Readings on Physically Based Rendering

Over the past two years I’ve done quite a bit of reading on Physically Based Rendering (PBR) and I have collected a lot of references and links which I’ve always had in the back of my mind to share through this blog but never got around doing it. Christmas holidays is probably the best chance I’ll have so I might as well do it now. The list is by no means exhaustive, if you think that I have missed any important references please add them with a comment and I will update it.

Linear Lighting and Shading

There is probably no point in talking about PBR, without first understanding why we should do all lighting and shading in linear space. This is why:

Physically based reflection models

Once we are convinced of the importance of linear lighting and shading we can move onto physically based reflection models.

Siggraph’s Physically Based Shading courses provide both an introduction (mainly by Naty Hoffman which is a must read) and in depth coverage of many PBR topics.

  • 2017 Course – Presentations from Unity, Infinity Ward, DreamWorks, Framestore, ImageWorks, Pixar.
  • 2016 Course – Presentations from DICE, Unreal, Unity, Pixar, ILM. This year there was also a video recording of some of the presentations.
  • 2015 Course – Presentations from Activision, Ready at Dawn, Weta Digital, Disney, SledgeHammer. Also Naty Hoffman’s seminal “Introduction to Physically Based Shading in Theory and Practice”presentation video recording is available online.
  • 2014 Course – Presentations from Frostbite, Pixar, Tri-ace among others. Frostbite’s PBR presentation course notes (must read) are also available.
  • 2013 Course – Presentations from COD:Black Ops II, Unreal Engine 4, The Order:1886 and Pixar among others
  • 2012 Course – Presentations from Far Cry 3, TriAce, Disney and Pixar among others
  • 2010 Course – Presentations from TriAce, ILM and Sony
  • 2006 Course – Very interesting introduction to PBR, including combining PBR and Image based lighting.
  • Physically based lighting in COD:Black Ops. There was no PBS course in 2011 but this is a very interesting talk on the topic.
  • Peter Shirley’s “Basics of physically based rendering” Siggraph Asia 2012 course notes

Other interesting talks from conferences include

TriAce’s Research department is doing some excellent work on PBR, unfortunately many of the presentations are in Japanese only. Of special note are the “Practical Physically Based Rendering in Real-Time” talk from GDC 2012 and the “How to Design Your Art Assets for Physically Based Rendering” talk from CEDEC 2012. The latter is in Japanese unfortunately, so if yours is a bit rusty then here is a translation.

The freely available “Programming Vertex  Geometry and Pixel Shaders” e-book provides a great introduction to PBR presenting many BRDFs with shader samples.

Then there is a wealth of information available through numerous blog posts:

If you don’t mind reading academic papers, some links to the original publications for various BRDFs

PBR Tools

PBR for Artists

The maths of PBR is only half the story and mainly concern the graphics programmers. The other half, of more interest to artists, is how to author the texture assets. In contrast to the first days of PBR, there are now a few great presentations that focus on PBR texture authoring.

You can also find a modular implementation of the BlinnPhong BRDF model with demonstration of the impact of each term and sample source code in this blog post (shameless plug).

Physically based lights

Physically based shading focuses on how a material responds to light that bounces off the surface in a plausible way. To get better results one should consider the type of light that shines upon the surface as well. Point lights, typically used in games, do not have a counterpart in the real world so several attempts have been made recently to model more realistic, area, lights in games.

BRDFs in deferred rendering environments

A variety of BRDFs can easily be implemented in forward rendering architectures. Things become harder with deferred shading though due to the typically low amount of information we can store in a g-buffer. Anisotropic BRDFs are even harder to support, due to the need for a tangent vector. In many cases a single BRDF is enough to represent a variety of materials if you have the capacity to store glossiness and specular colour in the g-buffer. There are cases you might need more though. Some pointers to how people have address this problem so far:

  • Bake BRDFs in a 3D lookup table, each layer representing a different BRDF and within each layer addressed by (N.L, N.H). This method was used in STALKER’s deferred shading engine.
  • Another approach is to store Material IDs in the g-buffer and during the lighting pass branch to select the desired BRDF. This is the method used in Battlefield 3.
  • At Creative Assembly they use the stencil buffer to store the material ID and render each BRDF in a different pass.
  • And of course you can always forward render special-case BRDF materials. This is the approach followed recently by Ryse: Son of Rome to render specialised BRDFs.
  • The “Deferred Lighting in Uncharted 4” Siggraph 2016 presentation describes how to support multiple BRDFs in a deferred rendering engine with bit-packing in the GBuffer and a table of material-specialised shaders running per-tile.

Not directly related to deferred rendering, being more of a material authoring pipeline, Material Layering is receiving a lot of attention lately after Disney, Unreal Engine 4 and The Order:1886 successfully demonstrated the variety and complexity of materials that can achieve. In short, with this technique we bake parameters of a specific BRDF (that express different materials) into textures which can then be blended before the lighting pass either offline or in the shader. In The Order:1886 blending of different BRDFs is also supported albeit at a greater cost.

Importance Sampling

You will hear Importance Sampling being mentioned in the context of PBR, image based lighting and area lights, quite a lot so it is worth having an idea what it is all about. In short it is a method of sampling a function, image, cubemap etc with a set number of samples by assigning larger weight to important areas of the sampled function (or image, or cubemap). This way we can achieve better representation of the signal without actually increasing the number of samples. This method was feasible only in offline rendering but GPUs are catching up.

