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Saturday, July 4, 2015

Export your creations

We just completed a new iteration on the FBX export feature. This new version is able to bake textures along with the geometry. Check it out in this video:

The feature seems rather simple to the user, however there are massive levels of trickery going on under the hood.

When you look at a Voxel Farm scene  a lot of what you see is computed in realtime. The texturing of individual pixels happens in the GPU where the different attributes that make each voxel material are evaluated on the fly. If you are exporting to a static medium, like an FBX file, you cannot have any dynamic elements computed on the fly. We had no choice but to bake a texture for each mesh fragment.

The first step is to unwrap the geometry and make it flat so it fits a square 2D surface. Here we compute UV coordinates for each triangle. The challenge is how to fit all triangles in a square while minimizing wasted space and any sort of texture distortion.

Here is an example of how a terrain chunk is unwrapped into a collection of triangles carefully packed into a square:

The image also shows that different texture channels like diffuse and normal can then be written into the final images. That is the second and last step, but there is an interesting twist here.

Since we are creating a texture for the mesh anyway, it would be a good opportunity to include features not present in the geometry at the current level of detail. For instance, consider these tree stumps that are rendered using geometry at the highest level of detail:

Each subsequent level of detail will have less resolution. If we go ahead five levels, the geometric resolution won't be fine enough for these stumps to register. Wherever there was a stump, we may get now just a section of a much larger triangle.

Now, for the FBX export we are allocating unique texture space for these triangles. At this level of detail the texture resolution may still be enough for the stumps to register. So instead of evaluating the texture for the low resolution geometry, we project a higher resolution model of the same space into the low detail geometry. Here you can see the results:

Note how a single triangle can contain the projected image of a tree stump.

This process is still very CPU intensive as we need to compute higher resolution versions for the low resolution cells. This iteration was mostly about getting the feature working and available for users. We will be optimizing this in the near future.

The algorithms used here are included in the SDK and engine source code. This sort of technique is called "Detail Transfer" or "Detail Recovery". It is also the cornerstone for a much better looking LOD system, as very rich voxel/procedural content can be captured and projected on top of fairly simple geometry.

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