Efficient Caustic Rendering with Lightweight Photon Mapping

teaser for Efficient Caustic Rendering with Lightweight Photon Mapping

Robust and efficient rendering of complex lighting effects, such as caustics, remains a challenging task. While algorithms like vertex connection and merging can render such effects robustly, their significant overhead over a simple path tracer is not always justified and – as we show in this paper – also not necessary. In current rendering solutions, caustics often require the user to enable a specialized algorithm, usually a photon mapper, and hand-tune its parameters. But even with carefully chosen parameters, photon mapping may still trace many photons that the path tracer could sample well enough, or, even worse, that are not visible at all.

Our goal is robust, yet lightweight, caustics rendering. To that end, we propose a technique to identify and focus computation on the photon paths that offer significant variance reduction over samples from a path tracer.We apply this technique in a rendering solution combining path tracing and photon mapping. The photon emission is automatically guided towards regions where the photons are useful, i.e., provide substantial variance reduction for the currently rendered image. Our method achieves better photon densities with fewer light paths (and thus photons) than emission guiding approaches based on visual importance. In addition, we automatically determine an appropriate number of photons for a given scene, and the algorithm gracefully degenerates to pure path tracing for scenes that do not benefit from photon mapping.

@article {Grittmann:2018:ECR,
  author = {Pascal Grittmann and Ars{\`{e}}ne P{\'{e}}rard-Gayot and Philipp Slusallek and Jaroslav K{\v{r}}iv{\'a}nek},
  title = {Efficient Caustic Rendering with Lightweight Photon Mapping},
  journal = {Computer Graphics Forum},
  note = {EGSR~'18},
  volume = {37},
  number = {4},
  issn = {1467-8659},
  year = {2018},