  • GPU-based Importance Sampling, a method of sampling environment maps for image-based lighting using BRDFs. Some more information about this work here. The original page is not there anymore, you can try your luck with web archive.
  • Killzone: Shadowfall uses importance sampling to sample area lights
  • If you have the ShaderX7:Advanced Rendering Techniques book it is worth reading the “Efficient post processing with Importance Sampling” chapter by Toth, Szirmay-Kalos and Umenhoffer


Not directly related to PBR, but when normalising a BRDF the specular highlight intensity can easily reach values above 1 and appear to burnout. For that reason we typically combine PBR with a tonemapping solution. A few pointers to get you started:

Shader Antialiasing

Again, this topic is not directly related to PBR, but it is a shame to make all that effort to create realistic materials only to have specular highlights crawl and shimmer as the camera moves and surfaces look flatter at a distance.

I focused on materials readily available on the Internet. There are books worth looking at if you want to find more info though, such as:

  • Physically Based Rendering by Matt Pharr and Greg Humphreys, with source code
  • Real-Time Rendering, by Tomas Akenine-Möller, Eric Haines, and Naty Hoffman
  • High Dynamic Range Imaging: Acquisition, Display, and Image-Based Lighting 2nd edition by Erik Reinhard, Wolfgang Heidrich, Paul Debevec, Sumanta Pattanaik, Greg Ward and Karol Myszkowski
  • “An Efficient and Physically Plausible Real Time Shading Model” by Christian Schüler in ShaderX7 – Advanced Rendering Techniques

As I’ve already mentioned, this list is not exhaustive, if you think that I have missed an important link or topic please add it to the comments sections.


Edit 03/08/2018 – Added Filament’s PBR documentation reference

Edit 22/11/2017 – Added Siggraph 2017 PBS course link

Edit 11/08/2016 – Added Deferred Lighting in Uncharted 4, Subpixel glint/details rendering links and the video recording of Intro to PBS talk kindly suggested by Naty Hoffman.

Edit 10/08/2016 – Added Siggraph 2016 PBS course link, Area lights with Linearly Transformed Cosines link

Edit 22/10/2015 – Added Wolfire’s intro to Physically Based Rendering

Edit 16/08/2015 – Added Siggraph 2015 PBS course link 

Edit 21/02/2015 – Added Allegorithmic’s PBR guides and Tri-ace’s Siggraph 2014 talk. 

Edit 22/12/2014 – Fixed HDR Workflows broken link and added Cinematic Colour paper suggested by Kyle Hayward

Edit 30/11/2014 – Added Physically based camera links kindly suggested by Seb Lagarde, PBR in Unity kindly suggested by Aras Pranckevičius, Antialasing PBR with LEADR mapping SIG2014 presentation and Marmoset’s Preparing textures for PBR article.

Edit 23/11/2014 – Added Siggraph 2014 Course links, Unreal 4 PBR on mobile, Nathan Reed’s Photometry and Radiometry blog posts and PBR for Costume Quest 2 article. Also added new section about Tools for PBR.

Edit 27/07/2014 – Added Bioshock Infinite PBR posts, PBR Encyclopedia, and Photoshop PBR Plugin.

Edit 11/04/2014 – Replaced broken WebGL gamma correction demo link, thanks to Peter Liu for the heads up.

Edit 27/03/2014 – Added Crytek’s GDC2014 presentation, “The tech of Crytek’s Ryse: Son of Rome” suggested by Sébastien Lagarde and the BRDF wiki page suggested by Peter Liu.

Edit 23/03/2014 – Added “Physically based shading in Unity5”, “The Order: 1886” GDC2014 talks as well as Hable’s Filmic Worlds blog links.

Edit 25/02/2014 – Added “Introduction to PBR for artists” article by John Hable to the PBR for Artists section.

Edit 23/02/2014 – Added “Introduction to PBR” article by Marmoset to the PBR for Artists section.

Edit 11/01/2014 – Added “Understanding the Masking-Shadowing Function in Microfacet-Based BRDFs” technical report as well as Russell’s “Basic Theory of Physically-Based Rendering” article.

Edit 31/01/2014 – Added PBR for Artists video by Andrew Maximov

Edit 03/01/2014 – Added  “An Efficient and Physically Plausible Real Time Shading Model” ShaderX7 book chapter reference kindly suggested by Sébastien Lagarde

Edit 31/12/2013 – Added a few missing links kindly suggested by Sébastien Lagarde and Aras Pranckevičius


Readings on Physically Based Rendering

25 thoughts on “Readings on Physically Based Rendering

  1. […] I’ve been thinking about experimenting with physically based rendering for a long time, but at first I didn’t want to write any code. So I turned to the Blender Cycles path tracer. Cycles is great because it should give the “ground truth” path traced solution, so later I can see how close I got to that. However, simply importing a model doesn’t give you nice results outright, you have to set up the materials. I also read a lot about PBR from mainly here: […]

  2. Naty Hoffman says:

    The “Deferred Lighting in Uncharted 4” talk from this year’s “Advances” course would be good to add to the “BRDFs in deferred rendering environments” section – it talks about another way to support multiple BRDFs in deferred (bit-packing in GBuffer + table of material-specialized shaders running per-tile). Also, in the section about LEAN & similar approaches, it would be good to add some references which go to the next step and support “glinty” appearance rather than over-smoothing as the normal-map filtering approaches do (e.g. The I3D 2016 paper by Kaplanyan et al). Also, my background intro video from the 2015 PBS course (which is likely to be the last one, at least for a while since I’ve changed to a less “backgroundy” type of intro starting this year) has been posted online:

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