# Sort-Independent Alpha Blending. Houman Meshkin Senior Graphics Engineer Perpetual Entertainment

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1 Sort-Independent Alpha Blending Houman Meshkin Senior Graphics Engineer Perpetual Entertainment

2 Alpha blending Alpha blending is used to show translucent objects Translucent objects render by blending with the background Opaque objects just cover the background

3 Varying alpha

4 Blending order The color of a translucent pixel depends on the color of the pixel beneath it it will blend with that pixel, partially showing its color, and partially showing the color of the pixel beneath it Translucent objects must be rendered from far to near

5 Challenge It s very complex and complicated to render pixels from far to near Object-center sorting is common still can be time consuming Object sorting doesn t guarantee pixel sorting objects can intersect each other objects can be concave pixel sorting is required for correctness

6 The Formula C0: foreground RGB color A0: alpha representing foreground s translucency D0: background RGB color FinalColor = A0 * C0 + (1 A0) * D0 as A0 varies between 0 and 1, FinalColor varies between D0 and C0

7 Multiple translucent layers

8 Formula for multiple translucent layers Cn: RGB from n th layer An: Alpha from n th layer D0: background D1 = A0*C0 + (1 - A0)*D0 D2 = A1*C1 + (1 - A1)*D1 D3 = A2*C2 + (1 - A2)*D2 D4 = A3*C3 + (1 - A3)*D3

9 Expanding the formula D4 = A3*C3 + A2*C2*(1 - A3) + A1*C1*(1 - A3)*(1 - A2) + A0*C0*(1 - A3)*(1 - A2)*(1 - A1) + D0*(1 - A3)*(1 - A2)*(1 - A1)*(1 - A0)

10 Further expanding D4 = A3*C3 + A2*C2 - A2*A3*C2 + A1*C1 - A1*A3*C1 - A1*A2*C1 + A1*A2*A3*C1 + A0*C0 - A0*A3*C0 - A0*A2*C0 + A0*A2*A3*C0 - A0*A1*C0 + A0*A1*A3*C0 + A0*A1*A2*C0 - A0*A1*A2*A3*C0 + D0 - A3*D0 - A2*D0 + A2*A3*D0 - A1*D0 + A1*A3*D0 + A1*A2*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 - A0*D0 + A0*A3*D0 + A0*A2*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0

11 Rearranging D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 + A0*A3*D0 + A0*A2*D0 + A0*A1*D0 + A1*A3*D0 + A1*A2*D0 + A2*A3*D0 - A0*A3*C0 - A0*A2*C0 - A0*A1*C0 - A1*A3*C1 - A1*A2*C1 - A2*A3*C2 + A0*A1*A2*C0 + A0*A1*A3*C0 + A0*A2*A3*C0 + A1*A2*A3*C1 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*A3*C0

12 Sanity check Let s make sure the expanded formula is still correct case where all alpha = 0 D4 = D0 only background color shows (D0) case where all alpha = 1 D4 = C3 last layer s color shows (C3)

13 Pattern recognition D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 + A0*A3*D0 + A0*A2*D0 + A0*A1*D0 + A1*A3*D0 + A1*A2*D0 + A2*A3*D0 - A0*A3*C0 - A0*A2*C0 - A0*A1*C0 - A1*A3*C1 - A1*A2*C1 - A2*A3*C2 + A0*A1*A2*C0 + A0*A1*A3*C0 + A0*A2*A3*C0 + A1*A2*A3*C1 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*A3*C0 There s clearly a pattern here we can easily extrapolate this for any number of layers There is also a balance of additions and subtractions with layer colors and background color

14 Order dependence D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 - A0*A3*C0 - A0*A2*C0 - A0*A1*C0 - A1*A3*C1 - A1*A2*C1 - A2*A3*C2 + A0*A3*D0 + A0*A2*D0 + A0*A1*D0 + A1*A3*D0 + A1*A2*D0 + A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*C0 + A0*A1*A3*C0 + A0*A2*A3*C0 + A1*A2*A3*C1 - A0*A1*A2*A3*C0 order independent part order dependent part

15 Order independent Part D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 Summation and multiplication are both commutative operations i.e. order doesn t matter A0 + A1 = A1 + A0 A0 * A1 = A1 * A0 A0*C0 + A1*C1 = A1*C1 + A0*C0

16 Order independent Part D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 Highlighted part may not be obvious, but here s the simple proof: = - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 - D0*A0*A1*A2*A3 * (1/A0 + 1/A1 + 1/A2 + 1/A3)

17 Order dependent Part D4 = - A0*A3*C0 - A0*A2*C0 - A0*A1*C0 - A1*A3*C1 - A1*A2*C1 - A2*A3*C2 + A0*A3*D0 + A0*A2*D0 + A0*A1*D0 + A1*A3*D0 + A1*A2*D0 + A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*C0 + A0*A1*A3*C0 + A0*A2*A3*C0 + A1*A2*A3*C1 - A0*A1*A2*A3*C0 These operations depend on order results will vary if transparent layers are reordered proof that proper alpha blending requires sorting

18 Can we ignore the order dependent part? Do these contribute a lot to the final result of the formula? not if the alpha values are relatively low they re all multiplying alpha values < 1 together even with just 2 layers each with alpha = * 0.25 = which can be relatively insignificant more layers also makes them less important as do darker colors

