-to-date written by ARB? You choice!


Well, that is it for today! I might make another post, but it would be for the Europeans, because by the time I post my second entry of today, Americans will be asleep. A lot of people have visited my blog, this blog is not far from generating profit. So thank you! Don’t forget to leave a comment. I love each and everyone of you, if that’s not creepy. Really. I love everyone who reads the drivel I write. This gives me a feeling of self-importance. Anyways, before we have engaged in coitus, goodbye for now!