Monthly Archives: September 2018

fair job titles

These so called “Tech Companies”, which really are just software companies mostly, are full of employees with titles such as LTM, PM, TPM, PMM, PDM, etc. These are the Lead Tech Managers, the Product Managers, the Technical Program Managers, the Product Marketing Manager, the Product Design Managers, etc. Many of these people don’t really manage much – most of the time they just contribute to a project with their work like everybody else. That’s why, I think that to make things fair, Software Engineers should be called Architecture and Code Managers. and Designers should be called Usability and Look Managers.

just in case

The only reason I respond to all those stupid “What’s the right answer?” posts in social media with a equations made of apples, grapes and carrots, is just in case they use the results when the time comes to evacuate Earth and they somehow have to figure out who leaves first.

choosing a truth

Though – at some level, all facts that you know are untrue.

1. To a toddler, Mickey Mouse dancing in a film is a character that undoubtedly exist in front them.
2. But that is false, everybody knows a film is just lots of “images”, right?
3. Well, that’s false too, to a nerd images are “a matrix of tiny colored squared pixels”
4. But that is false too, a professional programmer knows pixels are not squares but point-samples trying their best at filtering an analog signal”

So, while all are partial truths in a given context, they are also false at the next level of understanding.

These conflicts of false truths usually gets resolved easily: most of us rarely enjoy knowing more than one or two levels of truth to any particular topic anyways, and ignorance makes happiness. On the other hand, an experienced communicator can adjust her speech and pick the right truth based on the audience she’s talking to, assuming there’s little variance in the audience’s profiles.

But, what happens when something needs to be communicated to a huge audience of varying levels of education or interest in a topic that is important to everybody? Say a nation wide message. When you address a disparate audience of millions that need an explanations, how do you choose the level of reality you going to operate in; which of all the false truths are you going to employ to convey your message?

misplaced handles

one of the first things we immigrants to america notice about the country is the lack of handles in the grocery bags. it’s a long-standing mystery that i have finally solved. it happens that, weirdly enough and equally as surprising, all toddlers rain boot models come with handles here. i know. so, that’s where all the missing handles are. you are welcome!

adult units

Dear reporters, stop giving the size of things in football stadiums. I have no fucking idea how big a football stadium is. Really, I think primary education is mandatory even in the US, please use meters or even feet. Thanks

hacking a generic ray-triangle intersector

I was thinking about the shinny hardware accelerated ray-triangle intersector embedded in NVidia’s new GPU’s silicon, and I asked myself the following – can we re-purpose an ray-triangle intersector for anything else than ray-triangle intersections? Seems like intersecting a ray and triangle is a pretty specialized task, so at first glance one might thing no. But it would be nice if it could be reused for something else. Of course, I have no clue about how NVidia implemented theirs or what their SDK looks like (yet), but I though I’d tackle it from a mathematical perspective at least, and actually hack a generic software ray-triangle intersector into doing something different, in a (Shadertoy) shader.

So, triangles are cool. But in a normal film shot, they are the easy part of the shot. Often times, hair, fur, grass and cloth are where the cycles of a shot go. These are all curve primitives, not triangles. Cubic Bezier (or Catmul-Rom) segments and linear segments are usually employed in film. When it comes to ray-tracing them, there are many options. On the fly tesselation into triangles for regular ray-triangle intersection test is one option. But maybe not the best – for example one can compute the closest distance between the ray and curve segments. This allows for good antialiasing, since the renderer can expand the curve thickness dynamically to match a pixel’s footprint so the primitive gets always rasterized/raysampled. Of course, the curve’s artificially inflated contribution to the pixel has to be adjusted by compensating its coverage by opacity. This inflation can be done with normal triangle tesselation too (Renderman has been doing this since 1997 in the context of rasterization and it works great assuming you have a powerful OIT in place such as per pixel/fragment linked lists). But computing the closest distance between ray and curve can save lots of tessellation (which means savings in computation and storage).

One more reason to be able to compute closest distances from a ray to a linear segment are neon lights, negative lights/occlusion tweaks, lasers and many other effects. Although one can argue that such computation enable “tricks” that are not physically based, I think having the option to break outside the limits of a intersectors and putting others mechanisms for querying global scene information to developers can only bring good things to the field, just like opening programmable shading helped escape the dead-end the hardware Transforma and Lighitng hardware created. Not that I think hardcoded BVH+ray_tri_intersect() are a dead-end just yet, we still have 4 or 5 years to learn to use it well.

Anyways, now, lets see if we can re-purpose a generic ray-triangle intersector to compute ray-segment distances, if only for seeing how far such an exercise brings us.

Lets note that a ray-triangle intersector is solving following equation: p(t) = ro + t*rd = q(u,v) = v0 + u*(v1-v0) + v(v2-v0), where p is a point in the ray and q a point in the triangle, t being the distance along the ray, and u/v being the barycentric coordinates of the intersection point in the triangle. Since we are rendering in 3D, this really represents a system of three linear equations (in x, y and z) with three unknowns (u, v and t). As such, solving the intersection involves four 3×3 determinants and one division (see Cramer’s rule). Something like this:

vec3 ray_tri_intersect( in vec3 ro, in vec3 rd, in vec3 v0, in vec3 v1, in vec3 v2 )
    vec3 v1v0 = v1-v0, v2v0 = v2-v0, rov0 = ro-v0;

    float d = 1.0/determinant(mat3(v1v0, v2v0, -rd ));
    float u =   d*determinant(mat3(rov0, v2v0, -rd ));
    float v =   d*determinant(mat3(v1v0, rov0, -rd ));
    float t =   d*determinant(mat3(v1v0, v2v0, rov0));

    return (u < 0.0 || u > 1.0 || v < 0.0 || (u+v) > 1.0) ? vec3(-1) : vec3( u, v, t );

