My handling of light attenuation turned out to be incorrect. Res and Martin set me straight. I had the conceptual model that distance attenuation accounts for the phenomenon of light losing power as it travels through a medium (even just the atmosphere). This is called attenuation in physics and optics but in graphics this is not what distance attenuation is accounting for. Distance attenuation accounts for the fact that as light moves away from its source the energy spreads out (I assume like a wavefront spreading out). It does so like the surface of a sphere so the 'realistic' distance^2 factor accounts for this spreading out perfectly.
The consequence of this type of attenuation (the correct type) is that photon mapping attenuates automatically. We are distributing photons equally around the sphere of the light source and when they land they will be distributed according to how far away they are from the light. The density of this distribution already has this spreading effect built in automatically.
So, to really do calibration between raytracing and photon mapping I need to remove the attenuation from the photons (already done) and then switch all the lights to use 'realistic' attenuation (which is not the default). My apologies to res for second guessing his advice as this was his original suggestion. As soon as I did this it became apparent that things were dramatically more comparable between raytracing and photon mapping:
As you can see, despite the similarity resulting from the change to realistic attenuation there is still a marked difference in the exposure of the two. After revisiting this from many different angles, over and over again, and after changing the code in different ways and attempting both a mathetamical and visual calibration I've decided that this issue is going to have to wait. Here's an example of the problem:
Note that the raytracing and photon mapping graphs have similar but miss-aligned shapes. This miss-alignment is the problem. There is no easy way to simply fudge things and fix it as it will be entirely dependent on the scene being rendered. Furthermore, I'm starting to think (after talking with colleagues) that there is a mistake somewhere in either the RT code or the PM code that is causing this miss-alignment and simply fudging things to fix it is not a permanent solution (or one that I should be spending so much time on).
So, three days gone on this but at least I have something to show for it. New configuration options! (well, and a lot of frustration!) Here's the new options:
'forcerealistic' - This option can be enabled or disabled and will force all the static and pseudo-dynamic lights in a world to use 'realistic' attenuation mode. This saves the trouble of having to re-do your world in order to use it with photon mapping.
'lightpowerscale' - Scale all the lights in a scene by the given scaling factor. This scale is applied to the light color which is essentially the same as it's power. When you use 'forcerealistic' things tend to get much darker so the lights need to be scaled up to compensate. Again, this option avoids having to edit the world file to achieve this.
'pmlightscale' - Like 'lightpowerscale' this will scale all the static and pseudo dynamic lights in the scene but only for the photon mapping phase. This is in addition to any scaling applied by 'lightpowerscale'. This allows you to fudge things from the command line and bring the exposure of the photon mapping simulation and the raytracer in line with one another.
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Info about progress on my Google Summer of Code 2009 project on Advanced Lighting & Shading in CrystalSpace.
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