PhBRML: Physically Based Rendering Modeling Language

Note: some of this documentation is out-dated. The main ideas are still valid however.


Making VRML'97 usable for physically based rendering, including simple image based rendering and global illumination in mixed real/virtual environments.
  • Physically based rendering: obtain the ultimate realistic images of virtual scenes by (approximately) solving the equations from physics that describe light transport in the scene.
  • Needed inputs: geometry of the scene + physically based description of light sources and light-matter interaction, both at surfaces (surface scattering) and volumetric (transparency and participating media). Only the former is available in VRML'97. We extend VRML'97 to express the latter as well.
  • For an extensive list of what we want to be able to describe, see Glassner "Principles of Digital Image Synthesis" chapters 11-15.


  • A description of physically based light emission and scattering characteristics involves functions of place, direction(s), wavelength, and time. Our job: making it easy to express this position, direction, wavelength and time dependence for a as wide as possible class of light scattering and emission models.
  • Appearance = surface emission and scattering (EDF and BSDF) + volume emission and scattering (participating media: isotropic emission, general phase function) + geometry distortions (bump- and displacement mapping):
    • Surfaces: homogeneous, 2D and 3D textured, layered (lacquered surfaces, human skin, plant tissue, ...);
    • Media: homogeneous, 3D textured;
    • Bump- and displacement maps: 2D and 3D.
  • Position dependence of inhomogeneous surfaces and media is expressed by means of 2D and 3D texture maps. The standard VRML'97 2D texture nodes (image, pixel and movie) are extended with a procedural 2D texturing node and 3D texturing nodes. Texture map values are used as weights for mixing surfaces or media components that can be of any surface or medium type listed above, including inhomogeneous surfaces or media again.
  • Homogeneous EDF, BSDF and phase function are expressed as a linear combination of spectral basis functions: sums of products of directional distributions times spectra times weights. The basis functions do not need to be independent: the same mechanism allows to easily express e.g. a modified Phong reflection model as sum of diffuse and specular component.
  • Directional distributions can be specified in a variety of ways, including tabulated samples and scripts (procedural distributions). A small number of popular distributions are built in, including directional light fields for image based rendering and augmented reality. Other distributions will be provided as procedural distributions (student exercise):
    • Emitters: directional distribution of EDFs. Types: diffuse, Phong-like, sampled isotropic (sampled intensity values versus angle w.r.t. axis of symmetry), directional light field (given as a texture), procedural. Future plans: IES light source description files and/or similar, ...
    • Scatterers: directional distribution of BSDFs. Types: diffuse reflector/refractor, modified Phong reflector/refractor, procedural. Future plans: Fresnel, Cook-Torrance, Poulin-Fournier, HTSG, Strauss, Ward, Schlick, sampled, ...
    • Phase functions: directional distribution of volume scattering functions. Types: isotropic, procedural. Future plans: sampled, Rayleigh, Murky and Hazy Mie, Henyey-Greenstein, Schlick, ...
  • Wavelength dependence is expressed by means of spectra. A spectrum is a scalar function of wavelength. Types: XYZ, Lxy, monochromatic, black body, sampled, tabulated, procedural + linear combinations.
  • Additional node types describe
    • background radiation (sky illumination, augmented reality, ...) as a function of incident direction: procedural or expressed by a texture.
    • atmosphere: medium outside any object in the scene: e.g. misty air, underwater scenes, ...
  • Time dependence is handled using the standard VRML'97 event handling system with new interpolators for spectra, surfaces and participating media descriptions. Future plans: geometry distortion interpolators.


  • VRML'97 is extended using the EXTERNPROTO mechanism. That means: define the interface of new VRML'97 scene graph nodes that will describe physics based appearance and light sources. A specialised browser (RenderPark, ART) will recognise and use these new node types. For less fortunate browsers, a default implementation will be developed that converts the physics based material and light source descriptions as good as possible into standard VRML materials and light sources. In short: standard browsers will still be able to process the extended models while intelligent browsers will also understand the extensions.
  • Extensions stick as close as possible with the semantics of standard VRML nodes. There are two abberations:
    • Procedural textures, spectra and directional distributions use the same scripting language interface as the VRML Script node. That is: arguments are described by eventIn's and return values as eventOut's. However, unlike Script nodes, these procedural nodes do not serve to dynamically modify the world being interacted with. They do not participate in normal VRML event processing. There is no way to dynamically change the behaviour of such procedural description nodes. There is no loss of generality: dynamic medium and surface changes can be expressed by other means.
    • New interpolators for spectra, surfaces and media have slightly different look than standard VRML interpolator nodes because spectra, surfaces and media are not VRML field types.
  • Only basic building blocks are provided, with some redundancy for convenience. More complex yet easy-to-use descriptions can be obtained by composing the basic building blocks using mechanisms already present in standard VRML'97: PROTO's and named nodes.
  • PhBRML node reference (needs updating)

This page is maintained by Philippe Bekaert