19 Error analysis Let s analyze the ignored order dependent part (error) in some easy scenarios all alphas = 0 error = 0 all alphas = 0.25 error = 0.375*D *C *C *C2 all alphas = 0.5 error = 1.5*D *C *C1-0.25*C2 all alphas = 0.75 error = 3.375*D *C *C *C2 all alphas = 1 error = 6*D0 - C0 - C1 - C2

20 Simpler is better A smaller part of the formula works much better in practice = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 The balance in the formula is important it maintains the weight of the formula This is much simpler and requires only 2 passes and a single render target 1 less pass and 2 less render targets This formula is also exactly correct when blending a single translucent layer

21 Error analysis Let s analyze the simpler formula in some easy scenarios all alphas = 0 error simple = 0 error prev = 0 all alphas = 0.25 error simple = *D *C *C *C2 error prev = 0.375*D *C *C *C2 all alphas = 0.5 error simple = *D *C *C1-0.25*C2 error prev = 1.5*D *C *C1-0.25*C2 all alphas = 0.75 error simple = *D *C *C *C2 error prev = 3.375*D *C *C *C2 all alphas = 1 error simple = 3*D0 - C0 - C1 - C2 error prev = 6*D0 - C0 - C1 - C2

22 Error comparison Simpler formula actually has less error explains why it looks better This is mainly because of the more balanced formula positives cancelling out negatives source colors cancelling out background color

23 Does it really work? Little error with relatively low alpha values good approximation Completely inaccurate with higher alpha values Demo can show it much better than text

24 Sorted, alpha = 0.25

25 Approx, alpha = 0.25

26 Sorted, alpha = 0.5

27 Approx, alpha = 0.5

28 Implementation We want to implement the order independent part and just ignore the order dependent part D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 8 bits per component is not sufficient not enough range or accuracy Use 16 bits per component (64 bits per pixel for RGBA) newer hardware support alpha blending with 64 bpp buffers We can use multiple render targets to compute multiple parts of the equation simultaneously

29 1 st pass Use additive blending SrcAlphaBlend = 1 DstAlphaBlend = 1 FinalRGBA = SrcRGBA + DstRGBA render target #1, n th layer RGB = An * Cn Alpha = An render target #2, n th layer RGB = 1 / An Alpha = An

30 1 st pass results After n translucent layers have been blended we get: render target #1: RGB1 = A0 * C0 + A1 * C1 + + An * Cn Alpha1 = A0 + A1 + + An render target #2: RGB2 = 1 / A0 + 1 / A / An Alpha2 = A0 + A1 + + An

31 2 nd pass Use multiplicative blending SrcAlphaBlend = 0 DstAlphaBlend = SrcRGBA FinalRGBA = SrcRGBA * DstRGBA render target #3, n th layer RGB = Cn Alpha = An

32 2 nd pass results After n translucent layers have been blended we get: render target #3: RGB3 = C0 * C1 * * Cn Alpha3 = A0 * A1 * * An This pass isn t really necessary for the better and simpler formula just for completeness

33 Results We now have the following background D0 render target #1: RGB1 = A0 * C0 + A1 * C1 + + An * Cn Alpha1 = A0 + A1 + + An render target #2: RGB2 = 1 / A0 + 1 / A / An Alpha2 = A0 + A1 + + An render target #3: RGB3 = C0 * C1 * * Cn Alpha3 = A0 * A1 * * An

34 Final pass Blend results in a pixel shader RGB1 - D0 * Alpha1 = A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - D0 * (A0 + A1 + A2 + A3) D0 * Alpha3 = D0 * (A0*A1*A2*A3) D0 * RGB2 * Alpha3 = D0 * (1/A0 + 1/A1 + 1/A2 + 1/A3) * (A0*A1*A2*A3) = D0 * (A1*A2*A3 + A0*A2*A3 + A0*A1*A3 + A0*A1*A2) Sum results with background color (D0) and we get: = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - D0 * (A0 + A1 + A2 + A3) + D0 * (A0*A1*A2*A3) - D0 * (A1*A2*A3 + A0*A2*A3 + A0*A1*A3 + A0*A1*A2) That s the whole sort independent part of the blend formula

35 Application This technique is best suited for particles too many to sort slight inaccuracy in their color shouldn t matter too much Not so good for very general case, with all ranges of alpha values For general case, works best with highly translucent objects i.e. low alpha values

36 Can we do better? I hope so Keep looking at the order dependent part of the formula to see if we can find more order independent parts out of it D4 = D0 + A0*C0 + A1*C1 + A2*C2 + A3*C3 - A0*D0 - A1*D0 - A2*D0 - A3*D0 - A0*A1*A2*D0 - A0*A1*A3*D0 - A0*A2*A3*D0 - A1*A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*A3*D0 - A0*A3*C0 - A0*A2*C0 - A0*A1*C0 - A1*A3*C1 - A1*A2*C1 - A2*A3*C2 + A0*A3*D0 + A0*A2*D0 + A0*A1*D0 + A1*A3*D0 + A1*A2*D0 + A2*A3*D0 + A0*A1*A2*C0 + A0*A1*A3*C0 + A0*A2*A3*C0 + A1*A2*A3*C1 - A0*A1*A2*A3*C0 Or use a completely different algorithm

37 Q&A If you have any other ideas or suggestions I d love to hear them

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