August 2011

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UPDATE 9/1/2011: ignotion has put the source up on Google Code.

For a long time, I’ve found ATI’s (now AMD’s) CubeMapGen library to be an indispensable tool for creating prefiltered environment maps (important for physically based shading). Many older GPUs (all the ones in current consoles) do not filter across cube faces. CubeMapGen solves this problem and others – details can be found in a GDC presentation and a SIGGRAPH sketch, both from 2005.

Support for CubeMapGen has been spotty for the last few years, and a while ago AMD officially declared its end of life. Since then I’ve been wondering when AMD would open-source this important tool – there is a good precedent in NVIDIA texture tools, which has been open source for several years now.

Speaking of NVIDIA texture tools, a comment on its Google Code website just let me know that AMD has released source to CubeMapGen. A link to the source for version 1.4 can be found on the bottom of the CubeMapGen page. Note that this does not include the DXT compression part of the edge fixup (which was a pretty nifty feature – hopefully someone will reimplement it now that the library is open source).

Looking at the license doc in the zip file, the license appears to be a modified BSD license. This is excellent news – tools like this are far more useful when source is available. Perhaps someone should host the code on Google Code or github, to make it easier to add future improvements – or maybe it could be folded into the nvidia_texture_tools code base (if the license allows).

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I’m finally back from a nice post-SIGGRAPH vacation in the Vancouver area. Both our computers broke early on in the trip, so it was a true vacation.

I hope to post on a bunch of stuff soon, but wanted to first mention something now available: the slides and videos presented in the popular SIGGRAPH course “Advances in Real-Time Rendering in 3D Graphics”. Find them here, and the page for previous years (well, currently just 2010) here. Hats off to Natalya Tatarchuk and all the speakers for quickly making this year’s presentations available.

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OK, so I like the publisher A.K. Peters, for obvious reasons. They’re also kind/smart enough to send me review copies of upcoming graphics-related books. I’ve received two recently, with one of particular interest:

Practical Rendering and Computation with Direct3D 11, by Jason Zink, Matt Pettineo, and Jack Hoxley

This one’s very nicely produced (especially for the price): hardcover, color throughout, with paper a bit better than the GPU Gems volumes; basically, that level of quality. More important, it covers a topic that is not very well covered at all (from what I’ve seen), neither by Microsoft’s scattershot documentation nor other sources. Well, in fairness there’s Beginning DirectX 11 Game Programming, but that’s indeed for beginners. I don’t see anything about compute shaders, tessellation, or even stream output in the table of contents. These topics and many more are covered in the new book.

Skimming through it, it looks quite good, a book that I want to spend some serious time reading. You might recognize Zink and Hoxley’s names from the free book that never quite made it to publication, Programming Vertex, Geometry, and Pixel Shaders, coauthored by Wolfgang Engel (of ShaderX and GPU Pro fame), Ralf Kommann, and Niko Suni.

The other book I received was:

Visual Perception from a Computer Graphics Perspective, by William Thompson, Roland Fleming, Sarah Creem-Regehr, and Jeanine Kelly Stefanucci

This book is a survey of visual perception research and how it relates to computer graphics. If you’re a researcher and expect to delve into the field of visual perception, this looks like the place to start. With 68 pages of references, it clearly attempts to give you relevant research in a huge variety of areas. To be honest, I’m not all that interested in reading a whole book on the topic. I picked one topic, motion blur, as a quick test of the book’s usefulness to me. There’s just a brief mention of motion blur on one page, and the computer graphics papers referenced are from the 1980′s (fine papers, but ancient). I tried another: Fresnel – no index entry, half a page, no references. Depth of field: a page and a half, a fair number of references (newest being 2005), none about interactive graphics. So, it’s an extensive survey of the visual perception literature, but don’t expect much depth nor any serious coverage of the area of interactive computer graphics.

Two other books I expect to see at SIGGRAPH are Real-Time Shadows and 3D Math Primer for Graphics and Game Development, 2nd Edition. I got a peek at the latter and it looks to be quite in-depth (and still approachable and informal) – I’m not sure how it differs from the first edition at this point. A micro-review on this blog of the first edition is here, at the end.

There are a lot of other upcoming computer graphics books from A.K. Peters that sound intriguing, e.g. Shadow Algorithms Data Miner – two great tastes now together. Check out the list here or ask at the booth at SIGGRAPH.

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I have recently been notified by Aaron Lefohn that there have been some changes to the Beyond Programmable Shading course since I last described it here.

The new schedule is below. I’m especially interested to see the presentation by Raja Koduri (former CTO of AMD’s graphics division and now a graphics architect at Apple) – according to Aaron, it’s “an introduction to reasoning about power for rendering researchers”. Power is a very important constraint which is little-understood by most algorithm researchers and software developers. We are not too far from regularly having to take account of power consumption in graphics algorithm design (since an algorithm which causes the GPU to burn too much power may force clock speed reduction, negatively affecting performance). The topic of the closing panel is also an interesting one – graphics APIs have undergone some interesting changes, and I suspect will undergo more profound ones in the near future.

Beyond Programmable Shading I

9:00 Introduction [Aaron Lefohn, Intel]

9:20 Research in Games [Peter-Pike Sloan, Disney Interactive]

9:45 The “Power” of 3D Rendering [Raja Koduri, Apple]

10:15 Real-Time Rendering Architectures [Mike Houston, AMD]

10:45 Scheduling the Graphics Pipeline [Jonathan Ragan-Kelley, MIT]

11:15 Parallel Programming for Real-Time Graphics [Aaron Lefohn, Intel]

11:45 Software rasterization on GPUs [Samuli Laine and Jacopo Pantaleoni, NVIDIA]

Beyond Programmable Shading II

14:00 Welcome and Re-Introduction [Mike Houston, AMD]

14:05 Toward a blurry rasterizer (state of the art) [Jacob Munkberg, Intel]

14:45 Order-independent transparency (state of the art) [Marco Salvi, Intel]

15:15 Interative global illumination (state of the art) [Chris Wyman, Univ. of Iowa]

15:45 User-defined pipelines for ray tracing [Steve Parker, NVIDIA]

16:30 Panel: “What Is the Right Cross-Platform Abstraction Level for Real-Time 3D Rendering?”

  • Peter-Pike Sloan, Disney Interactive (Moderator)
  • David Blythe, Intel (Panelist)
  • Raja Koduri, Apple (Panelist)
  • Henry Moreton, NVIDIA (Panelist)
  • Mike Houston, AMD (Panelist)
  • Chas Boyd, Microsoft (Panelist)

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Mauricio Vives pointed out that the Autodesk program I mentioned yesterday, where students and educators can get Autodesk products and training for free, also applies to veterans and “displaced professionals.” See this page for the logic. The fine print on the registration page is:

An Autodesk Assistance Program participant is either a veteran or unemployed individual who has (a) previously worked in the architecture, engineering, design or manufacturing industries, has completed the online registration for the Autodesk Assistance Program, and upon request by Autodesk is able to provide proof of eligibility for that program.

This is a nice thing.

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