By noticing that determinants are really volumes that can therefore be computed as a dot and cross product of the basis vectors in the matrix, and noticing that many of the vectors in the four 3×3 matrices are repeated, one can optimize that to

vec3 ray_tri_intersect( in vec3 ro, in vec3 rd, in vec3 v0, in vec3 v1, in vec3 v2 )
    vec3 v1v0 = v1-v0, v2v0 = v2-v0, rov0 = ro-v0;

    vec3  n = cross( v1v0, v2v0 );
    vec3  q = cross( rov0, rd );
    float d = 1.0/dot(  n, rd );
    float u =   d*dot( -q, v2v0 );
    float v =   d*dot(  q, v1v0 );
    float t =   d*dot( -n, rov0 );

    return (u < 0.0 || u > 1.0 || v < 0.0 || (u+v) > 1.0) ? vec3(-1) : vec3( u, v, t );

although that is really not important to the purpose of this article, just wanted to drop the optimization in quickly before I get messages from people letting me know it can be optimized. The important part here is that a ray-triangle intersector is really a 3×3 linear system solver, if we ignore the last test for the range of the barycentric coordinates (the conditional move at the end of the function). BTW, that condition could be changed to u^2+v^2<=1 to have a ray-disk intersector, which could be great to have in hardware as well for point clouds based occlusion or reflections (I really hope some NVidia guys are working on that tiny extension). In any case, it seems that all the most of the code in ray_tri_intersect(), or circuitry in the case of a hardware implementation, should in theory be reusable for anything that needs a 3x3 linear solver, shouldn't it? Now back to our line-segment distance problem for hair/fur/grass/cloth curve rendering. We want to solve the closest distance between a ray and a linear segment. This can be expressed as the minimization of |p(t) - q(s)|, where p is in the ray and p(t) takes the form p(t) = ro + t*rd, and where q is in the segment and takes the form q(s) = v0 + (v1-v0)*s. We can assume |rd|=1, t > 0, 0 < s < 1. By taking actual distances squared and applying partial derivatives on s and t and equating those to zero (to find the function's minimum), we get a system of 2 linear equations with 2 variables (s and t). That can be solved with Cramer's rule again, and optimized down to the following:

vec3 ray_seg_distance( in vec3 ro, in vec3 rd, in vec3 v0, in vec3 v1 )
    vec3 ba = v1-v0, oa = ro-v0;

    float a = dot(ba,ba);
    float b = dot(rd,ba);
    float c = dot(oa,ba);
    float e = dot(oa,rd);

    vec2 st = vec2( c-b*e, b*c-a*e)/(a-b*b);

    st.x = min( max( st.x, 0.0), 1.0 );
    st.y =      max( st.y, 0.0 );

    return vec3( distance( v0 + st.x*ba,
                           ro + st.y*rd ), st );

With the caveat of course that usually one doesn’t need to compute the square root in distance() unless the proximity of the ray to the segment is indeed smaller than the pixel footprint or ray differential. You can find a demo using this code here.

In any case, we need to see if this 2×2 system of linear equations can be converted into the type of 3×3 system of equations that a ray intersector solves. And it turns out that we got really lucky and indeed it can be done. All we need to do is transpose a few things (which doesn’t change the value of the determinants) and add some padding to fit the 2×2 data into the 3×3 layout the intersector expects. It looks like this:

vec3 ray_seg_distance( in vec3 ro, in vec3 rd, in vec3 v0, in vec3 v1 )
    mat3x3 ma = mat3( v1-v0, -rd, vec3(0) );

    vec3 k1 = (ro-v0)*ma;
    vec3 k2 = (v1-v0)*ma;

    vec2 st = ray_tri_intersect( k1, vec3(0,0,-1), vec3(0,0,0), k2, vec3(k2.y,1,0) ).xy;

    st.x = min( max( st.x, 0.0), 1.0 );
    st.y =      max( st.y, 0.0 );

    return vec3( distance( v0 + st.x*(v1-v0),
                           ro + st.y*rd ), st );

This assumes that the ray_tri_intersect() function has the barycentric coordinate test disabled, of course. Note that much of the data passed to the triangle intersector are zeros and ones, which is a waste of computations and an un-optimization when done over a software implementation of ray_tri_intersect. However, if ray_tri_intersect is implemented in hardware there are three different ways I can see things could go from here:

  1. ray_tri_intersect() is in hardware, ray_seg_distance() is kept in software. Not clear to me the savings in the dot products, the multiplications and the division are worth the latency of having to wait for ray_tri_intersect() to compute and return its results to the shader. Maybe it is and this is a win already!?
  2. ray_tri_intersect() is in hardware, and ray_seg_distance() is made in hardware too as some extra circuitry around ray_tri_intersect(). While all that padding that we need to augment the 2×2 system into a 3×3 is wasted computations in the form of multiplications by zero and one, it does however reuse some silicon and save dice space.
  3. ray_seg_distance() is slow even in hardware, we need to remove all those useless multiplications by zero and one. We need custom circuitry, and we’ll just pay the price in the dice space. Good try.

Even in the case of case 3, I think the point of this exercise was to see if a general ray intersector can be hacked into helping computations different that just intersecting a ray with a triangle, from a mathematical perspective. And the answer is “seems like yes!”